Misery. Thy Name Is Allergy

Words: Dr Rajgopal NIDAMBOOR

When the Austrian paediatrician, Clemens von Pirquet, MD, first used the term, allergy, in the early 1900s — from the Greek allos, for altered state, and ergon, for reaction — to illustrate excess physiological responses to substances in the environment, the fascinating expression caught the fancy of the world. Today, allergy is, doubtless, the most clichéd ‘idiom’ used to delineate, or mystify, not only sneezing bouts, or skin rash, but also situations — “I’m allergic to perfumes,” or, “I’ve a ‘mind allergy,’ while attending boring, unproductive meetings” — in the literal sense.

Millions of people suffer from allergies. More than 30 per cent of them also test ‘positive’ for one, or more allergens, or allergy-causing substances, just as much as the incidence of allergic rhinitis [nasal allergy, or hay fever], asthma, food allergy, or sensitivity, and atopic dermatitis [eczema], to highlight familiar examples, has multiplied manifold during the last 25-30 years. It is also evidenced that, for all age-groups, nasal allergy alone is reported by 45-50 people for every 1,000. The frequency mirrors the pervasiveness of clinically diagnosed, commonly established allergic conditions, all right, although food allergy, or sensitivity, is not as easily recognised, or treated appropriately.


Allergies can result from any, or every, substance one is allergic to. What you breathe in, or are exposed to — dust, house dust mites [HDM], pollen, mould spores, or animal dander, plants, perfumes, cosmetics, preservatives, certain foods, or conventional medications, including blood transfusions and insect sting, or bite — can all ‘activate’ allergy. The allergic tendency is inherited; it occurs in every two individuals out of five. If you have one allergic parent, you have a 1-in-3 chance of developing allergy. If your mother and father have had allergies, the risk is two-fold.

Notwithstanding medical and technological advance, there is no ‘all-encompassing’ explanation for allergic responses, albeit clinicians and researchers have deciphered some of the most likely, or cumulative, causes — including reduced exposure to bacterial disease. This lack of ‘contact,’ especially in the developed world, paradoxically ‘prods’ the immune system to react against innocuous ‘allergens.’ Likewise, reduced, or lack of breast-feeding is another cause for compromised immune function and allergy. What may also be apparent are environmental triggers, such as pollutants, contaminated air and particulate matter from automobile exhaust, cigarette and tobacco smoke. Add to this ‘hygiene premise,’ or experiencing low infection early in life, thanks to amplified cleanliness — which actually increases the risk of developing allergies — not to speak of low vitamin D levels, or deficiency, and you have the brazen allergy spectacle, or portrait, in all its myriad forms.

Allergy Spike

What has caused the giant allergic spike in recent times, perhaps, is repetitive, or excess consumption of certain foods — processed wheat and corn, along with food additives, such as artificial preservatives, colouring, flavour-enhancing agents, yeast and antibiotics. It has also been surmised that infrequent food rotation makes people predisposed, or vulnerable, towards developing allergic hypersensitivities. Research suggests that exposure to cow’s milk during the first three months of life is associated with high antibody levels — up to eight years of age — more so, in children with maternal atopy, or genetic tendency for allergic disorders.

Food allergy results from sensitisation to one or more foods. Research suggests that IgG antibodies — or, molecular supervisors, which ‘watch’ for viruses, bacteria etc., — increase the permeability of the gut wall, leading to increased ‘access.’ Symptoms of food allergy manifest locally in the gut, or elsewhere in the body, as a consequence of immunological response. What adds to the fiddly conundrum is a host of food-based allergic syndromes, with symptoms other than ‘classical’ allergic indications, is often misdiagnosed and/or medically mismanaged. The downside also is some delayed patterns of food allergy are not always apparent — because symptoms may become evident only after a few hours, or even days. In addition, food allergy is not given adequate credence, though it is implicated in conditions ranging from attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder [ADHD], migraine, Meniere’s disease [an inner ear disorder that affects balance and hearing], asthma, atopic dermatitis [eczema] and urticaria [hives] to irritable bowel syndrome [IBS].

