Allergies: A genetic superiority from our ancestors

When I woke up this morning, sneezing.  I didn’t need to look at the calendar to know my allergies had returned. The nose knows!

Dr. Bobby Lanier, an allergist on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White All Saints Medical Center – Fort Worth breaks down all the why’s and how’s of allergies.

What are allergies?

Allergy is the modern day expression of an ancient defense system designed to protect us from, of all things, parasites. Parasites were once the most common reason for the death of children, so having an aggressive antibody system was crucial.

People with allergies represent the genetic superiority of their ancestors. People with allergies live longer and have fewer cancers than those without allergies.

In modern society without exposure to parasites, this antibody system may attack innocent airborne proteins which may have some of the genetic codes of parasites – an accident of nature.

What causes allergies?

Infections in children often stimulate the immune system to defense. If stirred up, people with this genetic tendency may mistake Mountain Cedar pollen or Ragweed as an enemy and use the anti-parasite antibody to attack them with a normal body chemical, histamine.

When histamine is activated, it fights against pollens, molds and foods and causes itching, sneezing, wheezing and swelling. That’s why antihistamines work in allergy.

When and why do people develop allergies?

Most allergies start in childhood when children get the continual virus infections that plague them until older – it’s part of the defense. Allergies gets less intense in adolescent when the number of upper respiratory viruses begins to wane.

You do not outgrow this genetic trait, and the syndrome usually returns for women in their twenties and men in their thirties. Some patients have a big rebound from allergies following a cancer treatment – it’s a part of the defense system.

What are the signs and symptoms of allergies?

If it doesn’t itch, it probably isn’t an allergy!

While isolated congestion is sometimes seen, more often than not, allergic conditions of the nose itch and have a clear watery drainage. Since asthma and allergies are often carried on the same genes, asthma is very often allergy related and the treatments can be very effective in combatting both symptoms.

How are allergies treated?

Allergies are best managed by avoiding the exposure to what gives you an allergic reaction. Many forget that even our hair is often clogged with pollen. Sleeping in pollen laden hair is a problem, so washing the hair or covering it is a prime example of avoidance.

If you can’t avoid it, antihistamines are effective if taken early and used at much higher doses than usual under a physician’s advice. The most powerful tool is nasal steroid sprays, but constant use may produce some problems including an increased incidence of upper respiratory infections.

Of all management options, allergy vaccinations are the only potential cure. By changing the attitude of the immune system, it may be one of the most cost-effective options, although its convenience is poor. Oral vaccination may be an improvement, but there is no FDA approved product available in America.

Learn more about allergies in this recent CBS 11 newscast.

If you suffer from severe allergies, find an allergy and immunology physician at Baylor Scott & White Health.

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Allergies: A genetic superiority from our ancestors