Allergic diseases are long-term health conditions which may change in pattern and severity over time. Although they can be managed with the correct treatment, in most cases a cure is not possible. In the past there was a rise in people being affected by the respiratory allergies- allergic rhinitis and asthma– but now eczema and food allergy are increasing in prevalence across the globe. This pattern was first noted in wealthier countries, but it appears the developing world is following suit and joining the ‘Allergy Epidemic’.
There has been much research into the underlying causes of the allergy epidemic and investigation of potential preventative strategies. So, what are the realities?
Ridding the environment of air pollution and tobacco smoke is an important public health intervention that helps prevent the development of the respiratory allergies.
During pregnancy a balanced, healthy diet including fish and lots of fresh fruit and vegetables should be consumed. There are no particular foods (including the major food allergens) that should be avoided during pregnancy.
- Pregnant mothers should maintain an acceptable amount of weight gain and try and manage their stress.
- Pregnant women need to ensure they have optimal Vitamin D levels.
- Supplementing mothers’ diets with fish oils may reduce eczema and wheeze in children.
- If possible, antibiotic and paracetamol should be avoided during pregnancy.
- Cigarette smoking during pregnancy increases the risk of asthma and allergy in children.
- Delivery by Caesarean Section should be reserved for good medical reasons.
During infancy, breastfeeding is associated with a myriad of beneficial effects on the health of the baby and even the mother.
- Allergenic foods (egg, milk, wheat, fish, peanuts and tree nuts) should not be avoided unless a food allergy is suspected.
- Babies who are at risk of having food allergies such as those with eczema may benefit from early introduction of food allergens, particularly peanut and egg. Care must be taken in those who already have signs of allergic disease, such as those infants with severe eczema, who need thorough assessment before advising allergen introduction.
- Exposure to pets, particularly dogs and farm animals seems to help prevent allergies.
The allergy epidemic has a major impact on those affected and in many cases this impact is lifelong. Implementing these strategies may prevent a rising burden of allergic diseases in future generations. Further study is needed to explore other potentially preventative measures.