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Misconceptions about Allergies

Children outgrow allergies

Some children do outgrow their allergies, but the majority retain them, especially if they're to foods such as nuts and fish. At least 50 per cent of allergies to pets, pollen and dust mites also persist into adult life.

Allergies are all in the mind

Allergies are potentially life-threatening reactions to common environmental substances and foods, resulting in allergic inflammation. Emotions can exacerbate symptoms but are never the main cause.

Milk and wheat allergies are common in adults

Cow's milk allergy occurs in some children but most grow out of it by the age of five. It's rare for a wheat allergy to start in adulthood.

Multiple food allergies are common

Fortunately, food allergies are usually limited. An allergy to four food types is usual, with some cross-reactions to unrelated food families. People whose hay fever is triggered by birch pollen may react with oral allergies to apples, cherries, hazelnuts and carrots, for example.

Food-allergic people usually react to strawberries and tomato

The common food allergies in children are cow's milk, wheat, egg, fish and peanuts, while adults react to fish, shellfish, peanuts and nuts.

Goat's milk is a good substitute for those with cow's milk allergy

Goat's milk has many similar casein proteins to cow's milk, so can also trigger a reaction. It's only tolerated in 40 per cent of children with a cow's milk allergy.

People with sinus and ear problems should avoid milk allergy

Sinus and chest problems aren't provoked by milk allergy. Watery post-nasal mucus often feels thicker when mixed with milk during meals, increasing awareness of the mucus.

People who are allergic to iodine should avoid all fish and shellfish

Fish don't contain significant amounts of iodine and won't cause problems for people with an iodine allergy.

Food allergies cause hyperactivity

Food allergies can't trigger hyperactivity. Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may become more active after consuming sweets and junk foods, but this is caused by a 'sugar surge' rather than an allergy.

Allergy testing is a waste of time because you'll probably react to everything

Allergy testing is accurate and testing should be done after carefully discussing the person's symptoms and medical history. Most allergic people will react to a few allergens, which once identified can then be avoided.

Allergy testing is dangerous and shouldn't be performed on young children

Occasionally, skin testing for allergies can trigger a slight skin reaction or wheezing, but this is rare. Blood RAST testing is safer for those who are highly allergic. If an allergy is suspected, children can and should be tested from four months of age.

Desensitisation to allergies is hocus pocus

Injection (SIT) or sublingual (SLIT) desensitisation immunotherapy is highly effective and the only way of curing allergies to grass pollen, house dust mites and insect venom. Enzyme potentiated desensitisation (EPD) is not effective.

Indoor house plants and flowers cause allergic rhinitis

Allergic rhinitis is usually triggered by grass and tree pollen and occasionally by flowers from the daisy family. Dull wind pollinated plants cause more allergies than brightly coloured insect pollinated flowers.

Short-haired dogs don't cause allergies

All dogs can cause allergies - it's the skin flakes (dander) and saliva, not the hair, that are allergens. However, short-haired female dogs tend to shed less dander.

Intentionally exposing yourself to pets can cure allergies

If you're allergic to pets, the allergy will be provoked by each exposure and this will only make matters worse.

Allergic reactions get worse with each subsequent exposure

There's no predicting how a person might react after each exposure to an allergen. The reaction may be exactly the same as before, more or less severe.

Adrenaline injectors are dangerous and may damage your heart

Adrenaline auto-injectors are life-saving for people with severe allergies to foods or insect stings. They're safe to inject into the muscle of the thigh as soon as possible in cases of severe allergic reaction. If administered by mistake, you'll feel slightly agitated and your heart will race, but the effect will wear off.

Asthma inhalers can make allergies worse and you should use breathing exercises instead

The effects of asthma are caused by inflamed airways. Breathing exercises won't clear this inflammation, only low-dose steroid inhalers can do this.

Antihistamines lose their effect if taken continuously

Antihistamines can be taken safely for prolonged periods and don't become less effective.

Steroid creams for eczema cause skin thinning and shouldn't be used on children

Steroid creams are the only effective treatment for eczema and have no adverse effect if used for short periods of up to a week at a time. Once clear of eczema, the skin should be continuously protected with a moisturising ointment.

Building dust and sand cause allergic rhinitis

The powdered faeces of house dust mites cause allergies, not dust particles or sand grains.

People with allergies are better off living in a desert or dry climate

Allergy-provoking plants, such as grasses, weeds, olive and mesquite trees, thrive in dry, semi-desert environments. Allergies may actually be worse in such places.

This article was first published in October 2007

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