Have you noticed that more and more people seem to have allergies? We’re talking about food allergies, seasonal allergies, pet allergies, and dust allergies. Often, people with these food and environmental allergies also have a diagnosis of asthma or autoimmune disease. What has caused this? Why are allergies of all kinds on the rise? Why are there so many ads for allergy medications on TV? Why so many online ads for immune-suppressing medications? Something has changed about the way we live.
Allergies of all types are a growing concern in the United States and other westernized countries. This is due in large part to our modern lifestyle built around urban living, technology, and convenience.
- According to the CDC, 19.2 million adults were diagnosed with hay fever in the past 12 months (Sept 2021- Sept 2022). That is 7.7% of the American adult population.
- Over those 12 months, the CDC reported the percentage of children with hay fever was 7.2%.
- The percentage of children with respiratory allergies was 9.6%
- The CDC reported the percentage of children with skin allergies is 12.6%
- According to a study published in Pediatrics, food allergies affect 1 in 13 children in the United States (about 8%).
A March 2021 study published in Nature Reviews: Immunology listed just a few of the modern lifestyle changes that have contributed to this allergy epidemic: increased use of Caesarian section delivery, increased use of antibiotics, a westernized diet, and more time spent indoors.
The Epithelial Barrier and Allergies
Dr. Cezmi A. Akdis is the Director of the Swiss Institute of Allergy and Asthma Research in Davos, Switzerland. He published a paper on the epithelial barrier hypothesis in the journal Nature Reviews: Immunology in November 2021. In this paper, Dr. Akdis argues that the increase in allergic and autoimmune diseases is tied to a defective epithelial barrier.
The epithelial barrier makes up our skin as well as the lining of the GI tract and the airway. When damaged, it can lead to eczema, asthma, hay fever, sinus problems, Celiac disease, and inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis). A compromised gut lining (“leaky gut”) is also tied to autoimmune diseases and metabolic conditions like diabetes and obesity.
Dr. Akdis outlines the increase in allergies and asthma on page two of his review. Some highlights include:
- The first description of hay fever was in 1819.
- The first publication of a series of cases came out in 1873. Before that, allergies were practically unknown.
- The allergy and asthma epidemic didn’t begin until the 1960s.
- From 1965 to 1980, hospital admissions of children with asthma increased almost 10 times in Australia, the UK, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States.
- It was rare for healthy people to have IgG allergic responses to environmental allergens in the 1970s and 1980s.
- Both IgE and IgG allergic responses increased after the 1970s.
- Allergen-specific IgEs were higher in 1998 compared to 1990.
- Most adults had IgG responses to grass pollen, olive/ash pollen, birch pollen, or dust mites in a 2017 study.
- Almost all one-year-old children were producing IgG antibodies to both milk and eggs in a 2018 study.
As you can see, from the 1960s to today, allergies and allergy-related conditions have skyrocketed. It seems to be getting worse every year.
What is an Allergy?
An allergy, in general, is an immune hypersensitivity reaction. This occurs when the immune system has an exaggerated inflammatory and immune response which leads to adverse reactions. There is no difference between “sensitivities” and allergies. They are all immune responses – immune hypersensitivity reactions to things in the environment.
Hypersensitivity reactions fall into four different categories or types: Type I, Type II, Type III, and Type IV. Within these four classifications, there are different antibody or immunoglobulin responses. But they are ALL types of allergies.
Type I Hypersensitivity Allergies
Type I hypersensitivity is probably the most well-known. It is an immediate hypersensitivity reaction and involves an immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibody release to that specific allergen. Mast cells are activated and there’s a release of histamine. E is for Emergency! These types of reactions can be life-threatening. Severe allergic reactions usually call for an antihistamine drug, an EpiPen (epinephrine autoinjector), or even a trip to the Emergency Room. Type I allergies make up just 0.03% of the immune response.
