8 allergy myths


It can be downright dangerous to believe these eight allergy myths. Check out the facts below.

"Hay fever is caused by hay." The popular term “hay fever” is considered a misnomer because the condition is not caused by hay, nor is it a fever. The term was coined in 1828 by a British physician when he noticed that his allergy symptoms worsened during the British haying season. Today, the term is used to describe nasal congestion, coughing, runny nose, sneezing, breathing difficulties, and other symptoms caused by any plants that pollinate or molds that produce spores — usually in the late spring, summer, or autumn.

"Shorthaired pets don't cause allergies." Neither an animal's fur, nor its length, is the culprit in allergies. The real culprit is a protein found in the animal's saliva or skin. Cats often cause more allergy problems than dogs simply because they tend to lick their fur a lot, spreading the protein onto their coats. Rodents and rabbits may also be allergenic. If you're allergic to furry pets, consider adopting one of these furless friends: fish, hermit crabs, iguanas, or snakes.

"Pollen from flowers is a leading cause of allergies." Ironically, some of the most feared plants — the brightly flowering varieties — are the least likely to trigger allergic symptoms. Pollen from roses and many other fragrant, colorful flowers tends to be heavy, waxy, and sticky, making them less likely to become airborne. These pollens are not spread by the wind. Instead, insects transport pollen from flower to flower. Allergies to these plants are very uncommon (even among florists and gardeners who are exposed to them frequently).

"Allergies are psychosomatic" Allergies may affect your nose, but that doesn't mean they're “all in your head.” An allergy is a real medical condition involving your immune system's reaction to a foreign substance. Your symptoms may cause you to feel embarrassed or discouraged, but emotions don't cause allergies. (Also, you can't pass your allergies on to a friend, because they're not contagious.)

"You can outgrow your allergies." Most people grow into allergy, not out of it. Although some people can become less sensitive to certain substances simply by avoiding them, it is nearly impossible to avoid exposure to certain pollens, molds, and dust. Repeated exposure to these aeroallergens can cause an allergic individual to continue to suffer from allergies his or her entire life.

"Frequent exposure to pollen can help you become desensitized to it." Regularly scheduled, repeated exposure to small amounts of an allergen — as with allergy shots — can lead to desensitization. However, infrequent and erratic exposure does not lead to protection — instead, it increases the likelihood that you will become sensitized to the allergen. Irregular exposure to allergens can lead to the production of immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies. These antibodies, if bound to effector cells called mast cells upon interaction with an allergen, cause an allergic reaction. With allergy shots (called allergy immunotherapy), exposure to the allergen is closely regulated and given on a scheduled basis, thereby decreasing allergic reactivity.

"I should save my prescription allergy medication for the days I am suffering most." Antihistamines work best when taken according to the treatment plan your doctor has given you.

"I won't build up resistance to decongestant nasal sprays." Certain decongestant nasal sprays usually should not be taken longer than 3 days at a time to avoid a “rebound effect,” meaning it takes more medication more often to achieve the same results.

"Because I am allergic to something, my kids will be too." The tendency to develop allergies does tend to run in families, but other factors may come into play. A child's chances of developing allergies are about 25% if one parent has allergies. The chances increase to about 75% if both parents have allergies. Some individuals develop allergies even though neither parent has had a diagnosis of allergy. Many experts also believe that early exposure to a potential allergen may make a person more likely to develop an allergy to it later in life.

(Lisel Powell, Health24, updated June 2013)

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