Up to 40 percent of people (and that includes children) suffer from allergies at one time or another. Since the mid-1980s allergies seem to have increased about 30 percent. Dr. Emily Senay shared some theories on The Early Show.
- The first is called the hygiene hypothesis: We are victims of our own cleanliness. In the old days babies were exposed to bacteria and other infectious diseases, which might have helped their immune systems develop so that they didn't get allergies later in life. Now we're so clean babies don't get exposed to these things; later on their immune systems become hyperreactive.
- The second theory involves the indoors lifestyle. People spend a lot of time indoors and are exposed to common allergens such as dust mites, pet dander and secondhand smoke. And these things make the immune system overreact.
- Diet and exercise may play a role. Western diets that are high in salt and fat may somehow prime the immune system to overreact.
- Air pollution could be a culprit. Many researchers say that when diesel and oil fumes or particles are combined with the allergen, the immune system reacts more than it would from exposure to the allergen alone.
It's not necessarily true that the worse your allergies get the worse your immune system is getting. Being exposed to a virus or infectious disease could somehow shift or change the immune system, though, and suddenly people develop an allergy.
Treatment options really relate to the individual. There are over-the-counter options as well as many prescription medications. The best strategy is to work with a doctor over a period of time. In addition, repeated shots over a period of time introduce the allergen in minute quantities and that makes the immune system quiet down eventually.