The Allergy Canvas

Let’s now picture the surging chemistry of allergy and its upsetting canvas. Ah, the misery of allergy. Allergy has more to it than what meets the eye, nose, respiratory system, skin, or the gut. Do you know that there are certain mast cells below the lining of your skin, nose, eyes, gut and the lungs? What actually happens during the food allergic ‘standoff,’ for example, is ingested food antigens infiltrate and attach to the mast cells. Mast cells are ‘smart’ entities. They are endowed with the ability to destroy unwanted intruders, such as parasites. They are also as good as ‘land-mines’ waiting to explode. In addition, they contain tiny ‘sacks’ crammed with chemicals. This includes histamine, a name that everyone suffering from allergy is acquainted with. When histamine is released in tiny amounts, it causes irritation. In surplus amounts, it causes skin rash, sneezing, which is characteristic of nasal allergy, and that all-too-familiar ‘wheeze’ of asthma.

Mast cells are also filled with proteins called immunoglobulin-E [IgE] antibodies. Others in the immunoglobulin-genre are IgA, IgD, IgG and IgM. IgE plays the role of a remote sensor like the antenna you have at home to receive TV signals. A person allergic to dust, for example, will have IgE antibodies that ‘spot’ the dust particle, or allergen, like how your computer’s security system identifies a Trojan, or virus. When dust triggers your sneezing reflex, the mast cells deposit IgE antibodies into the tissues, causing the typical allergic reaction. It all depends, of course, on the substance that you are allergic to. The end result, however, is allergy. This may be skin rash, watery eyes, sneezing, runny nose, sinusitis, cough, wheeze, or flagrant symptoms that end up in anaphylaxis — a life-threatening form of allergic reaction.

Prick Test 

A skin prick test is a simple and painless procedure undertaken to find out which substances [allergens] cause allergic reactions in the affected person. Dilute solutions are made from extracts of allergens, such as pollen, dust, dander, and food, which commonly cause allergic reactions.

Other Tests 

  1. Inflammation/Immune Function
  2. Allergy Testing: IgG and IgE antibodies to foods, and environmental allergens
  3. Gut immunology: EPX [eosinophil protein X], calprotectin in stool
  4. Microbial analysis [virus, bacteria, ticks, parasites, worms etc].

It is also ironical that some people react powerfully to allergens, while others show absolutely no response. You’d blame it on genetics, or increased environmental exposure to ‘potential’ allergens. It is surmised that prolonged, or intense, exposure to allergens can trigger the body to develop an inflated immune response. Take, for instance, pollen, a non-threatening protein. Yet, individuals with certain sensitivities experience an immune response which is characteristically held in reserve for harmful substances the body comes in contact with. Why does this happen? The body’s immune system is built to recognise the disparity between perilous and undamaging invaders. When pollen enters an allergy-sensitive individual, the body’s white blood cells [WBCs], go on high-alert and act in response to the allergen, as if it were intimidating. As the WBCs, or soldiers of health, ‘scan’ the invader, they also begin to build antibodies — a defence mechanism — which ‘connect’ to mast cells, laying the ground for combat to begin.

PNI: Mind-Body Connect

Allergy is the external manifestation of an underlying, internal turmoil. It is as much ‘triggered’ in the mind as hypersensitivity to a physical allergen. This mind-body ‘connect’ is best explained through the rapidly-expanding field of psychoneuroimmunology [PNI] — the study of interactions between psychological processes, the nervous and immune systems of our body. Consider stress — a common cause of various bodily reactions. Stress can ‘trigger’ a Pavlovian upshot, just like an allergen, where the body learns by connotation to experience strong emotions. This can ‘engineer’ an allergic response with any substance that you come in to contact with during the stressful episode. As the body begins to generate negative associations, while experiencing emotional distress, the misery, by way of reflex, also gets correlated to a particular food, odour, or substance. In simple terms, our psyche, as a whole, is stirred to remember and react when exposed to the same food, odour or substance, each time — a sort of ‘conditioned’ allergic response.

Dr RAJGOPAL NIDAMBOOR, PhD, is a wellness physician-writer-editor, independent researcher, critic, columnist, author and publisher. His published work includes hundreds of newspaper, magazine, web articles, essays, meditations, columns, and critiques on a host of subjects, eight books on natural health, two coffee table tomes and an encyclopaedic treatise on Indian philosophy. He is Chief Wellness Officer, Docco360 — a mobile health application/platform connecting patients with Ayurveda, homeopathic and Unani physicians, and nutrition therapists, among others, from the comfort of their home — and, Editor-in-Chief, ThinkWellness360.

1 thoughts on “Misery. Thy Name Is Allergy

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