From hay fever to peanut allergy: this is the main predictor of an allergy

Lavendel in bloei
Curious child stretching arm towards peanutbutter jar

Gluten, lactose, egg, pollen or peanuts. More and more people seem to have an allergy. Erasmus MC paediatrician and allergologist Laura Sonneveld explains in Studio Erasmus what we are most allergic to and how to get rid of it.

You are allergic if you have an acute reaction when you eat something. Sometimes you get symptoms like hives, a swollen eye or fat lip, but you can also become short of breath. In some cases, an allergic reaction can even be life-threatening.

Nowadays, it seems like everyone is allergic to something, but that is a little more nuanced, explains allergologist Laura Sonneveld. "We have seen the increase in allergies particularly in the 20th century. One in three people in Europe is allergic. That's 150 million people. There are numbers showing that by 2025, 50 per cent of Europeans will be allergic."

These are the most common allergies

According to the allergologist, which allergies are most common is difficult to pinpoint because it keeps changing over time. "We used to see a lot of people with legume allergy in Moroccan families. They eat a lot of that there. Now we all eat more legumes and we see this allergy in many more people. We eat it more, so percentage-wise we see more people with such an allergy."

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Main predictor of allergy

One of the main risk factors for developing a food allergy is having eczema as a child. "You have to think of the skin as a kind of brick wall with cement," Sonneveld explains. "That wall is actually broken in children with eczema. The cement is of lower quality. Cracks appear in the wall, allowing bacteria to pass through more easily." Thus, a hyperactive immune system develops that is sensitive to all kinds of outside substances.

Kinderarts Laura Sonneveld te gast bij Studio Erasmus

When children with eczema crawl around in a room with food leftovers on the floor, they are the first to come into contact with food allergens through their skin. "Their immune system then thinks: hey, that's weird. I'm not supposed to get this through my skin, I'm supposed to eat this," Sonneveld explains. "At that point, the body starts making allergic antibodies. If you then don't let the child eat a peanut, but only expose to it through the skin, a food allergy develops in children with eczema."

Starting young with introducing foods

Nowadays, allergy focuses more on prevention. Her tip: start introducing foods such as peanut or egg early. Especially in children with eczema or children with an allergic parent, you can prevent an allergy this way, according to the paediatrician.

The Dutch national advice these days is to start with peanut and egg as early as four months. "This ensures that you have a much lower chance of developing an allergy," says Sonneveld. In short, starting as early as possible to introduce potential allergens through the mouth, rather than the skin, can prevent a potential allergy later in life.

Getting rid of an allergy later in life

The paediatrician doubts wether you can get rid of an allergy later in life, say when you are an adult. "We do know that you can outgrow an allergy. For example, an apple allergy can diminish over time. 10 to 20 per cent of people outgrow it a peanut or nut allergy. But the crucial period, when you talk about food allergy, is mainly in the first 15 months of life," Sonneveld emphasises.

Laura Sonneveld bij Studio Erasmus

Waarom is iedereen ineens allergisch? - Studio Erasmus

Drs. L.J.H (Laura) Sonneveld
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