Why Are Food Allergies on the Rise?14th May 2015
Allergies are very common and are on the rise. When I was a kid allergies were almost nonexistent. Now in Australia and New Zealand, allergies affect around one in three people at some time in their lives. In the UK, it is estimated that up to 50% of children are diagnosed with an allergic condition. More than 17 million Europeans have a food allergy, and hospital admissions for severe reactions in children have risen seven-fold over the past decade, according to the European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (EAACI) and it is estimated that up to 15 million Americans have food allergies.
Researchers are trying to discover why food allergies are on the rise in developed countries worldwide, and to learn more about the impact of the disease in developing nations. Before we get to that, how do we define an allergy?
Allergy occurs when a person’s immune system reacts to substances in the environment that are harmless for most people. These substances are known as allergens and are found in house dust mites, pet hair, pollen, insects, moulds, foods and some medicines. When the allergen enters the body it triggers an antibody response. The antibodies attach themselves to special cells, called mast cells. When the allergen comes into contact with the antibodies, the mast cells respond by releasing certain substances, one of which is called histamine. When the release of histamine is due to an allergen, the resulting swelling and inflammation is extremely irritating, uncomfortable and could also cause death.