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Top Allergy Myths Exposed: Get the Allergy Facts

written by: Robyn Broyles • edited by: Emma Lloyd • updated: 4/5/2011

Have you heard any of these myths? Get informed with the truth about allergies.

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    Myth: Pet hair causes allergies

    Fact: Proteins from the skin and saliva of cats and dogs cause allergic reactions in some people. The hair itself does not cause the reaction; instead, the protein is found in dust-like particles, called dander, shed from pet skin. Short-haired and hairless breeds can still cause allergies.

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    Myth: If a family member is allergic to cats or dogs, you can't have one.

    Fact: It is usually possible to manage pet allergies without getting rid of your cat or dog. Regular bathing of the pet, frequent vacuuming, and use of a HEPA filter can reduce the levels of pet dander that causes reactions. Getting rid of carpets and "dust magnets" like chandeliers and carved artwork can help as well. Pets should be kept out of the bedroom of allergic family members.

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    Food allergies are common.

    Food allergies, though on the rise, are still far less common than many people believe. After perceiving a reaction such as intestinal problems after eating a food, many adults may begin to believe they have a food allergy when in fact they are not allergic at all (Small 2008). Up to 35% of adults report having a food allergy (Rona et al. 2007), while researchers estimate the actual figure is closer to 2%. Having a food allergy may even be seen as "fashionable" in some circles (Small 2008) — history may show food allergies to be a fad disease.

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    Shellfish allergy is associated with iodine allergy.

    This myth is believed even by many health professionals. In fact, there is no evidence of an association between allergy to shrimp, lobster, crab, or other shellfish and allergy to iodine. The myth originated with the hypothesis that shellfish allergy is due to the iodine found in shellfish. Shellfish allergy is now known to be caused by proteins, not by iodine (Beall et al. 2007).

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    Allergies cannot be cured; you can only treat the symptoms

    Some allergies can be at least partially "cured" by a treatment called immunotherapy, or allergy shots. In immunotherapy, the allergen is injected in very small doses, on a regular schedule over a period of years, to increase the tolerance to the allergen. Immunotherapy can reduce the severity of allergies temporarily or permanently; it can even cause the allergy to appear to disappear completely. Unfortunately, immunotherapy treatment is available only for certain allergies, like environmental allergies (dust, pollen, etc.) and insect sting allergies.

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    I don't need to see a specialist; over-the-counter antihistamines are enough.

    A wide range of allergy treatments are available after a consultation with a doctor specializing in allergies (an allergist). All kinds of allergy symptoms can be treated and usually controlled with available treatments. Allergy testing is an invaluable tool for learning how to avoid allergens. At the very least, many people with allergies should get a prescription for a portable epinephrine injector (Epipen or Twinject) in case of a life-threatening anaphylactic reaction. As a person who sees an allergist for testing and treatment, I recommend everyone with any kind of allergy make an appointment with an allergist.

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    References

    • J. W. Beall, E. F. Mahan III, A. B. Blau. "Use of amiodarone in a patient with a shellfish allergy." Southern Medical Journal 2007 Apr;100(4):405-6.
    • R. J. Rona, T. Keil, C. Summers, D. Gislason, L. Zuidmeer, E. Sodergren, S. T. Sigurdardottir, T. Lindner, K. Goldhahn, J. Dahlstrom, D. McBride, C. Madsen. "The prevalence of food allergy: a meta-analysis." Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology 2007 Sep;120(3):638-46.
    • Meredith F. Small. "Fear of Food: Allergies Grow Deadlier, Fashionable." LiveScience.com, 11 July 2008.