What are allergies?

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created November 30, 2012 at 6:36 PM

I used to ask "what causes allergies?" and got perfectly good answers like pollen, certain foods, etc. but that's not really what im asking. I want to know what allergies are from an evolutionary biological perspective. What is it exactly that's happening when allergies flare up? Is it just an overactive immune response? Why do some people have them and others do not? What is the "nature" of allergies? I've heard of people growing out of them. How does that work? I've never had them and my girlfriend seems to be allergic to life in general and im equally confused and disturbed by this. Anything and everything you can tell me about allergies - experience, medical opinion, scientific findings - would be much appreciated.

P.S. My brother (and extreme allergy case) started paleo about 5 months ago and this past week at thanksgiving i saw him take a deep breath through both nostrils for the first time in my life and not one sneeze or sniffle all weekend. He's narrowed it down to wheat as the culprit. It can't be that simple, can it?

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2 Answers



on November 30, 2012
at 06:58 PM

Allergies are autoimmune diseases which create hyper-sensitivity to irritants.

We are all affected by irritants, people who suffer allergies show significant reactions to those irritants.

Do people grow out of allergies?

Well yes and no. Yes, it appears that for some autoimmune diseas the body can "cure" itself and change the way it responds to stimuli (althought not all can). Also, some allergies have shown to be conditioned responses that can be alleviated by continuous contact with the irritant (i.e. allergy shots).

No, not all allergies are curable by time. In fact, some allergies (such as food allergies) actually show up after continued use -- At some point, over ingestion of an irritant causes an allergic reaction. These allergies typically show up in early adulthood and can last throughout the rest of the life.

Can elimination of wheat (assuming that's the culprit) cure allergies?

Yes, absolutely. An allergy is your body responding to an irritant. If you can eliminate that irritant, you can eliminate the body's response. It is just that simple. In fact, some allergies (especially seasonal) are triggered due to constant inflammation caused by a completely separate allergy. So your brother could have mild irritation from say pollen, that is exacerbated by his acute response to wheat. Cut out the wheat, and the body can deal with the pollen.

My personal experience is that I was adult onset environmental allergies to EVERYTHING. Grass, pollen, trees, mold, etc. I had allergy shots, along with a nasal steroid and a prescription strength histamine that I took every day. And I still suffered from allergies. I took bronchial challenge test and found that I had allergy induced asthma that only gave me 10% of my normal lun9 capacity. In 2007 I found a new nasal spray that, for whatever reason, essentially cured my allergies. I use it twice a week now and have no problems. I also passed the bronchial challenge test at 110% of normal lung capacity.

Why haven't we evolved away from allergies?

Here's an anecdote. When I was in college I took a trip with the team down to Orlando, Florida. This was after my allergies and asthma had struck. Prior to the trip I had been suffering from allergies for three months. While on the trip I had no allergies. Three years later I went back -- and again no allergies. I think we have evolved away from allergies, and if I were in a climate that my ancestors frequented I would probably not have problems. But move to the Mid-Atlantic and I get hammered by specific pollens that bother me.


on November 30, 2012
at 06:54 PM

This is a not a simple answer; answering "what causes allergies" is like asking "what causes autoimmune diseases."

Allergies like peanut allergies where you break out in hives and such are caused by IgE mediated immunoglobulins (which are high affinity) which release histamine. (Mast cells and basophils release histamine). There are many differnt immunoglobulins IgE, IgA, IgG, IgM. And differnt interlukins on them. Different immunoglobulins are located in different parts of the body like A or M (not sure) can be located in mucousol membranes (throat, digestive system, nose). So if you have antibodies to particular things these could be causing your symptoms. Example: Your friend has IgE peanut allergy antibody and you don't your friend will break out.

Research antibody(immunoglobulins) on wikipedia

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