Allergies are Universal in the U.S.


No matter where you go, there you are. – Buckaroo Banzai

Spring allergy season is upon us, and in Middle Tennessee it’s the time of year with the most acute allergy misery. All the sneezy, itchy, runny noses drive many patients to the allergist where they often wonder aloud, “I never had problems like this until I moved here. Would it simply be better for me to move somewhere else?” One recent study suggests the answer to that question is “No.”

No one is born with allergies. Whether people develop them, like most medical problems, depends on the combination of genetics and environment, nature and nurture. Certain people are born with a tendency – the genetic component – to develop allergies.  At some point they become exposed to allergens like tree pollen, cat dander or peanuts – the environmental component. If a person’s genetic tendency is strong and the exposure has the right amount, timing and route of administration, then a clinical allergy may develop.

The genetic side of this formula is set in stone. You can’t pick your parents. The exposure side, however, is variable. Tennessee has more tree pollen than Phoenix. Humid areas (Mississippi) have more dust mites than arid climates (Colorado). Urban areas (Baltimore) have more cockroaches and cat dander than rural areas (Beaver Dam, KY).  So you would think that the prevalence of allergies would be higher in areas with a greater environmental allergy loads. But, you’d be wrong.

A recent study looked at the prevalence of positive allergy tests in all areas of the U.S. and found that the numbers were pretty much the same wherever you live. A whopping 44.6%(!) of U.S. adults are sensitive to at least one allergen. In kids ages 1-5, that number is 36%. Interestingly, the rates didn’t vary from region to region, though they were a little higher in urban areas, 50%, vs. rural areas, 40%. Rates of sensitization to individual allergens did differ. For example, the South had more dust mite allergy and the West had more pollen allergy, but the overall rates remained constant.

So what does this all mean? It suggests that the genetic component of allergies is much more important than the environment. If your body has an allergic tendency, it’s going to find an allergen to react to no matter where you live or what you try to avoid. You can avoid specific allergens, but you can’t avoid all of them, and you can’t run from your genetics.

This is where the allergist comes in. We actually have the tools to make you less allergic to your specific allergens. We can teach your immune system to ignore your triggers, which will shut off your allergies at the source and give you systemic relief, fewer symptoms and fewer complications while using fewer or no medications. So before you pack up for Denver, try giving you local, board-certified allergist a visit first.

Dr. O

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