Thursday 23 October 2014

Allergy myths busted: Guess what you didn't know about gluten?

Melissa Dahl

Two truths about allergies that may blow your mind: Bo Obama isn’t a hypoallergenic dog, and nobody is actually “allergic” to gluten.

These are just two examples of the myths allergists would very much like to bust, according to a presentation being given today at the annual meeting of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Dr. David Stukus put the presentation together after years of patients coming to him with fiercely held, but totally incorrect, beliefs about allergies — something that’s only gotten worse in this age of medical Googling.

“It was shocking to me, the amount of misinformation that is available to the general public,” says Stukus, who is an allergist at Nationwide Children's Hospital and assistant professor of pediatrics at Ohio State University.

Here, Stukus helps us separate allergy fact from allergy fiction.

Myth 1: If you’re allergic to cats or dogs, it’s best to stick with hypoallergenic breeds.

Actually, there is no such thing as a hypoallergenic pet, Stukus says, because “every single pet will secrete allergens.” And it doesn’t make much of a difference if the pet has short or long hair, because the dander that people are allergic to doesn’t come from the fur – it comes from the animal’s saliva, sweat glands and urine. Even expensive, genetically engineered pets still secrete minor allergens, Stukus said.

OK, but what if you’re an animal lover who also happens to be allergic to pet dander? Stukus often gets that question. “The best response to that is even people with pet allergies, they may be fine around certain breeds and not around others," Stukus says. The only way to figure that out, though, is to hang around different breeds and note how your body reacts. (Stukus tells his patients to "literally rub your face on the animal.")

Despite the craze for gluten-free foods, there's no such thing as an actual 'allergy' to gluten, myth-busting experts say.
Rafael Ben-Ari / Chameleons Eye
Despite the craze for gluten-free foods, there's no such thing as an actual 'allergy' to gluten, myth-busting experts say.

Myth 2: No bread for me; I’m allergic to gluten!

Two words these days that make any allergist sigh: gluten allergy.

“Gluten has been blamed for all that ails humanity,” Stukus says. But there are only three disorders you can attribute to gluten on a scientific basis, he says: celiac disease, wheat allergies and non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

“Then there’s this claim about ‘gluten allergy,’ which really doesn’t exist,” Stukus says. “It’s not really a recognized allergy. Wheat is a recognized allergy — but a lot of people will misinterpret that as gluten.”

Myth 3: Black mold can cause some truly terrifying diseases.

Google “black mold” and you’ll find websites linking it to some frightening maladies – things like seizures, fibromyalgia, bipolar disorder, cancer.

“This has been attributed to cause all kinds of ailments,” Stukus says. “But there is absolutely no scientific link of a causal disorder to black mold to any of these disorders.”

But the most black mold can do to you is cause allergic rhinitis and asthma symptoms — if, that is, you're allergic to mold in the first place.

Myth 4: If you have an egg allergy, you should never get a flu shot.

This is a hot topic right now, Stukus says, as it is every flu season. Allergists understand the confusion: Egg embryos from chickens are indeed used to grow viruses in the production of several vaccines, like influenza, rabies, yellow fever and MMR. So these vaccines may indeed include tiny bits of egg protein, which sounds worrisome to someone with an egg allergy (or the parent of a kid with an egg allergy).

But unless people have a history of a severe reaction called anaphylaxis in response to eating eggs, flu shots are safe for people with egg allergies. Even in people who have severe allergic reactions to egg, the vaccine is still likely to be safe, but a referral to an allergist is recommended before getting a flu shot. (An egg-free vaccine, called Flublok, is also now available.)

As for the other major vaccinations — MMR is safe for anyone with a history of egg allergy, but rabies and yellow fever are not.

Myth 5: For little ones, the rules are these: No milk until age 1, no eggs until age 2, and no nuts until age 3.

Food allergies are a scary topic these days, especially for parents, says Dr. Stanley Fineman, who is an allergist at the Atlanta Allergy and Asthma Clinic and is past president of the ACAAI. But there is some old information that is still hanging around and causing confusion: In 2000, guidelines suggested restricting foods like milk, eggs and nuts in very early childhood.

Today, that recommendation has flipped around. There is no evidence to support avoidance of these highly allergenic foods past 4 to 6 months of age, Stukus writes in his presentation.

“In the allergy community, the stance has sort of reversed 180 degrees,” he says. “We used to think avoidance reduced allergies; now, we think early introduction leads to tolerance.”

The takeaway from all of this: Don't believe everything you read on the Internet.

“Use the Internet for guidance, but don’t rely on it as your sole source of health information,” Stukus says. “It’s a great place to formulate questions that you can take to physicians.”

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