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Causes of allergies - By DR AMIR HAMZAH

IN most cases, vulnerability to allergies is passed down through the genes. As with most diseases like cancer, diabetes and heart problems, people are more at risk if their parents and those before them suffer from a particular health condition.

The biggest mistake is to think that nothing can be done about it. In fact, most diseases can be prevented.

One just has to be aware, do some research, consult a trusted physician, and make certain changes in lifestyle.

In the case of allergies, it is relatively easy to prevent, or at the very least, reduce. However, only an early diagnosis can produce the best outcome , that is, within the first year of a person’s life. Almost 60% of all allergies appear during the first year. And if the symptoms are ignored, then it is likely that about 50% of these children with food allergy will go on to develop other allergies like eczema, allergic rhinitis or asthma in later life.

In addition, it is speculated that food allergy may occur as a complication after the appearance of eczema.


Allergens are substances that cause allergic reactions. It can be anything from dust mites to household detergents, cleaning fluids, perfume, certain metals, latex, drugs, pollen and insect stings.

Allergy to certain types of food has become increasingly common among young children. Cow’s milk, egg white, soya, fish, shellfish and peanut, are particularly distressing for children suffering from allergies.

The following are a few types of common allergies:

> Pollen allergy
> Pet allergy
> Latex allergy
> Mould allergy
> Food allergy
> Drug allergy
> Eczema (atopic dermatitis)
> Eye allergy (allergic conjunctivitis)
> Cosmetics allergy

Eye allergies are likely to be caused by house mites or pollen. Allergies to cosmetics are often delayed allergies which occur 72 hours after exposure, and tend to appear as allergic contact dermatitis.

A few common symptoms of allergies include the following:

runny nose;
itchy eyes, nose, or throat;
skin rashes;
breathing difficulties;
inflammation; and

At the end of the day, there are a multitude of factors that trigger allergies, but prevention is possible if it happens at an early stage in one’s life.

Identify infants at risk

PREVENTION of allergies can be divided into three categories. Tertiary prevention involves treating those with confirmed allergic diseases who have an acute attack. For example, those with allergic asthma who start wheezing need immediate treatment to prevent symptoms from worsening.

Secondary prevention is an attempt to prevent the allergy march. Thus, a move to prevent asthma when a patient has eczema is an example of secondary prevention. Studies show that using second generation antihistamine may prove helpful, as would allergenspecific immunotherapy.

Lastly, primary prevention is preventing sensitisation towards an allergen from occurring. This, in reality, is a major challenge as sensitisation can occur very early in life, possibly as early as during pregnancy, whereby the foetus can be continually exposed to various allergens, and produces specific immunoglobulin E (IgE) towards, for example, egg white.

Much research is ongoing to study the prospect of primary prevention of allergies, and may include various modes such as probiotics, prebiotics or hypoallergenic milk formula.

In any event, it is always important to identify infants at risk for implementation of preventive measures of allergies.

A simple way is to look into the child’s family history. By asking what allergies either parent has, a simple scor e can be obtained to ascertain allergies in the parents.

If both parents have allergies, the risk of their offspring having allergies is 50-80%. If either parent has allergies, the risk is 40-60%.

Even when neither parent is allergic, there is still a 5-15% risk.

Once the risk is ascertained, preventive measures can be taken.

Dr Amir Hamzah Abdul Latiff is a paediatric immunologist. This article is courtesy of the Malaysian Society of Allergy and Immunology. For more information, visit http://www.allergymsai.%20org/.

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