Pollution and Allergies: The Growing Connection

Posted on June 12, 2012 by


It’s not difficult to connect the dots when it comes to some allergies and pollution. Respiratory sensitivities and irritations develop from things that enter the lungs through inhalation. Most people realize that pollution is in the air, so airborne allergies from pollutants make sense. Subtle links, such as food allergies, however, may be a little more difficult to correlate. How do poisons in the air get into food? Even if pollution does contaminate food and water sources, how does that lead to a reaction? The first step to understanding the role pollution might play in food allergies is to learn a little something about how hypersensitivity forms.

What is an Allergy?

An allergy is a defense mechanism to fight disease and infection. When something enters the body from the outside, the immune system assesses the risk factor. If the intruder is deemed a threat, the body creates an identification tag. This way, if that foreign particle shows up again, the brain knows what it is and that it is dangerous. That tag is an antibody. Next time the person encounters the same substance, the brain locates the antibody, and the immune system attacks the impurity with histamines. This attack has side effects like rashes and a runny nose.

Sometimes the immune system gets it wrong. In other words, the foreign body is not dangerous, but it gets a tag anyway. This is an allergic reaction, an immunological response to a seemingly inert substance. When a child gets a rash after taking a certain medication, it is because at some point, the body mistakenly decided that drug was dangerous and an antibody formed.

Water Pollution

The most obvious connection between pollution and allergies is the air. The body’s exposure to pollution is not limited to inhalation, however. At the most basic level, water comes from rain. As rain falls, the earth absorbs it or it pools. This water is what comes out of the faucet. Before it gets to the plumbing system, however, it falls to the ground via the rain, which travels to the earth through the air. As rain droplets fall, they attract contaminants that saturate the air such as pollution. This is one way that pollution ends up in drinking water.

The water coming out of the faucet usually goes through a treatment process that removes some of the pollutants. Treatment processes target known toxins or carcinogens. What about particles deemed not harmful that remain in the water? For some individuals, these seemingly innocent contaminants lead to an allergic reaction. This is why filtration systems such as those that use the GE MWF filter cartridge come in handy. They can remove the pollution that standard treatments do not generally filter out.

Food Allergies

Once the connection between pollution and water is clear, it is not much of a reach to understand how contaminated water can lead to food allergies. Every living organism relies on a nutritional source to survive. Plants need water, oxygen and sunlight to create nutrients. If the water or air has pollutants, the plant may carry them at the cellular level. Animals eat plants to live. This means whatever pollutants exist in the plant may end up in meat that humans eat as well as the plants and water humans consume.

Food allergies can be hard to track down. Pollution may be one of the key problems. If a child eats an apple and develops a rash, common sense states that person is allergic to apples. The truth may be the allergen is not the fruit, but pollution from the water that sustained the apple tree. The next time the child eats a pear, the same reaction may occur, because he has an antibody that flags a pollutant in the fruit.

Pollutants can pass between mother and child in much the same manner. Food and water consumed by a mother ends up in breast milk. The apple with the contaminant may not be a problem for the mother, but the baby can develop an allergic reaction. Certain foods mothers should avoid because due to common allergic reactions are peanuts and shellfish. A mother’s exposure to air toxins like smoke can affect breast milk as well. Individuals with hypersensitivity may have developed antibodies while breastfeeding that stay with them throughout their lives.

Being Proactive

Taking a proactive approach to avoid allergies can be critical to avoiding sensitivities, especially for mothers who are breastfeeding. To clean water, use a filtration system and replace the water filters often. Purchase organic foods and meats. This will limit exposure to some toxins and pesticides. Avoid excessive pollution such as cigarette smoke or diesel fuel fumes. Install a HEPA filter in your home. HEPA filters remove the majority of airborne pollutants and ground-ozone in the air.

There is no perfect protection against pollution and allergic reactions. Taking a few basic precautions may help, but will not eliminate all exposure. The connection between allergic reactions and pollution is becoming clearer daily. Science is a little late in understanding the effect damage done to the atmosphere from pollution may have on health, but an increase in allergies seems to indicate there is an ongoing problem.