DeMYTHyfying Allergy: 5 Common Myths
As an allergist, I often spend lots of time with patients and families helping to dispel the many myths around allergies and allergic diseases. Here are some of the common myths that I encounter on a daily basis:
1. Myth: Peanuts are nuts.
Truth: Peanuts are not nuts. Peanuts, also known as groundnuts, are actually legumes. The reason why doctors and allergists recommend that nut-allergic patients avoid peanuts has to do with cross-contamination. Food-processing plants will often process tree nuts and peanuts in the same facility so they are often in contact with one another. It would be a huge problem if some peanut material gets into the bag of walnuts that you are serving your peanut-allergic child.
2. Myth: People who have Egg allergy cannot have the flu shot.
Truth: Administration of the inactivated Influenza vaccine to egg-allergic patients has been studied in various centers across Canada and the US and the emerging data strongly suggests that the flu shot is safe for that population. Patients with egg allergy should therefore get the flu shot. It is advisable, however, that egg-allergic patients get their flu-shots in a supervised clinic with physicians present. The live intranasal flu vaccine has not been studied in individuals with egg allergy in large trials and so for now, those with egg allergy should not receive the nasal flu vaccine.
3. Myth: My pet is hypoallergenic because it has no fur.
Truth: Animal allergens, the molecules that trigger allergic reactions, are not just in the fur. They are in the skin your pets shed daily as well as in their saliva and urine. Researchers have measured animal dander in homes of ‘hypoallergenic’ and regular dogs and found similar amounts of dog allergen present.
4. Myth: Only children develop food allergies.
Truth: Children are not the only ones who are at risk for developing food allergy. Studies have shown that food allergy occurs in 6-9% of children and 3-4% of adults. Some allergies are more common in children such as egg and milk, while shellfish tends to be more common in the adult population.
5. Myth: Allergens are not changing; it is we who can’t handle them anymore.
Truth: Both the allergens and the environment are changing. Studies have shown that some allergens such as grass and ragweed pollen react to worsening pollution by increasing the potency of the pollen. Also, climate change has affected the flowering and pollination seasons of many plants. Couple this with changes in the types, numbers, and locations of insects such as bees; the plants must evolve to survive.
Bonus: Many people who have peanut allergies or know someone with a peanut allergy often ask me if there will be a cure. There are many studies looking at how to induce tolerance in children to the food they are allergic to by giving them small amounts. These are all very much in the experimental study phase and there have been cases of severe life-threatening allergic reaction among the subjects in these studies. Studies have been done in Europe and the United States, and now studies are being done here in Canada for children with peanut allergy. So hopefully we will soon find a safe management option for children with peanut allergy.