8 common myths about allergies

By Alistair Gardiner
Published July 14, 2021

Key Takeaways

COVID restrictions are finally letting up, summer is here, and you’re dying to spend your days outside. But just as lockdown ends, suddenly you—and up to 60 million other Americans—are stricken with allergies. Changing weather patterns and increasing pollen blooms in the United States are wreaking havoc on your summer fun. 

Allergies may be putting a damper on your summer, but are you sure you know as much about them as you think you do? As it turns out, many of the beliefs we hold about allergies are fiction, not fact.  

Here’s what you need to know about eight persistent allergy myths.

Myth 1. Flowers cause hay fever

If you dread seeing the flowers bloom in spring and summer because you know you’ll start sneezing and wheezing, you’ll be surprised to learn that you’re focused on the wrong plants.

Hay fever (also known as allergic rhinitis) is caused by airborne pollen, which comes primarily from trees, grasses, and mold spores. Flowers, on the other hand, produce larger, stickier pollen, which is designed to stick to insects, rather than fly through the air (and into your nostrils). 

Myth 2. Only children can develop allergies

If you haven’t gotten allergies by the time you’re an adult, you don’t have anything to worry about, right? Wrong.  

According to allergist Neeta Ogden, MD, a spokesperson for the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, you can develop allergies at any age—in fact, more than half of adults with food allergies tend to develop them during adulthood. While it’s possible to develop allergies at any time, the majority of adults who get an allergy do so in their 20s or 30s, according to allergist W. Edward Davis, III, MD.

A study published in JAMA Network Open found evidence suggesting that certain food allergies (eg, shellfish and finfish) are more likely to develop in adulthood than other allergies. Researchers examined a cohort of 40,443 American adults and found that 10.8% were food allergic. “Overall, approximately half of all food-allergic adults developed at least one adult-onset allergy, suggesting that adult-onset allergy is common in the United States among adults of all ages, to a wide variety of allergens, and among adults with and without additional, childhood-onset allergies,” the authors wrote.

Myth 3. Allergies never go away

This one is a partial myth. While some allergies can last for life, others simply go away as people age.

For example, according to the Mayo Clinic, roughly 60%-80% of children with a milk or egg allergy can consume those foods without having a reaction by the time they reach the age of 16. But not all allergies are likely to be outgrown; those allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, finfish, and shellfish are likely to keep those allergies for life. Likewise, only 20% of children with a peanut allergy outgrow it, and the same is true for just 4%-5% of children with a finfish or shellfish allergy.

Myth 4. Food allergies are the same as a food intolerance

From the outside, it may look like food intolerance and a food allergy are the same thing. But inside the body, very different processes are taking place.

As detailed in an article in Clinical Reviews in Allergy & Immunology, food allergies are defined as adverse immune responses to certain proteins, which lead to dermatologic, respiratory, gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, and/or neurologic symptoms. Food intolerances, on the other hand, do not involve the immune system and are not life-threatening, whereas food allergies can be.

Myth 5. Short-haired pets don’t cause allergic reactions

This is a myth, and probably not for the reasons you think. Interestingly, allergies to cats or dogs aren’t triggered by the animal’s fur at all.

According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (AAAAI), these allergic reactions are prompted by proteins found in a pet's dander, as well as skin flakes, saliva, and urine. Pets may also bring in pollen, mold spores, and other allergens from the outdoors.

Myth 6. Some breeds of pets are hypoallergenic 

We’ve all got that friend who claims to have a hypoallergenic pet. Well, turns out they were misinformed. According to the AAAAI, there’s no such thing as a hypoallergenic breed of a dog or cat. While some pets may not trigger allergies in some people, it has nothing to do with the breed, nor the length of the fur.

Myth 7. Allergies aren’t life-threatening

For many people, allergic reactions are unpleasant, but not life-threatening. However, some people can experience anaphylaxis, which can definitely be life-threatening.

Anaphylaxis occurs when substantial quantities of histamine are released into the body, resulting in inflammation. This can cause symptoms that include difficulty breathing, stomach pain, diarrhea, anxiety, loss of consciousness, and swelling of the hands, feet, and other parts of the body. Anyone experiencing anaphylaxis should seek immediate medical attention.

Myth 8. Peanut allergies are more severe than others

According to Food Allergy Research & Education, 170 foods are reported to cause allergic reactions. The eight responsible for the most serious allergic reactions in the United States include milk, egg, peanut, tree nuts, wheat, soy, fish, and crustacean selfish. 

While peanut allergies can be very dangerous and even deadly, they don’t impact everyone in the same way. In fact, there’s no way to rank allergy severity, because some people experience mild reactions while others can experience severe reactions, regardless of the allergen. It all depends on the individual’s immune system.  Click here to learn more about peanut allergy research. 

And finally, now that you’re up-to-date on basic allergy myths, take a look at five strange allergies to everyday things, on MDLinx.

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