Be greater than your allergies



5 Allergy Myths

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Provided by The Weather Channel

When it comes to deciphering how and why people develop allergies, it’s natural to have questions. From confusing symptoms (is it an allergy or just the common cold?) to family history, navigating your personal health can be tricky. That’s why we turned to Dr. James Sublett, president-elect of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology for answers to some of the most vexing allergy quandaries.

  • Does family history have anything to do with allergies?

    The short answer: yes. According to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology, “a family history of allergies is the single most important factor that puts you at risk of developing allergic disease.” And Dr. Sublett agrees.

    “Family history and genetics have a big role here,” he said. “It’s estimated that if you have one parent with allergies, you’ve probably got a 40 percent chance that you’ll have children with allergies. And if both parents have allergies, it may be up as high as 80 percent.”

    What’s not as clear, Dr. Sublett says, is exactly which allergies children of parents with allergies are likely to inherit. “There have been some studies showing that there may be a tendency for that to occur, but inheriting allergies isn’t like inheriting the color of your eyes. The genetics are really complex.”

  • Family history or not, is there a way to pre-treat or prevent allergies from developing?

    Unfortunately, this answer is murkier. Dr. Sublett said that science hasn’t seen many big successes in primary prevention, but that there is one critical step parents can take to help lessen their child’s chance of developing allergies: no smoking.

    “There’s been a lot of research in this area in the last many years and one thing that’s been shown to definitely work is to have no smoking in the child’s environment either before birth or after birth,” Dr. Sublett advises. “And I know it sounds kind of odd because cigarette smoke itself is not an allergen, but there’s a genetic switch prenatally in the pregnant woman that can make the child more likely to develop allergy type problems.”

    When it comes to allergies where airborne triggers are concerned, any other primary prevention methods you may see or hear about haven’t been backed by research. “In general, the only thing we can say for smoking is absolutely no smoking in a baby’s environment prior to birth and in early childhood,” Dr. Sublett said.

  • How do you discern between cold and flu symptoms and allergy symptoms?

    Because spring and fall allergy seasons overlap so heavily with cold and flu season, it’s easy to misconstrue symptoms -- like sneezing, coughing and sniffling -- with one when it’s actually the other.

    “Two thirds of people who have allergies have year-round symptoms,” Dr. Sublett said, “which makes it difficult [to distinguish allergies from something else].” But there is a way.

    “Let’s take what people would call symptoms like sinus problems and bronchitis,” the doctor said. “Once you get past the age of two or three, if a child or an adult that has those kind of symptoms more than a couple times of year, that could indicate an allergy. In an adult if you have cold symptoms or bronchitis even once a year, that’s probably abnormal. Most people don’t have that. So if you have a tendency to have frequent sinus or bronchitis symptoms, that’s a sign that your nasal symptoms are probably allergies.”

    Another telltale sign you have allergies and not a cold is “if it happens every year or if you get it and can’t get over it.” Dr. Sublett listed that as another sign it’s actually allergies. And when it comes to viral infections, if you don’t recover in the normal seven to 10 day period, “it’s worth checking out to see if it’s an underlying allergy,” the doctor advised.

  • Can allergies change over time?

    Good news, allergy sufferers! Dr. Sublett confirmed that allergies can change over time, but this may actually be a double-edged sword. A simple “yes” to this question means that your allergies could get better or worse over time.

    “We call it genetic plasticity,” Dr. Sublett said. “You start with genetics, and early exposure plays a role.” 

    Early childhood exposure to triggers like dust mites and animals result in allergic response. “Once it's turned on,” Dr. Sublett said of the trigger causing a reaction, “you can become allergic to a variety of things.”

    As you grow older and you change your environment, you can have different exposures. A prime example of this, Dr. Sublett says, is occupational allergies and asthma. 

    “There might be an underlying allergy and [when you] get into and occupation where something can trigger symptoms, it's fairly complex, but yes, allergies can change.”

    Occupational changes aren't the only shifts that can cause a difference in your allergies. Dr. Sublett also noted that just by moving location—whether it be down the block or to an entirely new city—could trigger allergies you've always had and in turn making your symptoms worse, or result in less exposure.