Could hygiene obsession cause allergies?
Is the modern world's obsession with hygiene responsible for a global allergy epidemic? Dan Cossins investigates.
An epidemic is sweeping the Western world. The symptoms vary: sneezing, rashes, swollen eyes and breathlessness.
The illness is often debilitating and can be fatal. But the causes are seemingly harmless things like pollen and peanuts. This isn’t some fictional doomsday scenario. This is the here and now, where an inexorable rise in allergies is emerging as a serious threat to the health of future generations.
A century ago, no such problems existed. Now, in some parts of the world, allergies affect a third of adults and almost half of children, and they’re becoming more severe. If this continues, allergy experts warn that it could become one of the biggest medical challenges of the next century. So why are our bodies freaking out so much?
It has long been suspected that our hygiene-obsessed modern lifestyle is to blame. But immunologists are now revealing precisely how reduced exposure to bacteria and parasitic worms is damaging the immune system’s ability to regulate itself.