Allergies and the Modern World – Are They Related?

August 15, 2017

Scientists and immunologists from around the world are still puzzled by allergies, as well as their increased prevalence over the last couple of decades. Although various scientific studies have provided valuable insights into the crucial factors for the development of allergies, no concrete answer has been found to the burning question: “Why are allergies becoming increasingly widespread throughout the modern world?”

The hygiene hypothesis

One commonly discussed, yet still unproven, theory links the increase of autoimmune diseases and allergies with the improvements in overall hygiene in the modern, industrialized world. The immune system has evolved to combat a wide range of attacks, so to speak, by adapting to different bacteria and allergens and learning how to fight them off. However, the increasingly sterile environments our children are growing up in may have quite the adverse effect on their immune system, making them unable to cope with the various allergens they will be subjected to later in life.

Vaginal childbirth vs. Caesarean delivery

Another highly debated point scientists are trying to make is that the increased rates of caesarean section have a direct impact on rising epidemics of autoimmune diseases, such as Crohn’s disease, type-1 diabetes, as well as allergic diseases, such as allergic rhinitis, atopic dermatitis, and asthma. The reason behind this is that during natural, or vaginal childbirth, the child gets coated with a slew of different beneficial bacteria while making their way through the uterus, vagina and into the outside world.

Caesarean delivery not only bypasses this initial contact with the beneficial bacteria but also allows for non-maternally derived bacteria to play a significantly larger role in the bacterial colonization of the infant’s intestinal flora. Research has shown that caesarean delivery might disturb the infant’s gut flora for a period of up to six months after the delivery. It’s this initial contact with specific bacteria and their colonization of intestinal flora that ends up shaping the infant’s immune system and determining whether it will develop allergies later on in life.

Breastfeeding vs. formula

Although breastfeeding provides numerous advantages for the infant, there’s an ongoing debate regarding whether breast milk is any better at preventing infants from developing allergies compared to formulas. Unlike infant formula, breast milk is filled with IgA antibodies which are produced in the mammary glands and breastfeeding right after the delivery provides an infant with the much-needed defense against certain microbes and helps the development of their immunity.

However, it must be noted that in most underdeveloped countries, the mothers simply don’t have enough nutrients to produce the required amounts of breast milk needed to feed the infant, which is why baby formulas might be their best option when it comes to the baby’s well-being.

Use of antibiotics early in life

A research was presented back in 2016 which hints at a correlation between exposure to antibiotics early in life and elevated risk of developing an allergy later on. The research has shown that the risk of developing eczema and hay fever due to the use of antibiotics early in life may vary from 15% to 41%, but the results clearly show an increase in risk. The authors have even suggested that the immunomodulatory effect of specific antibiotics and their ability to disrupt the gut microbiome may be responsible for the reduced response of the immune system later in life.

Not only that, but the bacteria affected by the said antibiotics have been building up resistance over the years and today, we have super strains which that are resistant to almost every antibiotic we currently use. The next time your kid catches a cold, make sure to avoid trying to fix the issue with antibiotics and try to lessen the symptoms using natural remedies. This not only helps prevent the emergence of superbugs, but also reduces the risk of your child’s gut flora being permanently altered by the antibiotics and developing allergies later on.

Fighting against allergies

Despite the fact that their cause is still undetermined, allergies are a rather common occurrence and more and more people are subjected to various allergy symptoms throughout the year, whether it’s coughing and sneezing, a runny nose or itchy eyes. Fortunately, there are numerous ways you can fight off allergies including wearing sunglasses to keep the pollen out of your eyes, getting rid of dust mites and using high-quality air purifiers in order to better control the humidity and prevent mold and mildew from developing inside the house.

Granted, while the underlying cause of allergies may still be a mystery, there are some modern-day factors that seem to influence their occurrence and rate of prevalence in the developed world. Some speculate that the excessive hygiene is to blame, while others claim the different types of deliveries may be the deciding factor in this story. Whichever may be true, one thing is for certain: allergies are becoming increasingly prevalent and we need to start looking for an underlying cause of allergies instead of relying solely on treating their symptoms.  


Mia Taylor is a fashion and beauty enthusiast from Sydney and writer for She loves writing about her life experiences. Travelling and enjoying other cultures and their food with her husband is a big part of her life. She is always on a lookout for new trends in fashion and beauty, and considers herself an expert when it comes to lifestyle tips.
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