Examples of type I hypersensitivity conditions include anaphylaxis (throat closing after eating shellfish/shrimp, for example), bronchial asthma, allergic rhinitis (hay fever), drug allergies (aspirin or penicillin), and food allergies like tree nuts.
Some common allergens that cause type I hypersensitivity reactions include ragweed, pet dander, insect stings (bees or wasps), dust mites, and a higher pollen count.
Potential Type I Hypersensitivity Symptoms
Some examples of type I hypersensitivity allergy symptoms may include:
- Watery eyes
- Runny nose
- Stuffy nose
- Skin reactions, like hives
- Shortness of breath
- A sudden drop in blood pressure
- A sudden reaction to animal dander (cat allergy, for example)
Type I hypersensitivity reactions can be mild, like sneezing, or severe, like the throat closing. OR… there may be no symptoms at all. You can have a food allergy that leads to anaphylaxis or one you don’t even know you have.
Type II Hypersensitivity Allergies
Type II hypersensitivity involves immunoglobulin G (IgG) and immunoglobulin M (IgM) antibody release. It ultimately leads to cell damage. IgGs are secreted by plasma cells in the blood and make up about 80 to 90% of the immune response. IgMs are found in the blood during an active infection.
IgGs are further broken into four subclasses (IgG1, IgG2, IgG3, and IgG4). Most food allergy tests only test one of those, meaning the testing is incomplete. An IgG response can happen in as little as a few hours or up to 30 days.
Examples of type II hypersensitivity conditions include myasthenia gravis and Graves’ disease.
Potential Type II Hypersensitivity Symptoms
Type II hypersensitivity may or may not cause symptoms. Some food allergies are due to IgG type II hypersensitivity. They show up on labs but otherwise may not cause symptoms. The symptoms may also be delayed, so it’s difficult to know what triggered them. Some potential IgG-related symptoms include:
- Mood swings (anxiety, irritability, or aggressiveness)
- Dark circles under the eyes
- Skin problems, like acne or eczema
- Headaches or migraines
- Brain fog
- Canker sores
- Sinus problems
- Bloating or weight gain
In other words, chronic headaches or brain fog may be due to unknown food allergies. IgG reactions to food proteins can be either type II or type III hypersensitivity reactions.
Type III Hypersensitivity Allergies
Type III hypersensitivity involves IgG, IgM, and sometimes IgA antibodies. While IgG and IgM antibodies are found in the blood, IgA antibodies are found in the mucus, saliva, tears, and breast milk. Type III hypersensitivity is an immune complex-mediated reaction that ultimately leads to tissue damage.
Examples of type III hypersensitivity conditions include systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and rheumatoid arthritis.
Potential Type III Hypersensitivity Symptoms
Like type II hypersensitivity, type III hypersensitivity may not cause direct symptoms. They may be delayed and result in symptoms like those listed under type II hypersensitivity. Tissue damage over time may also lead to a disease with its own constellation of symptoms. Some food allergies are due to type III hypersensitivity. They will show up on lab results but may or may not cause symptoms.
Type IV Hypersensitivity Allergies
Type IV hypersensitivity is also referred to as delayed-type and involves T-cell reactions. Inflammatory cytokine release activates the T-cells and leads to tissue damage. Type IV reactions can be caused by exposure to a plant (poison ivy or nettle), metal (nickel), latex gloves, acrylics, preservatives, chemicals, and more.
Examples of type IV hypersensitivity conditions include contact dermatitis, Crohn’s disease, schistosomiasis, certain lung conditions, and drug hypersensitivity.
Type IV Hypersensitivity Symptoms
Some examples of type IV hypersensitivity symptoms may include:
- Skin rash/itching
- Poor lung function
- Digestive disturbances
Or… it may not lead to symptoms. The body’s immune system can be stealth. The point is that the immune response is activated chronically, which tends to lead to dis-ease in the body.
Healthcare’s Response to Allergies
The mainstream medical system will typically test for allergies with a blood test or skin test. However, this testing has its limitations, as they are only looking for IgE antibodies.
