Ask the Doctor - Allergies - A Growing Problem

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Q: Is the number of people who suffer from allergies increasing?

A: By Cathy Green, M.D., allergist at Saint John's Health Center.

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The incidence of allergies has doubled since the 1970's. Why is that? No one is exactly sure, but we're continuing to search for the answer. In the meantime, there is a lot about allergies we do know. If you suspect that you or a family member is suffering from an allergy, you should make an appointment to see an allergist. We can perform tests to zero in on the cause, and develop a plan to help control the situation.

Males and females in all age groups develop allergic disease. In my own practice I see approximately 50 percent children, and 50 percent adults.

What exactly is an allergy? It's the body's immunologic reaction to a normally harmless substance. A person's body has to have a genetic predisposition to react to that substance, called the allergen. Usually, the immune system functions as the body's defense against invading bacteria, viruses and parasites. When an allergic person comes into contact with an allergen, the arm of the immune system meant to fight it treats the substance as a harmful invader. It mounts an attack by producing large amounts of the antibody IgE.

There is a wide range of allergic reactions to a variety of allergens. Trees, grasses, and weeds are the most common source of pollen that cause problems for those with allergic rhinitis

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