Word of the fortnight: Atopy

balloonatopyAhem…. I’d like to make an announcement. My name is Jessica and I am atopic, and I’d hazard a guess that many of you reading this are also atopic. No – don’t panic – I am not confessing to a deviant hobby but merely my susceptibility to asthma, eczema and a bit of hayfever.

ATOPY is the medical word for this group of allergies. All of them are caused by the same underlying hypersensitivity reaction in the body, causing a chain reaction of events which ultimately results in tissues becoming swollen and inflamed. Typical things that trigger atopic reactions (often referred to as ‘allergens’) include house dust mite, moulds, some foods and various parasites.

The initial reaction occurs within 5-10 minutes of exposure to the allergen but there is often an additional delayed response that occurs around 4-6 hours later.

Doctors often talk about the ‘Atopic Triad’ – asthma, eczema and hayfever. They are the commonest forms of this type of allergy, and typically are seen together. I’m sure many of you are very familiar with these conditions. I am definitely afflicted, and have very kindly passed my atopic tendencies on to my son. That said, I have my Dad to thank for sending it my way so I guess it’s nice to keep it in the family!!

asthma_eczema_hay_fever

If you are atopic you have a 25-40% chance of passing it on to your offspring, but this increases to 50-75% if your partner also is affected. However it is widely acknowledged that genetics and family patterns are not the only factors in causing atopic illness, and environmental factors are also likely to play a role.

On a more individual level – many Mums who are atopic wonder if there is anything they can do to reduce the chance of passing it on to their children. It’s very difficult to find convincing evidence that anything you do during pregnancy or in the early stages of you baby’s life will dramatically reduce the risk of them becoming atopic. Breastfeeding has always been hailed as being extremely protective for atopic illness in children, and is still advised, but the evidence is perhaps less concrete than it was previously thought. With my first-born I avoided eating peanuts during pregnancy, and was cautious when introducing cows milk to his diet. However there is no real firm science behind either of these actions, and many people now claim that introducing potential ‘allergy causing’ foods earlier may be beneficial.

There does seem to be some loose evidence that eating a diet high in oily fish as from 20 weeks of pregnancy may be bumphelpful in reducing the risk of atopic illness in your baby. There also seems to be mounting evidence that drinking probiotics during the last 4 weeks of pregnancy and whilst breast-feeding may also protect your child.

For all things allergy and atopy related check out Allergy UK’s very informative website.

There will be more coming up about each of these common atopic conditions over the next few months, so watch this space!

I’m off to buy some yakult!

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