For regular seasonal allergies or asthma symptoms, the typically recommended treatments include over-the-counter or prescription decongestants, nasal sprays, or steroids. For severe allergies, allergists may recommend immunotherapy (“allergy shots”). This is particularly effective in those with allergic asthma
Allergies are common nowadays, but they aren’t normal! Kids didn’t always have eczema or peanut allergies. Adults didn’t always have hay fever or gluten allergies. Allergy meds, inhalers, and epi-pens weren’t always frequent occupants of the medicine cabinet. What’s causing all these allergic responses?
A Wellness Way Perspective on Allergies
Allergies are simply the result of triggering an immune response. At The Wellness Way, we always go back to physical, biochemical, and emotional causes. We refer to them as trauma, toxins, and thoughts; the Three T’s.
Trauma Contributors to Chronic Allergies
Examples of physical stressors that may lead to chronic allergies include the following:
- A traumatic birth (Including C-sections, which are not natural)
- Car accidents, falls, or other injuries
- A traumatic loss
- Sexual assault/being a victim of abuse or violence (or viewing it)
- Severe illness
These can be compounded by toxic exposures, allergy triggers, and stress.
Toxin Contributors to Chronic Allergies
We are now living in a highly industrialized, urbanized world that’s full of toxins. Here are just a few potential toxin contributors to allergic conditions.
- Mother’s sugar intake – A high amount of sugar during pregnancy may increase the risk of allergies in the child.
- Caesarean Section – C-sections may increase risk of allergy, eczema, and asthma by altering the gut microbiome.
- Processed foods – Emulsifiers in processed foods have been tied to an increase in allergic diseases.
- Mold and mycotoxins – Molds are known to damage barrier function, leading to asthma and allergies.
- Laundry detergents – Surfactants in laundry detergents and other cleaning products have also been shown to damage the tight junctions of the epithelial barriers, increasing the risk of allergic conditions.
Thought Contributors to Chronic Allergies
Mental and emotional stressors can also contribute to a chronically elevated immune response leading to allergies. While short-term stress lowers the immune response, chronic stress leads to a chronically triggered immune response, via the mast cells. Stress has been shown to adversely affect many different conditions –especially those related to chronic inflammation, allergies, and autoimmunity.
The Swiss Watch Understanding of Allergies
Gut Dysbiosis and Allergies
Gut dysbiosis is an imbalance in the makeup of your gut bacteria. This imbalance causes inflammation, which can keep the gut perpetually compromised as a barrier. This hyperpermeability or “leaky” gut allows food particles to enter the bloodstream before being fully digested. That influx of foreign invaders causes an immune response, leading to hypersensitivity reactions.
Hormone Imbalance and Allergies
Hormone imbalance – Believe it or not, immune cells have estrogen receptors. Scientists are currently the influence of hormones on allergic diseases, particularly because women more often suffer than men. Hormone imbalance, particularly something called estrogen dominance, can mess with your immune response and allergy symptoms.
Detoxification and Allergies
As mentioned, there are many toxic contributors to a chronically triggered immune response. To address this problem, we need to support the body’s detoxification pathways, including the liver, the GI, the urinary system, the lymphatic system, and more. Helping the body naturally detoxify is a key element in overcoming chronic immune hypersensitivities.
Where to Start if You Suspect Allergies
If you have allergies of any kind, you know you have an elevated immune response. The question is what is triggering that heightened immune response? We don’t guess—We test!
Do a Food Allergy Test
Testing Food allergies is always a good place to start. After all, eating is something we do every single day. Something you’re eating may be contributing to an exaggerated immune response. You might be surprised to find that food allergies are causing your chronic congestion or asthma attacks. Our testing covers all four subclasses (IgG1, IgG2, IgG3, and IgG4) for a complete assessment.
