Common Myths About Allergies

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Harvard Medical School
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Common Myths About Allergies

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Common Myths About Allergies
Common Myths About Allergies
Do you know the truth about your allergies?
InteliHealth Medical Content

Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School
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1. Children will outgrow allergies.

While this is sometimes true of food allergies, the majority of childhood allergies are not outgrown. Among food allergies, children are more likely to outgrow those to milk or soy, but not to peanuts, fish or shellfish.

2. Food allergies are common.

Not really. Although 40 percent of all adults believe they are allergic to some type of food, only about 5 percent of the total population and 1 percent to 2 percent of adults are truly allergic to foods. Food-related symptoms can stem from disorders other than allergy. Some people can't digest dairy products because of an enzyme deficiency or have symptoms due to a non-allergic reaction to gluten, a component of wheat. Some foods can cause gas or indigestion. Food poisoning and gastrointestinal flu also can cause symptoms that can mistakenly be blamed on allergy.

3. Short-haired pets are better for people with pet allergies.

Another myth. Animal fur is not responsible for allergy symptoms. Instead, the allergen is produced primarily in the animal's skin, and to a lesser extent, its saliva. The allergen causes trouble when sloughed-off particles of skin — dander — become airborne as the animal is petted, brushed or rubs itself against furniture or people.

4. If you have an allergic rash, the first thing you should blame is your new laundry detergent.

Allergy experts used to suspect that it was common for people to develop an allergy to ingredients in soaps or detergents. Actually, it is rare for people to react to detergents with a true allergic reaction such as hives, although detergents can cause irritation that does not involve allergy. Detergents are major ingredients of spermicide jellies and foams, and can be chemically irritating to the vagina for some women. Certain fragrance ingredients in perfumes, colognes, toothpastes or cosmetics can cause contact dermatitis or hives, but these are not contained in usual brands of laundry detergent.

5. Allergy shots don't work.

Not true. Allergy shots ( immunotherapy ) are very effective. However, they can’t be used to treat some allergies, such as food allergies. If you have an allergy to insect venom, the shots are effective in 98 percent of cases. They also work to control hay fever about 85 percent of the time.

6. Allergy is a psychosomatic disorder.

No way. Allergy is a physical problem that stems from an immune system reaction against ordinary substances in our environment. The reaction occurs because the immune system reacts against these substances in the same way it has been programmed to react against a worm or parasite infection. This immune response mobilizes proteins called antibodies and several types of cells that are part of the immune system to set in motion the allergic reaction. Allergy symptoms can be very mild or severe enough to be life threatening.


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Last updated January 12, 2012

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