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Why do people have allergies?

Hands holding up the letters that spell the word allergies.
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Why is it that some people have allergies when others don’t, even if they’re in the same family? How do allergies work? Can you be allergic to water? Why are some people allergic to cats and dogs? Can you grow out of your allergies? We’re joined by pediatrician and allergy researcherDr. Ruchi Gupta to answer the dozens of questions kids have sent us on this topic. Plus we learn about promising treatments being developed to help relieve allergy suffering.

Download our learning guides: PDF | Google Slide | Transcript

  • Scientists are still trying to work out why some people have allergies and others don’t. Genetics play a role: you’re more likely to have allergies or asthma if your biological parents do. But there are also environmental triggers and other factors that aren’t completely understood.
  • A lot of allergy research is focused on the microbiome, all the organisms that live on and inside your body. Many researchers believe changes to your microbiome can trigger allergies. And working on making sure your microbiome is healthy could be key in preventing and treating allergies in the future.
  • Allergies are on the rise these days, and one other factor in why people are getting allergies may be in how and what we eat. Our food systems and diets have changed a lot in the last few generations, and more research needs to be done on the connections between the modern diet and allergies.
  • About one out of every 13 kids has a food allergy. Some food allergies are mild, but others can be really dangerous.
  • If your school or camp asks you to avoid packing certain foods that could cause problems for other kids, please follow the guidelines! Those guidelines are in place to protect kids who have severe reactions, and to make sure everyone can play and learn without worrying about their allergies.
  • The top 9 foods people are allergic to are: milk, eggs, nuts, fish, crustaceans, shellfish, wheat, soy and sesame.
  • Sometimes kids grow out of some of their allergies, especially allergies to milk and eggs. You can work with your allergist to see if it might be possible to eat baked eggs and dairy, because baking those foods can change the makeup of their proteins.
  • There are also other ways to treat allergies, including shots, drops under your tongue, and other types of exposure therapy. Dr. Gupta says there promising treatments still being developed that may change the experience for allergy sufferers in the next five to ten years.
  • With so much still to be learned about allergies, kids today could be the allergy researchers of the future, helping make the world a better place!
Jane Lindholm is the host, executive producer and creator of But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids. In addition to her work on our international kids show, she produces special projects for Vermont Public. Until March 2021, she was host and editor of the award-winning Vermont Public program Vermont Edition.
Melody is the Contributing Editor for But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids and the co-author of two But Why books with Jane Lindholm.

But Why is a project of Vermont Public.

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