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An "Epidemic of Modernity" : Progressing towards a More Allergic World

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Phoebe Strom

on 19 November 2013

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Transcript of An "Epidemic of Modernity" : Progressing towards a More Allergic World

photo credit Nasa / Goddard Space Flight Center / Reto Stöckli
An "Epidemic of Modernity": Progressing towards a More Allergic World
More than a Sniffle

30-40% of the world’s population affected by allergic diseases
300 million individuals have asthma worldwide, a figure that could increase to 400 million by 2025 if trends continue.
Every year:
400 million suffer from allergic rhinitis, a risk factor for asthma.
200 to 250 million are affected by food allergies.
An estimated 250,000 avoidable deaths from asthma or allergy complications occur.

Pollution & Greater Use of Chemicals
The Hygiene Hypothesis
Improved sanitary conditions lead to fewer infections, disrupting natural balance of immune system and causing increased incidence of allergic diseases

Declining Biodiversity
Two factors:
Loss of biodiversity as a result of industrialization, factory farming, urban sprawl, etc.
Less exposure to nature and its biodiversity because of urbanization
People are simultaneously overexposed to allergens and underexposed to sensitivity-reducing organisms.
Climate Change
More CO2 -> more plant growth -> more pollen -> more allergies
Not only does increased CO2 cause plants to produce 3-4 times more pollen, the pollen itself is actually more allergenic.
Increased temperatures also lead to earlier and longer growing seasons causing greater exposure to these higher levels of allergens.
Just Another First World Problem?
Becoming more of a global issue due to Western outsourcing, rising industrialization, and spread of a growth-centered development paradigm
Represents environmental justice issue within developed nations
Caused by:

Common use of vaccines, antibiotics (in both agricultural and medical settings), and home cleaning products
Smaller family sizes
"Germophobic" mindset
Asthma and allergies are more common in Western countries and increase as nations become more urban and industrialized.
Asthma in the U.S.
1 in 12 diagnosed with asthma
28% increase from 2001-2011
As of 2009, about 20 million adults and more than 9 million children had asthma, compared to 9.5 million adults and slightly more than 5 million children in 1995.
Allergies in the U.S.
54.3% test positive to one or more allergens, which is 2-5 times higher (depending on the allergen) to the allergy rates between 1976-1980.
Food allergies among children increased approximately 50% between 1997 and 2011.
1 in 5 Americans suffers from allergies or asthma symptoms, and the number is increasing exponentially each year.
This problem remains as urgent today as it did when it was first recognized in the late 60s and early 70s.

Antibiotic use during pregnancy is a key predictor of childhood allergies or asthma. In a recent study, even one course of antibiotics increased risk of asthma by 60%, eczema by 12%, and allergic rhinitis by 43%.
Heavy downpours & rising air temperature foster the growth of mold and other fungi.
Extreme weather (e.g. hurricanes) causes allergens and chemicals to enter air and water in large amounts.
Other Factors Related to Climate Change
Most Directly Implicated Chemicals
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)
Propylene glycol and glycol ethers (PGEs)
Dichlorophenols (DCPs)
Most pesticides & herbicides
Multiple Chemical Sensitivity
First articulated by allergist Theron G. Randolph in the 1950s as a "failure to adapt to modern-day synthetic chemicals"
Not officially recognized as a distinct physical disorder
1/3 of people working in sealed buildings claim to be sensitive to one or more common chemicals.
Must be understood as complex manifestations of environmental, social, political, and economic factors, not just genetic flukes
More research necessary
Differentiation between treatments and cures

Hidden Consequences
Healthcare costs
Lost productivity
Linked to other diseases and health conditions like obesity, autoimmune disorders, ADHD, and depression
Effect on educational achievement
Higher ozone concentrations and ground-level ozone smog (especially in the summer) make it difficult to breathe.
The incorporation of GMOs into the majority of our food supply has ensured consistent exposure to specific, modified strains of crops.
Imported genes can produce new allergens .
The process of genetic engineering can damage or alter existing genes and their allergenic expression.
Research is limited, the topic is controversial, and many dismiss concerns as unfounded or disproven.
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