Allergy explosion: The truth behind the most common myths

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Are women more allergy-prone?

In adult life, women are certainly more likely than men to report having allergies and intolerances to food. Intolerances differ from allergies (see “Not an allergy”, below), but they are often grouped together in studies. Last year, a paper examining 2.7 million health records found that 4.2 per cent of women have food allergies or intolerances, compared with 2.9 per cent of men. And this isn’t just a reflection of the apparent rise in gluten intolerance: the most common problem food for both men and women was shellfish, followed by certain fruits and vegetables.

allergies illustration

Read more: The allergy explosion

Allergies are on the rise – and you might even be affected by one without realising. So how can we best deal with the allergy explosion?

It is possible that women simply pay more attention to what they eat and their health, so are more likely to notice if they have a reaction, but biological factors seem to be involved too. For example, men have higher levels of a certain type of antibody thought to help block allergic reactions.

And hormones almost certainly play a role because the gender difference in allergies switches at adolescence. Before puberty, boys are affected by allergies twice as much as girls.

Can you grow into and out of allergies?

Adult-onset hay fever often comes as a surprise to those newly affected – but it is true, you really can develop fresh allergies throughout your life. Just because you have never been allergic to pollen or peanuts, doesn’t mean you never will be. The flip side is that …

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