Our sterile homes might be giving us seasonal allergies

By Adem Lewis / in , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , /

Ahh..springtime. That warm breeze, the sun on your face… and lots and lots of plant sex. [sexy music playing] “Let’s take it slow, baby.” Yes, flowers, grass and trees are getting it on, and seasonal allergy sufferers are miserable. That’s because our immune systems mistake harmless grains of pollen for dangerous intruders. They go into overdrive mode, releasing a chemical called histamine that triggers those annoying symptoms. Seasonal allergies are affecting more and more people, and scientists are scrambling to figure out why. One idea that’s gaining traction is the hygiene hypothesis. The theory is that our immune systems needs training when we’re kids to learn how to respond to organisms that cause disease. If the immune system doesn’t get enough exposure to things like bacteria, it might not be able to tell what’s a real threat and what’s harmless. It’s also more likely to misfire and overreact to innocent visitors like pollen. When it does, it releases the histamine that triggers those annoying seasonal allergy symptoms. This is still just a theory… and it doesn’t explain why some people get allergies and others don’t. But it is helping scientists understand some interesting relationships. Like, why kids who grow up on farms or who have more siblings tend to have fewer seasonal allergies. And babies born via c-section tend to have more. The hygiene hypothesis proposes that farms, siblings, and vaginal birth expose kids to the kinds of “good” bacteria that give their immune systems plenty of practice separating friend from foe. Evidence for the hygiene hypothesis also shows up in…other places. Studies analyzing the fecal matter of people with seasonal allergies found that they were missing lots of the “good” bacteria. Which could be why some allergy sufferers say they had fewer symptoms when they added bacteria-rich foods like yogurt to their diets, though scientists say more research is needed to find out why. The hygiene hypothesis might also help explain why kids with higher levels of a chemical called triclosan in their bodies tend to have more seasonal allergies. Triclosan is the active ingredient in most antibacterial soaps, hand gels and wipes. According to the hygiene hypothesis… it’s killing good bacteria along with the bad, which makes kids’ immune systems more likely to mistake pollen or for a serious threat. That’s why it’s probably a good idea for us to stop buying antibacterial products and stick with regular soap and water. Now, the take-home message from these studies isn’t that you should stop cleaning your homes or washing your hands in an attempt to try to keep allergies at bay. The hygiene hypothesis is more of a starting point. A way for us to start thinking about how our modern environment might be shaping our health.

6 thoughts on “Our sterile homes might be giving us seasonal allergies

  1. Hmm…I grew up in a farm and never had allergies (other than a mild stuffy nose around dust mites when cleaning indoors and also a mild sinus headache when grass was cut near me) and then I got a desk job, i no longer hung out in barns and my apartment had air conditioning. Suddenly I had issues with seasonal allergies (horrible sinus inflections, summer colds, cut grass leads to stuffy noses and sinus pressure and dust mites make my fingers turn red and itchy in addition to plugging up my nose) and I've noticed that I feel better when I'm in a barn and I can breathe better there (although I suspect that's all in my head) so that's weird. Clearly taking myself away from nature and placing myself in more sterile environments has not helped me 🙁

  2. "Just a theory" is such a stupid statement. A theory is an established system of ideas. It is our current understanding of things. It is as close to conclusive fact as imperfect humans can possibly get. It is not synonymous with the word "hypothesis." Shame on you, Vox.

  3. 1 spoonful of raw local honey every day helps with allergies. Your immune system gets a sample of the pollen around and gets stronger. I don't have any study's to back it up just personal experience but if you're looking for a natural allergy remedy it's worth a shot.

  4. very interesting ! thanks for this Vox

    and just recently (?coincidentally) saw “Lloyd Kahn on his NorCal self-reliant half-acre homestead" (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z6kPzMSvdDA&t=1356s) from Kirsten Dirksen's yt channel, and Lloyd says at about 22 minutes:

    "…sometimes people get over their allergies by eating the food that grows in your area, then all the air you’re breathing and everything is all the same thing… people treat allergies… it’s like homeopathic, ‘cuz they’re ingesting a small amount of whatever it is, and that’s allowing you to resist [illness]"

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