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Genetic Pathway to Allergies?

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Image is from CO Exist

An allergy is defined as a condition where the immune system reacts abnormally to a foreign substance. There are many different types of allergies. These include:

  • Medications
  • Food
  • Pollen
  • Latex
  • Animal Dander
  • Mold

The Genetic Risk

The tendency to develop allergies is genetic, therefore, they are hereditary, which means they are passed down from parent to child. However, this does not happen 100% of the time. Just because you or your spouse may have allergies doesn’t mean your child will definitely inherit them. For example, while approximately 17.6 million adults have been diagnosed with hay fever, less than half of that number of children, 6.6 million, have inherited the same allergy.

Additionally, children do not inherit a particular allergy, rather they inherit the tendency to develop them. For example, a parent may be allergic to pollen and develop hay fever, while their child may be allergic to chocolate and develop atopic eczema or dermatitis. Conversely, some children develop allergies when no known family member has them. Chances are if you are allergic to one substance, you are likely to be allergic to others.

Developing allergies because of your genetic links is known as atopic. While over half the children from atopic families will develop allergies, only one in five from unaffected families will be diagnosed. In families where both parents have allergies, this risk of their children inheriting them is slightly higher. If only one parent has been diagnosed, that risk decreases, however, it is important to note that if the mother has allergies, there is a slightly greater chance her children will develop them than if the father does.

The Allergic March

An allergy often follows a particular pattern where it is diagnosed in infancy through the toddler stage and into childhood, sometimes persisting into adulthood when a lifelong condition is diagnosed. When one allergic disease subsides and another takes its place, it is called the Allergic March. A common pattern is when atopic eczema leads to a food allergy, then asthma, and finally rhinitis. Some children, instead of experiencing the Allergic March, will experience a cumulative effect, meaning that one allergy does not replace another; it just gets added onto what they already have. Keep in mind, however, that all children are different; some may simply develop one allergy for life, instead of experiencing the Allergic March or a cumulative effect.

Common Allergens

Unfortunately, there are many allergens out there. The most common types are airborne and food. Some airborne allergies include:

  • Pollen
  • Dust Mites
  • Mold
  • Pets
  • Cockroaches

Food allergies include:

  • Wheat
  • Soy
  • Peanuts and tree nuts
  • Fish
  • Shellfish
  • Eggs
  • Cow’s milk.

Other common allergens include:

  • Insects, such as a bee sting
  • Chemicals
  • Medications

There are also cross-reactions and cross contamination. Cross-reactions happen when someone who has an allergy to one thing, has a reaction to another. For example, someone who is allergic to birch tree pollen might react to eating an apple if it contains a protein similar to one in the pollen. Another example is that people who are allergic to latex often react to bananas, avocados, chestnuts, and kiwi.

Cross contamination happens when you come in contact with a substance you are not allergic to, but it was processed with something you are during production or packaging. It can also happen at restaurants or even at home when the same utensils or surfaces are used for more than one type of food.

While genetics is not the sole cause of allergies, it has been proven that many allergies are hereditary, so you should be evaluated if you have a family history.

 

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