Are allergies on the rise in America?
Dr. Neil W. Schluger's main area of academic interest has been in tuberculosis, including clinical trials, molecular epidemiology, development and evaluation of diagnostics, and human host immune responses. He is the principal investigator at Columbia University for the Tuberculosis Trials Consortium, a CDC-funded collaboration in clinical trials in which patients are enrolled in trials of treatment of latent tuberculosis infection and active tuberculosis disease. In addition, Dr. Schluger has led studies examining the transmission dynamics of tuberculosis in New York City, using tools of molecular epidemiology. He has a long standing interest in the development and evaluation of new tools for the diagnosis of tuberculosis.
More recently, in addition to his studies in tuberculosis, he has led clinical trials for the use of retinoids in the treatment of emphysema and for the use of interferon gamma in the treatment of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.
Question: Are allergies on the rise in America?
Neil Schluger: Certainly, some of it’s interesting. On the whole I think most of the evidence is that the common kinds of allergies, pollen, ragweed, things like that, are really not much more common than they used to be. There’s a lot of concern though about things that we’ve done to the environment that may cause respiratory illness so air pollution and things like that. I think people are certainly more aware of allergies than they used to be and so there’s a lot more reporting of it but just in terms of as I said common allergies, pollen, hay fever, things like that, I don’t think there’s been a huge increase in that in the United States lately. More of the concern is of- for manmade things as I said, exhaust, air pollution, so-called sick buildings, buildings where the windows don’t open and air is recycled all day long. I think we’re much more aware that those things potentially pose health threats
Question: Would we be less allergic if we were exposed to more allergens?
Neil Schluger: Yeah. So that’s a very significant idea about why asthma may be more common now than it was several years ago, that we just don’t get sick enough when we’re young and we don’t build up immune systems that protect us against other things. There’s a lot of evidence to support that. It’s hard to know what to make of it. It’s better not to get sick when you’re young in most ways but that’s a very significant idea in why particularly asthma is more common. It’s hard to prove but there’s evidence for that.
Question: Why do some allergies develop only later in life?
Neil Schluger: If I knew there would be many fewer people with allergies I guess. I wish I knew. I have developed seasonal allergies at this stage of my life so I cough and sneeze in the springtime. I never did that when I was 20 years old. I don’t think we really understand that at all actually but we certainly know that people can get allergies at any stage in life. We often think people get them when they’re kids and then outgrow them and that’s certainly true- often true but we do see people who in middle age or later in life develop allergies. I don’t think anybody really understands why that is. I think one of the reasons may be that particularly as we’ve adopted more of an indoor lifestyle that we’re exposed to sort of more manmade pollutants and triggers of allergies and things like that than we were. It’s really hard to be almost anywhere and get so-called fresh air anymore so I think that may be one of the reasons.
Recorded on: 04/25/2008
An allergy specialist, Schluger discusses why we seem to have more allergies than ever.