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Why Do So Many People Have Allergies

Updated on December 8, 2010

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When I was a child I remember very few people had allergies or asthma. Now it seems everyone around me has either an allergy or asthma. So I checked out the facts. I was shocked: according to Web 55% of Americans test positive for one or more allergies. 4 million work days are lost in the USA because of hay fever. Between 1980 and 1994 the number of children under 5 with asthma went up 160%. Allergies now rank as 5th in the United States among the most dangerous chronic diseases.

This is frightening stuff. The symptoms of allergies vary – especially food allergies – but the most common symptoms are:

  • Runny nose
  • Dry eyes
  • Eye irritation
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Sneezing
  • Hives
  • Rashes

It is stupid to blame nature for our allergies. It cannot simply be pollen causing people to have streaming eyes and noses every spring and summer. If anything since deforestation and the obsessive desire to concrete over everything that characterizes the developed world there should be less allergic reactions not more. Furthermore, in developing countries where often there is more ‘nature’ the incident rate of allergic reaction is much lower. So what is going on?

Under a microscope

So What are Allergies?

To start at the beginning what is an allergy?

Well to put it simply it is when a foreign body comes into contact with your body’s immune system. In people without allergies the body does not respond. However, in people with an allergic predisposition the immune system tries to fight the foreign body and produces antibodies. These antibodies cause a release of the chemical called histamine that causes swelling and irritation of the upper respiratory passages.

Other than some particular foods such as nuts, the most common causes of allergic reaction are pollen, mold, dust mites and danders (from animal hair). Allergies are also inherited. If one parent has an allergy the child has a 33% of developing an allergy. If both parents have an allergy, than that chance goes up to a staggering 70%. It might well be that over the generations that heredity has created a population in America with over 50% having an allergy.

What Makes Allergies and Asthma Worse

I think this is the key question. You can have an allergy or asthma but not suffer very much. There are certain triggers that start allergic reactions these include cigarette smoke, diesel fumes and various chemicals found in pollution and indoor products. Here is a list of products to watch out for:

1) Adhesives containing formaldehyde
2) Cleaning detergents containing phosphates
3) Pesticide residues

How To Make Your House Allergen Free

It cannot be an accident that in the developed world where the majority of people spend 90% of their time indoors that it is indoor air that is the biggest issue. If you have allergies you shouldn’t have pets. Danders from pet hairs aggravate allergic reactions. And you should avoid smoking or passive smoking. Also if you have allergies then rip up your carpets. The excretion from microscopic dust mites causes many people to get hay fever and develop runny noses, sore eyes and other respiratory symptoms. Dust mites love hot and humid conditions and thrive on human skin. Their excrement gathers in carpets and causes asthma and allergy attacks. Much better than carpet, is to install cork flooring, reclaimed hardwood flooring or strand woven bamboo flooring that is allergen free. Strand woven bamboo flooring is also anti-microbial as is cork flooring. But only cork flooring is also mold resistant.

Other precautions you can take are to regularly beat with a broom any rugs and wash furniture covers. Also regularly change your bedding.

Because organic volatile compounds (VOCs) such as formaldehyde trigger allergy and asthma attacks, it is important to try and clear your house of VOC containing products such as normal paint, paint thinners, nail polish and some detergents. The dry cleaning process also brings VOCs into your house. Fabric conditioners are also often high in VOCs. With all household products read the labels carefully and look for the environmentally friendly alternative. LEED recommendations for improving air quality are good guides to reducing allergens and VOCs in a household.

By improving the indoor air quality of your home or your office you will reduce the likelihood of allergic reaction or asthma attack. Avoid mold, pets, cigarette smoke and dust mites. If you are really concerned you should consult a qualified green interior decorator who will have an extensive knowledge of VOCs and allergens and will be able to recommend furniture, flooring and soft furnishing that is anti-allergenic or allergen free.

Final Word

I still feel science has yet to provide all the answers to why so many people in the developed world have allergies. In Japan there is a very high percentage of allergy sufferers in cities and areas near busy roads. Although diesel and other petrochemical products are only recognized as allergy triggers (only making allergies worse Not causing allergies), it seems to me that either people are getting allergies from over-exposure to petrochemical pollution (VOCs, nitrogen oxide, lead etc.) or pollution is somehow combining with pollen to make a more virulent and widespread allergic response in the population. Time will tell. But what is certain is that greening up your house makes sense for the health of you and your family, not just sense for the environment.


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    • miccimom profile image

      miccimom 6 years ago from U.S.A

      You know I have always wondered why so many people have allergies now. I have a food allergy and no one in my family has it. I developed when I was teenager. I liked your Hub, voted interesting! :)