Allergies - Myths and Facts

Here are 12 common myths and facts associated with allergies

I am allergic to milk

Unless your doctor suggests otherwise, reaction to milk is nothing but lactose intolerance, wherein the enzyme lactase, needed to breakdown lactose, is either absent or present in very low amounts. Food intolerance does not involve the immune system and hence does not classify as an allergy. It occurs because our body cannot digest that particular food due to old age, trauma, stress, accident or some deficiency. Other common foods that could cause intolerance are chocolates, caffeine, monosodium glutamate [ajinomoto] and few additives in foods.

My child is allergic to so many foods

In children, most often a suspected allergy is nothing more than sensitivity to foods, which they outgrow once their digestive systems mature. However, it is best to eliminate any possibility with doctor's advice. Commonly, children are sensitive is seen with milk, soy, orange or any citrus juices, wheat, strawberries, chocolates, peanuts, shellfish and fish.

I am allergic to the iodine in shellfish

This is not true. Because in that case, you'll be allergic to all foods that have iodine.

Organic foods are non-allergenic

Organic foods are one of the latest to be added to the health foods list and many believe that these foods are non-allergenic. No guarantee, since it is seen that most allergenic foods are 'natural' like cow's milk, eggs, wheat, lentils, soybean, fish and shellfish. And further, allergies are caused by proteins in food and not by chemicals.

Allergies go away with age

If you have a severe allergy as a child, there are chances that while moving to middle age, the severity of symptoms might change or there may be a decrease in the sensitivity. However, the propensity for the allergy will always be there.

Breast feeding ensures your child never develops an allergy

Breast milk does have protective antibodies that defend the infant not just from developing allergies, but also from other infections. However, post-nursing and with growing years, the child does get exposed to the environment and may develop an allergy, like any other infection. According to noted allergologist, Pramod Niphadkar, breast milk may not act as a lifelong shield. But he strongly recommends prolonged breastfeeding in children with a family history of allergy. This may help to delay the onset of allergy in the child with an allergic tendency.

Short-haired pets cause no allergies

An estimated 10 per cent of the population is allergic to pets-be it cats, dogs, rabbits or guinea pigs-and the allergen does not come from the pet's fur. The source is the skin and to a lesser extent the saliva and urine. Although, in furry animals the chances of the dander-as it is called-becoming airborne are higher, short haired pets get no clean chit. They may spread less dander in the air, but it does stick to their skin. So if you are allergic, maybe you should stick to fish or turtles as pets.

Allergies aren't life threatening

It may be a rare occurrence, but in people with extreme sensitivity to a substance, the allergen could trigger an anaphylactic shock-a sudden fatal reaction. This causes low blood pressure, swelling up of the throat and tongue and constricts the airways, thus making it difficult to breathe.

Relocating cures allergies

The new place may not have the old allergens, but the move will not change your tendency towards developing an allergy.

Wearing gloves will protect me from poison ivy

The poison ivy plant, a relative of the cashew, is known to cause skin reactions in almost all. The allergen here is an oily resin, which attaches itself to clothing, pet fur and even garden tools and its potency is known to remain even after a year. So, wearing gloves or avoiding contact offers no protection in this case.

There is not much I can do about my allergy

A good allergy specialist will draw an allergy programme just for you, based on family history, food habits, lifestyle, reactions to medicines as well as the residing environment.

If you have a tendency to develop an allergy, Dr Niphadkar suggests a back-to-the-basics formula of less stress, simpler foods, moderate habits, well-ventilated homes and cleanliness.

And, I think we all, with or without allergic tendencies, should try and follow this formula for a healthy and happy life.

Allergies are a mind play

The mind may play a role. A person with allergy to a particular vegetable may feel some reaction at the sight of it, but emotions do not override the fact that tendency to develop allergy is purely environmental and genetic.