Allergies are conditions that cause an abnormal reaction of the immune system against a foreign substance.
Exposure to these substances, commonly called allergens, causes the body to release histamines, proteins that cause the typical symptoms of an allergy, such as itchy eyes and throats or sneezing.
Among the most common allergens are dander, dust, pollen, spores or certain medications (especially antibiotics or skin products).
Foods include eggs, peanuts, milk or its derivatives, nuts, soy products, fish, shellfish, or wheat and its derivatives. While, among plants, poplar, cedar, mold, elm or oak are usually the main culprits in allergies.
Around 20% of people worldwide have an allergic condition, estimates the World Health Organization (WHO). For this reason, understanding this condition and discarding the false beliefs around it is essential. Here we review the most important myths about allergies.
Myth 1: Allergies are not that serious
TRUE: This is a reality for many people, since, although uncomfortable, their allergies are not dangerous. However, in others it can lead to anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction, which occurs when the body releases a large amount of histamine, causing an inflammatory response.
This condition can cause a variety of symptoms, including anxiety, diarrhea, shortness of breath, wheezing, stomach pain and cramps, swelling of the feet, hands, lips, eyes, or genitals, and loss of consciousness.
Even allergies that are usually considered minor, such as seasonal ones, can alter the quality of sleep, causing daytime sleepiness, and with it, difficulty concentrating, performance problems and even an increased risk of accidents.
Myth 2: Allergies last a lifetime
TRUE: This is not always the case. There are many recorded cases of allergies that, with age, simply dissipate. This is more common, for example, in allergies to milk, egg, or wheat, while allergies to peanuts, fish, or shellfish tend to linger.
Myth 3: Allergies only develop in children
TRUE: It is common for allergies to develop during childhood, so it is often believed that they can only occur at this stage of life. However, there are studies that show that a significant percentage of people developed their allergy during adulthood.
Myth 4: Colds and allergies are the same
TRUE: It is not uncommon for these conditions to be confused, since they share common symptoms, such as itchy eyes and throats or sneezing. However, colds are caused by an immune response to viruses, while allergies are an immune response to an allergen.
Also, colds tend to last between one and two weeks, while allergies can, in some cases, last a lifetime.
Myth 5: Allergies are the same as food intolerances
TRUE: This is another very common confusion, but not necessarily true. When someone experiences a food allergy, the immune system launches a series of inflammatory reactions to fight the substance that it identifies as dangerous.
Instead, intolerance occurs when the body is unable to digest a compound in food, causing digestive problems such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, or bloating. Although intolerances are uncomfortable and negatively impact quality of life, they are not as dangerous as allergies.
Myth 6: Allergies to peanuts, pollen or dust are the most serious
TRUE: Although these are the most common allergies, there is no way to classify the severity of each allergy, this will depend on the immune system of each individual.
Myth 7: There are dogs and cats that do not cause allergies
TRUE: Although it is often believed that there are “hypoallergenic” breeds of dogs and cats, this means that they do not cause allergies, experts say that this is only a myth, because allergies are not caused by the length of the hair or coat, nor by the amount of shedding of these animals, but by dead skin cells (dandruff), saliva and urine.
Myth 8: Allergies cannot be treated
TRUE: There are no cures for allergies, the best thing to do to control your symptoms is to limit or avoid exposure to the allergen that triggers it.
However, certain treatments are capable of effectively reducing your symptoms, such as decongestants, antihistamines, and steroid nasal sprays. Immunotherapy, which involves giving gradually increasing doses of the substance, or allergen, to which the person is allergic, may also help.
These incremental increases in the allergen cause the immune system to become less sensitive to the substance, probably by causing the production of a “blocker” antibody, which allows allergy symptoms to be reduced when the substance is encountered in the future.
Sources consulted: US National Library of Medicine, Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Mayo Clinic, World Health Organization (WHO).