Allergies can arise in babies a few days old, in your 40’s and even later. An allergic response is basically the body ‘seeing’ something and not wanting it around. Therefore, it does what it can to remove the allergen: sneeze and produce mucous to get it out of the nose, then cause swelling to prevent it from coming back into the nose. Throat swelling, lungs closing, vomiting, and at times diarrhea are other ways the body tries to remove an allergen. Most of these reactions are overblown, meaning the body see’s a rather harmless substance such as tree pollen as a big enemy. The predominant theory of why people develop allergies is the ‘hygiene hypothesis’ meaning that we are too clean and therefore our immune system doesn’t have much to do on a regular basis and starts ‘going crazy’ over pollens, dust mites, and animal dander. The same theory can be extrapolated to food in that later exposure often leads to more problems. This means that if an infant is only fed formula for a long period of time the immune system doesn’t get a chance to survey other foods. When the body finally does get exposed it goes ‘crazy’ and develops allergy cells. Again, this is only a hypothesis but data does indicate that those who grow up on farms as well as those who have been fed a wide variety of foods around 4 months of age have less allergies.
So what can we do, go roll in dirt? Unfortunately, if you have already developed allergies it may be a little too late. However, if you have a young child (about 4 months of age) it is best to expose them to various foods (if there is an immediate family member with food allergies it is best to test them first). Also, it may not be a bad thing to allow them to be playing outside in the dirt in the summer all day.
If you already have allergies the best natural approach is desensitization and that is giving a certain amount of the allergen over time to allow the body to start to acclimate to these allergens and not ‘freak out’ when seeing them. Some people will naturally do this, most noted when Freshman college students come back for Thanksgiving break. They grew up with a dog and didn’t have too many symptoms because the chronic exposure slightly desensitized them and when they went to college they lost that slight immunity and upon returning to the animal environment they note many symptoms. In my clinic we offer food and environmental oral desensitization’s to accomplish this to a higher level and then allergy shots for environmental allergies that often work very well. Additionally, we also offer sublingual therapy for environmental allergies (allergy drops). Other approaches for desensitization are also being studied such as patches through the skin and the initial food studies look promising.
Allergies often run in families and there seems to be a genetic predisposition that is needed along with the above notions. When I was very young (18) I started working at the U of M to help find the gene that triggers asthma and allergies. Unfortunately, we, nor has anybody else found the exact gene that predisposes people to allergies. Fortunately, treatments for allergies keep improving in the meantime.
If you have any other questions regarding this topic make sure you bring it up to your provider at your next visit.