Our favourite allergy specialist/paediatrician Dr Sarah Karabus weighs in on the allergy question…
‘We all know someone with a child who has an allergy. Many of us suffer from allergies ourselves.
But why does it seem that allergic diseases such as asthma, eczema, allergic rhinitis and food allergies are increasing all the time?
And if they are indeed increasing, why is this happening?’
Allergies are on the rise in South Africa as well as across the world. Apart from affecting every aspect of daily life – including sleep, learning and play – allergies may also be life-threatening in certain circumstances.
The common allergic conditions in very young children include eczema and food allergies. As children get older, asthma and allergic rhinitis become more prominent.
The most common food allergies in children are to cow’s milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat and sesame. In older children and adults, fish, shellfish, fruit and vegetable allergies are also common.
There are a couple of factors that we know influence the prevalence of allergies, including things we can’t change, like our genetic susceptibility to allergies, but also a few things that we might be able to influence, such as our environment and our diets.
If one parent has an allergy, your child has around a 50% chance of developing an allergy of some kind, but not necessarily the same one. If both parents have an allergy, that possibility can be as high as 75%.
Your child will inherit the allergic tendency, but not the allergy itself. For instance, if you have pollen allergy causing hay fever, your child might have eczema or a cow’s milk allergy.
“If one parent has an allergy, your child has around a 50% chance of developing an allergy…
If both parents have an allergy, that possibility can be as high as 75%”
The bacteria in our gut are vital organisms that partner with our immune system to keep us healthy. We’re only just beginning to realise the effect that our resident microorganisms have on our entire being. They can influence our immune system, cardiac health, mental health, to name a few.
Unfortunately, modern diets have changed dramatically over the past few decades. Most of us now eat food that has been highly processed, with additives and preservatives that all affect these bacteria in different ways. This means our gut bacteria are no longer ideal, and it is believed this may play an important role in the development of allergies, especially food allergy.
We’ve also recently discovered that introducing certain foods such as egg and peanut early on in baby weaning process can reduce the risk of them developing allergies to these foods (if they are at high risk of becoming allergic). So it may well be that the old, outdated advice on delaying the introduction of allergic foods during weaning may have also inadvertently to this ever increasing food allergy “epidemic”.
The environment where we live can also promote the development of allergies, and make pre-existing allergies worse. Modern lifestyles are more urban – we no longer live on farms, and we no longer play outside for most of our childhood.
We’re also exposed to many more chemicals, irritants and pollutants than our grandparents were. Air pollution from cars irritates our lungs, noses and skin and makes asthma symptoms even worse.
Climate change has resulted in warmer temperatures globally, which means longer flowering seasons for plants and increased fungal growth and spores in the air.
We insulate our homes to conserve energy and keep cool in summer and warm in winter – this leads to increased growth of house dust mites and fungal spores.
It has been shown that children who grow up on farms and rural areas have a much lower rate of allergic condition than urban-born children. We’re not 100% sure why this happens, but it is believed that rural children are exposed to greater levels of “good” bacteria when they are growing up which somehow prevents their immune systems from tending to develop allergic symptoms.
We are only just starting to understand how our modern lifestyle, despite its many advantages, might also have contributed to the ‘allergy epidemic’
If you are concerned that your child is developing an allergy to certain foods, eczema or any other kind of allergy, speak to your GP and ask them to refer you to a paediatrician/allergologist for a proper diagnosis and action plan.
Yours in parenting,
Le Beauty Club recommends:
Any one who has a family member with atopic eczema knows that how you look after their skin is vital in helping to prevent flare-ups, especially in winter.
Keep the skin moisturised and comfortable with cleansing and moisturising products developed specifically to treat eczema-prone skin – the ingredients left out are as important as the ingredients put in.
We have a selection of the best dermatologist developed and recommended products available for use from baby to adulthood: Bioderma Atoderm Intensive range, Mustela Stelatopia and Noreva Xerodiane ranges.