As an ER nurse, I can’t tell you how many times I have been asked, are allergies genetic? They didn’t really ask it like that because most of us don’t really understand genetics very well. I know I didn’t. They would actually ask me if their child inherited a penicillin allergy from mom? Or a patient would say, “my mom was allergic to penicillin, so that must be why I am.”
I never knew the right answer to their questions. It wasn’t until I did some research that I began to understand DNA and genetics along with the hereditary parts of it all. But today, I have seen the eye-opening truth about the relationship between allergies and genetics.
So let’s take a look at all of the facts and the answer to a question asked by many for years. I want to give you a bit of knowledge first regarding:
- Types of allergies
- Types of Reactions
- Difference between an allergy and a sensitivity
- How the environment effects allergies
- The answer to our question, “Are Allergies Genetic?”
Understanding Genetics-A Brief Overview
I will begin with a simple definition. According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary:
Genetics is a branch of biology that deals with the heredity and variation of organisms
In other words, it is the study of hereditary factors or the inheritance of genes from your parents. When your parents made you, they each gave you a set of chromosomes, 23 to be exact, that contain genes. Within the genes are your DNA. You have chromosomes, then genes, and then DNA from your mom, your dad, and then some unique to only you.
If you have a gene from one parent you have a 50% chance of inheriting some of the traits that one parent passed on. If you have the same gene from both parents you have a 75% chance of getting the traits they pass down.
When you ask, “are allergies genetic,” you are actually wondering if you got some allergies from your parents. Do you wonder if you will also have this same allergy if one or both of your parents have a food or medication allergy?
Before we can answer this question, we have to look at other factors that will affect your genes and get a better knowledge base to understand how this works.
Types Of Allergies
There are 4 types of allergies that are most common.
- Food-some people are allergic to foods they take in, such as shellfish.
- Medication-others can ingest an allergen as a medication such a penicillin or pain medications.
- Inhalation-we can come in contact with allergens in the environment, such as pollen.
- Contact-the fourth one is direct contact with your skin, such as poison ivy.
Types Of Reactions
What Is An Allergic Reaction?
An allergic reaction is your immune system attempting to protect you from anything you may ingest, inhale, or is in contact with your skin. Your body produces these immune response things called IgE. When your body determines that something is a threat, it releases these IgE into your system. They attach to the threat and attempt to protect you. Please remember that this brief explanation is not conclusive of how it all really happens, but it will help give a better understanding of the process.
When you have an allergic reaction, it doesn’t feel like your body is helping you, but it is your body’s way of protecting you.
4 Types Of Allergic Reactions
These 4 types are categorized according to your body’s response.
- Type I or anaphylactic reactions-allergens, can be introduced in any of the 4 ways above, but the reaction may be severe. Anaphylactic reactions affect your breathing and cause swelling.
- Type II-cytotoxic reactions-again allergens are introduced in various ways,, but the reaction can damage your body’s cells and leave a lasting effect.
- Type III or immunocomplex reactions-A reaction such as this takes place in a person who already has a poor immune system to fight infection. Which means they may have a medical autoimmune response already taking place in their body.
- Type IV or cell-mediated reactions-this reaction is delayed and may not show up for at least 48-72 hours or longer. These reactions may be in the form of metal coming into contact with your skin.
The information here is a bit involved, but I did make it brief and attempted to put it into simple terms to understand better. All of the information here will help support the answer to “are allergies genetic.” The process of heredity and allergies can be quite complex as it does involve your unique DNA blueprint.
Allergies vs Sensitivity
Many use the terms allergy and sensitivity interchangeably, but they are two different body responses with different outcomes.
What Is An Allergy?
An allergy to a substance actually causes the body to react, and your body rises to protect you. The defense mechanism your body uses can be life-threatening and can happen again in the future if you take that substance again. Such as a medication you take that causes you to have trouble breathing.
What Is A Sensitivity?
Sensitivity is a life-altering but not a life-threatening situation. The substance you take in may cause you to be uncomfortable or miserable, but it does not threaten to take your life. Such as lactose intolerance may cause bloating and cramping, but you live through it and avoid it in the future.
How Does The Environment Effect Allergies?
Some studies support the thought that the environment can affect your allergies. I am not going to list all of the findings here today. But I want you to be aware that our environment can alter our genetic response. I did find some pretty big eye-opening truths here. Here is one interesting study and will help you best understand the environmental effects, “Risk factors of allergic rhinitis: genetic or environmental?”
Are Allergies Genetic?
We have finally reached the real reason we are here today and uncovered the eye-opening truth about allergies. Are allergies genetic? Yes, they can be passed from your parents to you through your DNA. But it is not that simple. As you can see above, the process involves many factors such as:
- Did you get the gene from one or both parents?
- How was the allergen introduced to your body?
- What type of allergy did you experience, and are there other medical issues going on with your body?
- Is this a true allergy or a sensitivity to the allergen?
- And do you have environmental risk factors?
You may see the same allergies in family members, but you can also see similarities, which means there are genetic tendencies. Just because you have allergies does not mean your child will absolutely have them.
In studies, it is noted that families with strong allergies do tend to have children that also have allergies. These findings support the belief that allergies can be genetic.
There is strong evidence that allergies are genetic, but many variables affect what type of allergy your children may have. The allergy itself may appear different than yours even though your child may have the same gene that you do.
So if your child has an allergic reaction, there is no way to know if it is inherited from your or the other parent without proper DNA testing. But as a parent, we usually know our children and ourselves. We can make an educated guess at the situation, especially with the scientific information that is so readily available to use today.
Can you help to shed some light on this subject with your personal experience? Leave all comments and questions in the comment section below.
You can know you from the inside out.
When you know what your body says about you it is liberating.
Empower your life with your unique results.