Category Archives: Immunology

Allergies or Allergens?

“Macrophage”. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

A recent blog post related one mother’s frustrations with her and her son’s allergies, and lamented the apparent rise in the number of people with allergies and with the number of allergies each person is burdened with.

Perhaps what we are observing is not an increase in allergies, but is instead an increase in availability of allergens. With the advent of fast worldwide shipping, foods that once were seasonal are now available year-round. This can result in the near-constant exposure to allergens that previously would have been available intermittently throughout the year. Not to mention the availability of a greater variety of allergens from distant countries.

The examples related in the article are good evidence of this. The mother and her son were exposed to multiple allergens simultaneously which resulted in anaphylaxis. In days past, these exposures would have been limited by the growing season and scarcity of preserved foods. For example, strawberry jelly would be served for a week, perhaps coinciding with serving frozen corn. While both may have been allergens for a person, the result may have been a mild rash that went unnoticed. Today, those two allergens could easily be encountered on a daily basis, along with a handful of other allergens which might eventually result in anaphylaxis.

If this hypothesis holds true, perhaps one day people will learn they can have strawberries if particular plants aren’t blooming, or they can have a cat if they avoid certain foods. Perhaps there will be an assessment available to check ones allergen burden and learn that one should avoid allergens at all cost because anaphylaxis is imminent, or that it is okay to have a PBJ.

Let’s hope.