A very common question that has been raised by many patients and especially parents of children with environmental and food allergies is: Why are we experiencing more and more allergies and asthma in the DC area now compared to a generation ago?
While it is possible that we are now able to detect and recognize allergic disorders more effectively than before, there is data to support the view that the actual incidence (the number of newly diagnosed cases) and the prevalence (the number of cases existing in the population) is increasing for the past several years. While the exact cause for this phenomenon is yet to be determined, there are some theories that try to explain the reasons behind it.
Children born to parents who already have allergies are at higher risk for developing allergies. If one parent has allergies, the risk for the child is doubled and if both the parents have allergies, the risk is tripled. This increased likelihood to develop allergic disease because of their genes is called atopy. The genes can be “turned on and off” by some factors in our environment that we are exposed to. The role of viral infections in turning the allergic genes on and off is a subject of intense ongoing research.
2. Hygiene Hypothesis:
Several studies in Scandinavian countries revealed that children who grew up on farms exposed to farm animals have lower incidence of allergic diseases compared to children who grew up in cities in a “cleaner” environment. This indicates that the immune system needs to be exposed to micro-organisms like viruses and bacteria while at a developing stage in infancy, in order to respond appropriately later in life. Compared to our parents and grandparents, most of us are now living in a more “sterile“ environment due to better hygiene, immunizations, and antibiotics. While these helped us defeat many life-threatening infections, the inadequate exposure of our immune system to micro-organisms early-on may have resulted in a tendency to fight harmless substances like mites, pollen, and foods resulting in allergic diseases.
We are now eating more processed foods and fewer vegetables and fruits than our forefathers did. Our diets also contain less omega-3 fatty acids and anti-oxidants. Vitamin D plays an important role in the modulation of immune function, and more and more people are currently being diagnosed as having a deficiency of Vitamin D, probably due to inadequate exposure to sunlight. The precise role of these factors in increased incidence of allergic disorders is being studied worldwide, though no conclusions have yet been reached.
Although no conclusions have been reached regarding the cause of why the incidence and prevalence of allergies and asthma in Manassas, VA and the DC area have increased over recent years, it is clear that these conditions are very problematic for allergy sufferers. We, at Black and Kletz Allergy, strive to help alleviate your allergy and asthma symptoms in McLean, Virginia and the Washington, DC area, so that you can enjoy a high quality of life.