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Are Allergies Hereditary?

written by: Victoria Trix • edited by: Emma Lloyd • updated: 3/18/2009

Do you find that you and everyone else in your family have some sort of allergies that are similar to one another? Do you wonder if it is hereditary or just happened by chance?

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    Allergies and Heredity

    It seems that we all know someone who is afflicted with allergies of one type or another. Whether it be seasonal allergies, allergies to animals or food allergies, the medical and pharmaceutical communities have their hands full in attempting to relieve the symptoms for allergy sufferers. In general, approximately 25% of the population of the U.S. suffers from some form of allergy. If it seems that the number of sufferers is growing, that is because it is a mathematical certainty. Clinical studies have shown that a child whose parent has allergies has a 50% likelihood to have hereditary allergies. Furthermore, if both parents suffer from allergic reactions, the likelihood that the child will also have hereditary allergies is almost 100%. Combine all of these allergy sufferers together, and we have one miserable seasonal allergy mess.

    While the predisposition to becoming an allergy sufferer is present, what is not appearing to be hereditary is the specific type of allergy. If one or both parents are allergic to dogs, there is a high probability that the child will have allergies, but not necessarily to animals. It is the immune system response to allergens that is hereditary, but heredity does not control which of the allergens will affect the individual, only that the system has a low tolerance to allergens.

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    Should Children Avoid Foods that the Parents are Allergic To?

    The answer to this question often depends on the severity of the parents’ reactions to those particular foods. If an exposure to shellfish brings on a mild case of hives, this non-life threatening condition is tolerable if the child turns out to have the same allergy. If the parents’ allergic reaction involves closing of the airway, exposure to a potentially hereditary allergen should only be tested by an allergist who has appropriate counter-medications readily available if the reaction is severe.

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    How to Prevent Hereditary Childhood Allergies

    In most cases, children grow out of most food related allergies. This resolution is most appreciated because, outside of avoiding the offending food, there are no preventative medications that can be taken to ward off an allergic reaction to food. But this is not to say that there is nothing that can be done. Studies have proven that children who are breastfed are far less likely to develop hereditary food related allergies. The same studies have shown that the longer a child is breastfed, the better.

    When dealing will seasonal or pet dander type hereditary allergies, many doctors will recommend a regimen of allergy shots for children to naturally build their immunities to the allergen. Allergy shots work in the same way as vaccinations, in that the hereditary allergen is injected into the body, in small but increasing doses, so the immune system can build antibodies against the allergen. Allergy shots are usually administered for 3 to 5 years to be considered complete in treatment, but the effects are perceived to be permanent. As the shots are designed to retrain the immune system’s response to a hereditary allergen, this treatment is extremely effective.