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    8 Allergy Myths Busted

    Allergies can be very frightening and seem to be getting more common. But so too is misunderstanding about allergies. This confusion is diluting essential information in a sea of over diagnosis and is putting people’s lives at risk: It needs to stop. Here’s eight common allergy myths debunked:

    1.“Artificial E-numbers and preservatives in food cause allergies”

    Mabon Elis and Alex Thompson

    E-numbers aren’t evil synthetic chemicals, in fact many are made from plants and animals, and some are even vitamins: E300 is vitamin C. The “E” just means they’ve been approved as safe by the European Food Safety Authority. The only recorded allergies to E-numbers are to those made from naturally occurring substances like cochineal (made from dried beetles). In fact, most allergies are to things found in the natural world.

    2.“Unnatural chemicals are causing a rise in allergies”

    John Morgan (CC BY http://2.0) / Via Flickr: aidanmorgan

    The idea that synthetic chemicals are bad and ‘natural’ is good has spread into the area of allergies. Many manufacturers are replacing synthetic substances in products with ‘natural’ alternatives, made from animal and plant extracts. But this has actually increased the risk of exposure to allergens. For example, replacing synthetic compounds in soap with ‘natural’ wheat has led to more allergic reactions in people allergic to wheat.

    3.“Fast food causes allergies”

    ebru (CC BY http://2.0) / Via Flickr: mrbling

    Experts say that no one thing has caused the rise in allergies. Some media stories claim that fast food causes allergies in developed countries. But there is no causal link between a ‘fast food diet’ and allergies.

    One study showed an association, which could be due to too many other factors for a conclusion to be drawn. The focus on ‘junk’ food is a red herring. Ninety percent of food allergies are to a very small number of foods, notably eggs, milk, fish, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat and soy. If you are allergic, eating any food containing the allergen can cause a reaction, regardless of how it is prepared.

    4.“Each reaction will be worse than the last”

    Mabon Elis and Alex Thompson

    The old wives’ tale that each allergic reaction will be worse than the last is false. Lots of factors come into play to influence the severity of an allergic reaction: including the amount of allergen, the route and site of exposure, combined with alcohol, exercise, stress, sleep deprivation and drugs. Scientists still don’t know why some of these factors make reactions worse and can’t predict the strength of the next reaction.

    5.“Natural treatments are better than pharmaceuticals”

    Mabon Elis and Alex Thompson

    Online it’s easy to find ‘natural’ treatments for allergies. For example, royal jelly (the food produced by the queen bee for her workers) is often sold as a treatment for seasonal allergies and hay fever. But there is no evidence that it’s effective, and there have even been instances of people having severe anaphylactic shock from royal jelly. Another common ‘natural’ treatment is locally produced honey. But claims that honey cures your hay fever are unlikely to be true, because people with hay fever are generally not allergic to flower pollen, which is what bees collect, but to windborne tree and grass pollen. Other diet trends that claim to reduce your risk of developing an allergy come with risks; you can get E. coli food poisoning from drinking ‘raw’ unpasteurised milk.

    6.“Immunisations cause allergies”

    I woz ere (CC BY-ND http://2.0) / Via Flickr: 35558439@N08

    The best medical evidence shows that immunisations do not increase your risk of developing allergies.

    In the past, it was thought that the Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine was not suitable for children allergic to eggs because it is produced using egg protein. This is no longer the case: the vaccine is now grown in cells derived from chickens, which contain negligible amounts of egg protein. Even though information provided with the vaccines continues to state potential effects for egg allergic children, the MMR vaccine is considered safe for them.

    7.“Hypoallergenic means allergen-free”

    Mabon Elis and Alex Thompson

    You can buy hypoallergenic pillows, cosmetics, jewellery and even pets. This may sound like they don’t contain allergens, but hypoallergenic actually just means that they are relatively unlikely to cause an allergic reaction – it’s not a guarantee that they won’t. Products labelled 'dermatologically tested' are tested on the skin of volunteers who do not have allergies rather than on people who do. There is no regulation of hypoallergenic claims so they are a matter of trust and good faith between producers and consumers.

    8.“We are too clean”

    Judy (CC BY-NY-NC http://2.0) / Via Flickr: 47490514@N02

    Under the “Hygiene Hypothesis”, it was thought that getting infections was important in reducing the risk of allergies. People interpreted this as being ‘dirty is good’. But we’re not too clean; good targeted hygiene is important at preventing the spread of disease.

    Scientists now favour a theory that exposure to some microbes, like ones we’ve evolved with for millions of years, helps to regulate our immune system so it doesn’t overreact to normally harmless substances. They help us to have a diverse microbiome (the population of microbes that live in and on our bodies). This theory is known as the “Old Friends” mechanism.

    Our microbiome has changed from previous generations because of changes to the way we live, like moving from the countryside to cities- not because of cleanliness. Altering hygiene practises has negligible effect on our microbiomes, and hence on allergies.

    Making Sense of Allergies is a new guide from Sense About Science, written with allergy specialists to help you make sense of the causes, diagnosis and treatment of allergies.

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