All the fashion

Posted on: Wed, 08/02/2006 - 11:27am
2BusyBoys's picture
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[url="http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/5230964.stm"]http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/5230964.stm[/url]
By Brendan O'Neill

Almost a quarter of Europeans have some kind of allergy; in Britain there are 20 million sufferers. Yet a century ago allergies were hardly heard of. Could this remarkable rise be a "fashionable response" to the modern world?
What are you allergic to? Cat fur? Dust mites? Latex? Peanuts? Seafood? Chemicals? Penicillin?

Or, as it's summer, the season to be sneezy, perhaps you are one of an estimated 12 million hay fever sufferers in Britain, currently itching your eyes, blowing your nose and in extreme cases feeling faint in response to the high pollen count.

Allergies are on the rise. About a third of the population - 20 million - will develop an allergy some time in our lives, according to a recent government estimate.

Cases of asthma, hay fever and eczema have risen between two- and three-fold in the UK over the past 20 years.

Food allergies are rising fastest. Allergies to peanuts - which can be fatal - have trebled in the past five years.

ANAPHYLAXIS
Can involve respiratory distress, falling blood pressure, vomiting and unconsciousness
More than 3,000 people admitted to hospital with it in 2005
20 of whom died

Most worryingly, the most serious and potentially fatal form of allergic reaction - anaphylaxis - is on the rise too.
Why are more and more of us suffering from allergies?

Professor Mark Jackson, author of the provocative new book Allergy: The History of a Modern Malady, suggests allergies have become fashionable; a way to indicate you are a refined individual.

"I would never argue that allergies were not a real medical condition", says Professor Jackson. "But I think we need to explore the cultural aspects of allergies, and look at why there is a public preoccupation with them today."

During his research, Professor Jackson, director of the Centre for Medical History at the University of Exeter, found allergies were almost unknown 100 years ago.

"Asthma has quite a long history, and hay fever was known and discussed in the 19th Century. But others, such as food allergies, are very much a modern thing."

More than medical condition

In fact, the term "allergy" was only coined in 1906.

In a sense, saying 'I have a food allergy' has become a way of saying 'I'm too sensitive for this modern, brutal world'
Professor Mark Jackson.

From the outset, allergies were considered to be more than a medical condition; they were also taken as evidence that sufferers were cultured and educated.
"To be allergic to something was an indicator that you were sensitive", says Professor Jackson. "Hay fever was diagnosed most frequently among the middle- and aristocratic classes, some of whom believed that having this affliction was evidence of their superiority.

"Hay fever acquired a specific character as a disease of the educated elite... a sign they were sensitive to their surroundings, that they were delicate and refined."

Indeed, in 1884 the physician Morell Mackenzie wrote: "Our national proclivity to hay fever may be taken as proof of our superiority."

One allergist noted the typical patient was "a delicate, upper-class, only child who developed into an emotionally and socially maladjusted adult."

No wish to insult

Professor Jackson says it isn't uncommon for diseases to take on a "cultural character". Aristocrats, for example, would boast about having gout, because that was seen as proof one enjoyed the finer things in life: red wine and red meat.

He believes that the idea that allergies are markers of an individual's sensitivity continues today.
"Consider food allergies. These rose exponentially in the 1990s, and that must surely be linked to various cultural factors - to the obsession with body image, weight, fears of food additives, and so on.

"In a sense, saying 'I have a food allergy' has become a way of saying 'I'm too sensitive for this modern, brutal world'," says Professor Jackson. He stresses he doesn't want to "insult" anybody with an allergy, and says two of his children have asthma.

Yet he thinks that, in some ways, the rise in allergies - and the nature of the public debate - can be seen as a "physical manifestation of cultural anxieties". In a sense, cultural trends have dictated a medical condition

"Our angst about modern living, the environment, what to eat, cars, pollution and many other things are projected onto the debate about allergies.

Not surprisingly, Professor Jackson's views are controversial, especially among allergy sufferers.

Various reasons

Were Professor Jackson's theory correct, says Muriel Simmons, chief executive of Allergy UK, someone with a food allergy could "train themselves to like a food and it would mean this ended their allergy".

'MAJOR HEALTH PROBLEM'
23% of Europeans suffer some kind of allergy
Results from random survey of 9,000 people by British Society for Allergy and Clinical Immunology
A 'major public health problem for the NHS,' says Prof Stephen Durham

"Most of the people with food allergies would love to be able to safely eat the food that could kill them. Having a food allergy is both scary and incredibly inconvenient and I speak from personal experience," says Ms Simmons.
She believes the rise in allergies is down to a "combination of things: double glazing, poorly ventilated houses, thick curtains, carpets, deep cushioned seating all make an idea environment for the house dust mite."

Another theory is the "hygiene hypothesis" which says that allergies are a response to the fact that we live in cleaner environments.

Professor Stephen Durham, President of the British Society for Allergy and Clinical Immunology, says this means "children are not exposed to bacteria in the way they used to be, which might make them more sensitive to such things in the long run".

