There are an estimated 2.3 billion allergy sufferers in the world.
ALLERGY is a familiar term among many Malaysians, but not many may realise the severity of it. It is estimated that 30%-40% of the world’s population is affected by one or more allergic conditions. And it’s just as bad here at home. About 15%-20% of Malaysians are suffering from allergies and this figure is expected to increase to 50%, 10 years from now. So it’s time for us to learn more about allergies and try to prevent this from happening.
“An allergy occurs when our natural immune mechanism overreacts with substances that are normally not harmful to the body,” says Dr Amir Hamzah Abdul Latiff, a consultant immunologist/allergist and consultant paediatrician.
Any substance can become an allergen – the allergy-causing nuisance. House dust, pollens, moulds, foods and even pets can cause allergic reactions.
Food allergy is becoming increasingly common for young children. Highly allergenic foods include cow’s milk, egg white, soy, fish, shellfish, crab, shrimp, lobster and peanut. Allergy to cow’s milk is particularly common.
While most allergies appear during the early years of childhood, they can develop in any person at any age. And they are never outgrown! While allergies are not inherited, the chances are greatly increased if members of the family are allergy sufferers.
Allergy is also influenced by environmental conditions. Our world of urbanised living has created excessive environmental toxins such as smoke, chemicals and fumes that expose us to the risk of allergies. Physical agents like sunlight, humidity and haze have also contributed to the problem.
And let’s not forget the food we eat. The increased usage of food additives and preservatives makes it hard to gauge the freshness of our food intake.
Allergic problems will continue to escalate as air pollution and ambient temperatures increase due to environmental and climate changes. Perhaps this is a good time for us to start going green as well!
Allergic reactions range from minor nuisances such as itches, sneezing and watery eyes to more acute cases like a fall in blood pressure or severe breathing difficulties. According to Dr Amir, president of the Malaysian Society of Allergy and Immunology (MSAI), if your child is suspected of suffering from an allergy, an experienced doctor is necessary to conduct allergy tests and to analyse the results accurately.
The doctor should try and find out every detail of the individual’s case as allergies can manifest in unusual forms, which makes it difficult to detect the main cause of the allergy. So don’t be surprised if your doctor asks questions that seem irrelevant.
Allergic or intolerant
What’s the difference between allergic and intolerant? Well, food intolerance is a digestive system response rather than an immune system response. It occurs when your child’s digestive system is unable to break down the food properly.
“A lot of people assume their children are allergic when they have symptoms such as hives or a rash, vomiting and diarrhoea,” says Dr Amir.
It is more likely parents who will avoid the presumed food causing the allergy, and this could deprive children of the necessary nutritional benefit of those foods. But why leave it to chance, especially when it’s easy to differentiate between being intolerant and having allergies.
If your child is milk intolerant, he might get reactions from drinking three glasses of milk but is fine if he drinks just a single glass. But when the child is allergic to milk, a single drop may be sufficient to trigger allergic reactions.
Dr Amir explained that while ongoing research is being conducted, there isn’t a cure for allergies at the moment. Many parents out there think there isn’t a test for allergies. In fact there are two main tests that doctors can use to identify allergies. Either perform a simple skin prick test or bring your child for a blood test and request for an lgE (immunoglobulin E) allergy test.
You should abstain from feeding your child foods that may trigger allergies. And do not introduce solid foods to your child until he is physiologically ready.
Prevention also begins with you as a parent. Do you know that if one parent has allergies, the child has a 20%-40% risk of developing one? And if both parents are allergic, the risk goes up to 60%. If your child has a family history of allergies, hydrolysed milk formula or probiotics may help ward off the risk of your child developing eczema by as much as 30%-50%.
In view of its prevalence, allergy must be regarded as a major healthcare problem, especially among young children. MSAI is actively spreading awareness by organising events such as the Malaysian Congress and Exhibition on Allergy and Immunology which was held in March, and participating in the World Allergy Week (April 4-10). With greater awareness, we will be better equipped to combat this healthcare issue. – Article courtesy of the Malaysian Society of Allergy and Immunology
Log on to www.allergymsai.org/index.php to learn more about allergies.
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