Maybe she’s born with it? The Maybeline catchphrase popped into my head the other night while having dinner outside with friends. Our lovely hostess was in the mist of telling us her latest work fiasco, when she was suddenly seized by a sneezing fit. Ten consecutive sneezes later led the dinner conversation to the subject of allergies and genetics. Our hostess swears she has been allergic to pollen her whole life and told the table she inherited her pollen allergy from her mother. Which prompted another guest to raise the question, “Are allergies inherited or acquired?”
Allergies are acquired. That is to say, allergies are acquired when not found to be inherited. Allergies can both stem from an inherited gene or be acquired from environmental influences.
Just like baldness and blue eyes, allergies are genetically passed down. If one or both parents have dust mite allergies, then the likelihood of their offspring also having this specific allergy gene is significantly higher than when neither parent has an allergy to dust mites. Even though allergies can be inherited, many times the allergy lays permanently dormant. While the person’s genetic makeup is such that it can become allergic to certain allergens, not all the time does it turn into an allergy. The person needs to be exposed to the allergen over a long period of time. For instance, a person allergic to pet dander may not know it if brought up in an animal free household. With limited exposure to the pet dander, the person unknowingly assumes he or she has no animal allergies.
For those curious about finding out what allergies they may have inherited can take the Radioallergosorbent Blood Test (RAST). This test examines the number of antibodies produced by the immune system. If there are elevated levels of antibodies present in response to an allergen, then this indicates an allergy.
Acquired allergies are believed to surface because of environmental factors. Many believe these types of allergies develop because of weakened immune and digestive systems. Levels of stress, life style decisions, eating habits, and prescription medicine all contribute to weakening the immune system and tricking the body into believing it is allergic to a particular allergen when normally it would not be. Often times these types of allergies are referred to as the “fake” allergies.
The allergy experts recommend taking immunotherapy shots to gradually introduce the foreign substances to the body so that over time the body acclimates to the foreign substance and better identifies it as a non-threat to the body. A more holistic approach is to strengthen the immune system rather than concentrate on the allergy. Those who practice this approach work on the digestive system to cleanse the body of impurities. Without the impurities taxing upon the immune system, the immune system is better able to diagnose which foreign substances are harmful and which are not.
Our dinner hostess probably did inherit her pollen allergy from her mother since she has been suffering pollen allergy attacks her whole life. But others may acquire their allergies from constant exposure to a particular allergen, while working with already weakened immune systems. To find out whether allergies are inherited or acquired, parents and children can take the RAST test. Whether allergies are inherited or acquired, the best way to avoid allergic reactions is avoid the allergen or limit exposure. When this is not possible, immunotherapy and holistic approaches are available to treat these allergies.