The human body is a wonderful thing. It can protect and even heal itself, but sometimes it can respond defensively to harmless foreign molecules and we recognise this reaction as an allergy. But as much as this kind of reaction is common knowledge, many myths surrounding allergies find their way into popular thinking about these apparently frequent conditions. Here we try to debunk some commonplace myths about allergies and intolerances.
1. Food allergies are common
Around 20% of people claim to have a food allergy, whereas it's actually more like 4%. Allergy Clinic UK suggests always checking with your GP and asking for a test, if you suspect you have a food allergy.
2. Local honey will prevent hay fever
Dr John Costa (Livescience) says that "so far there have been no studies to conclusively show that ingesting local honey, as a method of building up tolerance, will prevent hay fever." Bees pollinate flowers, but the allergens that cause hay fever also come from trees, grasses and weeds.
3. Some pets can be hypoallergenic
Unfortunately there are no animals that can be considered hypoallergenic, or, 'less allergic'. According to the Anaphylaxis Campaign, a person with pet animal allergies is "hypersensitive to a substance produced by the animal, for example in the case of cat allergy, the major allergen is a glycoprotein that is found on cat hair, having been produced by the sweat, salivary and anal glands."
4. Gluten intolerance is coeliac disease
These conditions are not the same. Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disease which causes damage to the small intestine. Gluten intolerance is a reaction after ingesting gluten, found in wheat, barley and rye.
5. You can desensitise yourself to allergens
Some people believe that you can give a little bit to build up tolerance. This is not true. Allergies will be provoked by the exposure and this could be dangerous especially in children. While there are some studies taking place on this as a form of treatment, there is still no conclusive evidence to suggest that you can adjust over time.
So while most of us have had experience of allergies, perhaps a friend or family member, it is important to get the right advice and information before you label yourself as allergic, through either your GP or a regulated allergy health professional.