Now Almost Everyone Has Allergies
“They’re just allergies.”
- quote from a Reactine allergy medication commercial
The point of the commercial is that they are not “just allergies.” But what
Our bodies are set up to fight invasions by foreign bodies that could do
them harm. Our immune system does most of the work fighting invaders,
though billions of bacteria that live symbiotically with us (primarily on our
skin and in our gut) help out considerably.
Generally speaking those good bacteria (we could not live without them)
don’t cause us much trouble. They depend on us, we depend on them,
and we all get along splendidly. Our own immune systems cause the
problems. (Antibiotics kill these good bacteria, by the way.)
Allergies are mostly an affliction of the modern era. In my classroom
career teaching young children, which ended a generation ago, I came
across only two kids with severe allergies. Both had problems learning
because their allergies prevented them from thinking clearly.
One child, that I knew was of at least average intelligence, went through
a battery of tests by a psychologist twice in the school year, then was
sent the following year to a special education class for children with
learning disabilities. I objected strenuously to my principal, but was
overruled. I insisted that the tests had been given when the boy suffered
most from his allergies, not when he was clear headed. I was not included
in the decision. He joined a special class for children who mostly had low
The other child, no doubt destined for the same fate, moved out of the
community in February. His mother had tears in her eyes when she told
me that they had to move, because her son had done so well in my care,
but circumstances dictated. I could foresee a similar school track for him.
In those days, severe allergies were rare. A few kids had allergic reactions
to pollen, in season, but only a few. One child suffered from asthma--the
only student I had who did, and I only discovered it when the class went
on an outing that required hiking in a wilderness area.
Today allergies in the classroom are so common that teachers expect
them and classmates expect to be inconvenienced by those who require
special treatment. Some teachers today need emergency medical training
and training in the dispensing of medication for their kids.
Allergies are the body’s overreaction to a stimulus it doesn’t like. Asthma
is, fundamentally, an extreme version of an allergy. Something gets into
the body and the body reacts violently to get rid of it.
Just over a decade ago I developed an allergy. After extensive tests, my
doctor declared that I had a “mild environmental allergy.” Nothing that
could be identified, thus avoided. I could either begin taking allergy shots
or continue using profound quantities of tissues daily. I chose the latter.
Over the past year, my wife has developed the same allergy. To what?
We don’t drink city water, so we do not subject our bodies to the 300,000
chemical pollutants that city water treatment plants don’t remove. But we
can’t do anything about the half million pollutants factories put in the air
that everyone breathes. All things considered, we decided to avoid
wearing chemical gas masks all day long.
I also have an allergy to breathing very cold air. When I walk outside in
winter, my sinuses go to work and my nose runs. Inconvenient. But, in
doing so, the mucus may continue to warm my breathing passage,
preventing them from freezing. This might be an adaptation by body has
made to protect itself. In this case, is an allergy an adaptation to the
As well, I begin to sneeze when my body senses a temperature change of
two degrees or more. This “allergy” likely has the same cause, but is a
side effect of the adaptation. It’s an overreaction by natural functions of
my body, as all true allergies are.
These days, asthma is common. Allergies are so ubiquitous that almost
everyone has one or more. Some have an allergy that is so common to
them and that affects them year round that they don’t even know they
have it. To them, it’s “just life as I am getting older.”
Science and archeology writer Jeff D. Leach believes, as do many people,
including health professionals, that kids and adults develop allergies
because their homes are so clean that their immune systems have not
been challenged enough. He wrote in the New York Times “the alarming
rise in allergic and autoimmune disorders during the past few decades is
at least partly attributable to our lack of exposure to microorganisms that
once covered our food and us.”
He quotes research that suggests we reintroduce some dirt into our lives
to see a reduction in diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, multiple
sclerosis, several allergies and other diseases. Our immune systems were
built to fight hard and constantly, and if they don’t they redirect their
efforts and work against us.
If this has you scratching your head and doubting, more reading on the
subject of allergies will relieve that doubt.
One allergy you likely were not aware of has been shown to cause
obesity. It’s not the only cause, but it is one that has been identified
through scientific tests.
Here are a few other facts you likely don’t know about allergies.
Thanks to advertisers who want us to live in a “clean” environment, our
immune system has fewer enemies to fight. In desperation, it fires on
relatively innocent targets such as peanuts and cat dander. Our immune
system is designed to fight for our survival throughout our life. When it
doesn’t have an enemy, it invents one. Allergy symptoms are the results
of a one-sided war.
The National Institutes of Health in the USA estimates that over half of
Americans have at least one testable allergy. One of them is an allergy to
penicillin, which can cause fatal anaphylaxis. Penicillin, when it first
became public, was considered a great saviour against disease.
Food allergies are usually to a protein. A team at Trinity College Dublin, in
2004, injected mice with parasites of the kind that mouse immune
systems would fight in the wild. It worked. The mice with previously weak
immune systems developed healthy ones.
British entrepreneur Jasper Lawrence walked barefoot near some latrines
in Cameroon, in 2007, to get infected by hookworms he believed would
defeat asthma and seasonal allergies. It worked. For $3000 a person can
receive up to 35 hookworm larvae which they put on a bandage and apply
to their skin. Mr. Lawrence has not publicly reported the success rate for
his business. (NOTE: this therapy is not legal in the USA.)
Between 150 and 200 Americans die each year from allergies to shellfish,
nuts, fish, milk, eggs and other foods. They are serious allergies.
Tick bites you could get from walking barefoot in grass could cause your
immune system to produce antibodies to alpha-gal, a carbohydrate
commonly found in beef, pork and lamb. Resulting allergies to these
meats could be fatal.
As many as 40,000 American women may be affected by an allergic
sensitivity to male ejaculate (specifically seminal plasma hypersensitivity)
which could result in symptoms from local swelling to systemic shock.
Another reason for them to insist on the man using a condom.
An allergy to sex seems unfair. However, some women are allergic to
their own progesterone, a sex hormone, developing anything from a rash
to full shock.
Yes, pets can be allergic to human dander (cast off skin) as well as people
can be allergic to pet dander.
Yes, some people are allergic to the sun. And some couples have to
separate because they are allergic to each other.
But wait! A few rare individuals can develop aquagenic urticaria, a rash
caused when they come in contact with water. Apparently they do not
react to the 70 percent of their own body weight that is composed of
Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for
Today’s Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents and
Learn more about the book at http://billallin.com
[Primary source: Discover, May 2012]