The first recorded incident of a severe allergic reaction took place around 3,000 years ago when a young pharaoh, Menses died after being stung by a hornet. According to the Philippine Society of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, since those ancient times, the number of people suffering from allergic diseases has increased by leaps and bounds. While most allergic diseases are not as life-threatening, allergies do cause misery in persons who have to deal with them on a day-to-day basis.
The most common allergic diseases are:
- Asthma — chronic disease that affects the airways, which are the tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs.
- Allergic rhinitis (or hay fever) — a collection of symptoms predominantly in the nose and eyes caused by airborne particles of dust, dander or plant pollens in people who are allergic to these substances.
- Atopic dermatitis (eczema) — a non-contagious skin disease that causes itchy, inflamed skin. It typically affects the insides of the elbows, backs of the knees, and the face, but can cover most of the body.
- Urticaria (hives) — a skin condition, commonly caused by an allergic reaction, that is characterized by raised red skin welts.
- Food or Drug Allergies (hypersensitivity). Some foods and drugs can cause severe illness and, in some cases, a life-threatening allergic reaction (anaphylaxis).
- Anaphylaxis – a severe, life-threatening, whole-body allergic reaction after being exposed to a substance that can constrict airways in the lungs, severely lower blood pressure, and cause suffocation by the swelling of the tongue or throat.
About 20% to 30% of the world's population suffers from allergic disease. An estimated 300 million persons have asthma, approximately 50% of whom live in developing countries with limited access to essential drugs. An estimated 400 million persons worldwide have allergic rhinitis. In the Philippines, around 16.4% and 16% of 5 – 6 years old and 13-14 years old have asthma, while 4.3% of adults have definite asthma and 18.1 % have probable asthma. In our older children, 32.5% suffer from allergic rhinitis, the highest prevalence in the Southeast Asian region. Atopic dermatitis affects 4.3% and 7.1 % of our 5-6 year old and 13-14 year old children.
Allergy is called the "21St century disease" because as people live cleaner, healthier, less infection-prone lives, allergies increase in frequency. The so-called "hygiene theory" on how improved hygiene leads to a shift in immune response favoring an allergic-type response has strong scientific support. Therefore, as the world develops into a more industrialized and less agriculture-based economy, allergies will continue to increase and plague those very areas where lifestyles are improving. People are being reminded about the old folks' adage that a little dirt will not harm a youngster, and maybe, in this case prove beneficial in preventing the development of allergies.
Who knows what changes the future may bring? Will the prevailing buzz word "climate change" further worsen the state of allergy worldwide? Only time will tell.
- Health Beat Magazine Issue No. 49. Department of Health of the Philippines. (Accessed May 26, 2010).