Another important lab that goes right along with the food allergy test is a gut health test. The reason a person has food allergies in the first place is that the gut is compromised.
Do a Stool Test to Assess Gut Health
Doing a stool test can give you a lot of information about what is impacting your immune health, leading to allergies. It can help assess digestive and absorptive functions as well as the presence of bad bacteria, yeasts, parasites, and other pathogens. These infections can compromise the epithelial barrier in the gut, opening the door to immune hypersensitivity reactions.
Test The Immune Response
You can also directly test your immune response. Here are some ideas of where to start, but your practitioner will better be able to guide you in which testing is best for your situation:
- The Access Custom Immune Panel is an in-depth test of the immune response. It includes a basic CBC and breaks down the status of immune cells, including lymphocytes, Natural Killer cells, B cells, T cells, and a CD4/CD8 ratio.
- The Autoimmune 30+ Target Specific Antibody Test looks for 30+ specific antigens known to be associated with over 20 common autoimmune disorders.
- The Immuno Fingerprick WW BloodPrint 110 tests IgG responses only. It assesses your body’s response to 110 different foods via finger prick.
- A Thyroid Panel may also be helpful, as it not only shows thyroid hormones but gives thyroid antibody levels and vitamin D levels. Vitamin D has a significant impact on the immune response.
These are just an idea of some panels your practitioner might run. The Wellness Way has many other custom panels that we can do to best fit your health history, symptoms, and goals.
Address The Stress
It’s not possible to remove all stress from your life, but it’s possible to lower it. Part of lowering the stress on your body is removing the traumas, toxins, and thoughts that are stressing your nervous system every day. Beyond that, there are ways to delegate tasks, create boundaries, and find ways to escape.
The Wellness Way Can Help
At The Wellness Way, we don’t guess –we test! Doing a food elimination diet is only guessing. Taking medication is only suppressing. These methods can be helpful to an extent, and for a short period, but you don’t know what you don’t know. That’s why we do comprehensive testing of food allergens, gut health, the immune response, and more. We create a personalized nutrition plan that’s just for you. Don’t continue to suffer—reach out to a Wellness Way Clinic near you. We would be honored to support you on your health restoration journey.
- FastStats – Allergies and Hay Fever (cdc.gov)
- The Public Health Impact of Parent-Reported Childhood Food Allergies in the United States – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Early life microbial exposures and allergy risks: opportunities for prevention – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Does the epithelial barrier hypothesis explain the increase in allergy, autoimmunity and other chronic conditions? – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Type I Hypersensitivity Reaction – StatPearls – NCBI Bookshelf (nih.gov)
- Type II Hypersensitivity Reaction – StatPearls – NCBI Bookshelf (nih.gov)
- IgG Subclasses and Allotypes: From Structure to Effector Functions – PMC (nih.gov)
- Type III Hypersensitivity Reaction – StatPearls – NCBI Bookshelf (nih.gov)
- Type IV Hypersensitivity Reaction – StatPearls – NCBI Bookshelf (nih.gov)
- The association between sugar intake during pregnancy and allergies in offspring: a systematic review and a meta-analysis of cohort studies – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Short-term and long-term effects of caesarean section on the health of women and children – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Old Fashioned vs. Ultra-Processed-Based Current Diets: Possible Implication in the Increased Susceptibility to Type 1 Diabetes and Celiac Disease in Childhood – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Mold, Mycotoxins and a Dysregulated Immune System: A Combination of Concern? – PMC (nih.gov)
- Laundry detergents and detergent residue after rinsing directly disrupt tight junction barrier integrity in human bronchial epithelial cells – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Stress, Inflammation, and Autoimmunity: The 3 Modern Erinyes – PMC (nih.gov)
- Gut Microbiota, Leaky Gut, and Autoimmune Diseases – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Estrogen and estrogen receptor signaling promotes allergic immune responses: Effects on immune cells, cytokines, and inflammatory factors involved in allergy – PubMed (nih.gov)