It’s allergy season again. It is estimated that between 30% and 40% of the world’s population suffer from allergic rhinitis, or hay fever, as it is also known.
Although that varies for each location and its conditions. For example, in Mexico it fluctuates between 25% and 35%, and the percentage in the United States is also there, where 81 million people work from there.
The source of all these is a mixed blessing. The days are longer, but they come with itchy eyes, runny noses, and endless antihistamines. On days when the pollen count is higher, seasonal allergy attacks are invisible.
But the number of allergy sufferers in the world is also increasing. In 1997, about 0.4% of American children, for example, were allergic to peanuts. In 2008, the figure was 1.4%. In the UK, hospital admissions due to severe food allergies tripled between 1998 and 2018, and while asthma rates, often fueled by allergies, have leveled off in the US, they continue to rise globally as the percentage increases in the developing world. We have also seen an approach to unusual allergies, such as alpha-gal syndrome, in which some people struck by the lone star tick develop strong reactions to red meat.
The increase in allergies makes us think something is wrong. Whether outside, in bodies, or in a complex between the two, it is false. The question is why and what should be done.
A good starting point is to find out what the hell allergies are. In her book Allergic: How Our Immune System Reacts to a Changing World, medical anthropologist Teresa MacPhail tries to clarify just that. One theory is that allergic reactions evolved as a way for the body to repel carcinogens and toxins, from insect stings to snake bites. Even just a few centuries ago, the body’s extreme immune response to a life-threatening snake could have been useful, researcher MacPhail says.
A more allergenic world and more allergic people
As the world has changed, our immune systems seem to be over-engineered and easily out of step with the threats we face. It doesn’t help that the growing seasons for crops are longer, so each spring people are exposed to pollen even earlier. At the same time, we are changing our microbiome through cleanliness and lifestyle changes, which can increase the likelihood that children will develop sensitivities to food allergens. Stress can also influence our susceptibility to allergies: we know that stress hormones elicit a similar type of response to allergic stressors in mouse cells.
If this seems conclusive to you, you are right. MacPhail finds it difficult to make a case for allergies; Doctors don’t even fully agree on what an allergy is or how to diagnose it. But MacPhail can rightly focus on these complexities. In August 1996, his father was shot down on the road to the beach in New Hampshire while traveling with his girlfriend. A solitary bee flew through the open window of the chair and struck him on the side of the neck. He soon died of anaphylactic shock; he was 47 years old. “You’re really here today because you want to know why your father died,” the allergist tells MacPhail in an interview.
But in the world of allergy research, there are no easy answers. Perhaps it was genetics, or the fact that the father did not bring the life-saving epipen with him, or that the pharmacist was watching over the pharmacy, was not allowed to inject him with adrenaline, or that he had become sensitive to bee stings. his two tours of duty in Vietnam. Maybe he was just unlucky.