"Allergies are real rather than fashionable", says Professor Durham. "And we must find better ways to identify and treat them."

Professor Jackson doesn't deny allergies are very real and sometimes very serious.

"But what I'm arguing is that we need to broaden the debate, and look at how allergy has become a kind of index of cultural anxiety, explore the crossover between allergic sensitivity and cultural sensitivity.

"Yes we must treat allergies better, but we must understand them better too."

Posted on: Wed, 08/02/2006 - 12:12pm
LisaM's picture
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i'd be interested in taking a look at this book.
for the record, there is a clear description of anaphylactic shock in George Henry Lewes' _Physiology of Common Life_ (I think that was published 1859-60) . . . the description of anaphylaxis was from an earlier medical text. (of course, they didn't call it "allergies" or "anaphylaxis")
has anyone read E.M Forster's _Howard's End_? several characters in that novel have "hayfever" if I remember correctly, Tibby's hayfever sort of goes hand in hand with the way in which he is distanced from the type of masculinity represented by the Wilcoxes.

Posted on: Wed, 08/02/2006 - 3:44pm
Corvallis Mom's picture
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What a load of cr@p.... MAYBE most children with severe atopic conditions died early in childhood prior to modern medical treatment and pharmacology.
It is like saying hemophilia or MS didn't exist before we all got so "sensitive." Wonder why type one diabetes was so rare until the 1920s...
SNORT.
Maybe he should roll his asthmatic kids in the dirt and tell 'em they just need to toughen up instead of giving them an inhaler, eh?
Idiot.
If this [i]were[/i] true, then why are asthma rates disproportionately higher among low-income inner city children? And why is asthma severity so much worse among the lowest socioeconomic levels of the affected? (Maybe because they can't afford appropriate treatment, hmmmm?)
[This message has been edited by Corvallis Mom (edited August 03, 2006).]

Posted on: Wed, 08/02/2006 - 9:26pm
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Good heavens, I do believe this article has given me a raging case of the vapors. I think I'll head off to my fainting couch and swoon. I just hope I can find my lavender scented lace hankie in time.
Amy
[This message has been edited by Going Nuts (edited August 03, 2006).]

Posted on: Wed, 08/02/2006 - 10:23pm
LisaM's picture
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Quote:Originally posted by Going Nuts:
[B]Good heavens, I do believe this article has given me a raging case of the vapors. I think I'll head off to my fainting couch and swoon. I just hope I can find my lavender scented lace hankie in time.
LOL!
While I strongly disagree with his statement that having allergies has become a way of saying that one is "sensitive" I think he has a point when it comes to representing people with allergies in literature, television, etc.
I wasn't all that offended though . . . probably because I find another account on the history of medicine to be much, much more offensive.
see this interview with Edward Shorter (who doesn't actually say much about allergies in his book. seems to be speaking off the cuff on this particular topic. but he is a very very well respected historian of science at the top of his field.):
[url="http://www.stayfreemagazine.org/archives/21/edward_shorter.html"]http://www.stayfreemagazine.org/archives/21/edward_shorter.html[/url]
I've also come across a very upsetting article by a sociologist on peanut allergy which is even worse.

Posted on: Thu, 08/03/2006 - 6:05am
milosmom's picture
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Joined: 05/30/2006 - 09:00

Professor Jackson is an intolerable ass.
Yes, my son was entirely concerned with being proceived as *refined* at 12 months that he willed himself to have a severe reaction to eggs. He was intent on keeping up with the *Jones* you see, and little Johnny Jones has a milk intolerance, so not to be outdone my son declared himself allergic to Tree Nuts, Peanuts and Eggs. Clever chap that he is. Never mind he couldn't talk or read.
What a crock of s$*t. Like a baby would give a **** how they are perceived.
What a jackass.

Posted on: Thu, 08/03/2006 - 6:07am
milosmom's picture
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Joined: 05/30/2006 - 09:00

er, I meant to say perceived.

Posted on: Thu, 08/03/2006 - 9:53am
Going Nuts's picture
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Joined: 10/04/2001 - 09:00

Quote:Originally posted by milosmom:
[b]
Yes, my son was entirely concerned with being proceived as *refined* at 12 months that he willed himself to have a severe reaction to eggs. He was intent on keeping up with the *Jones* you see, and little Johnny Jones has a milk intolerance, so not to be outdone my son declared himself allergic to Tree Nuts, Peanuts and Eggs. Clever chap that he is. Never mind he couldn't talk or read.
What a jackass.[/b]
I was having the same thought about my son, who at 3 months was covered in horrendous eczema, who at 4 1/2 months was gasping for air, and who at 15 months had a reaction to a PB&J sandwich which he merely put up to his face, but didn't eat. Yeah, he wanted to be sure he was on the cutting edge. [img]http://uumor.pair.com/nutalle2/peanutallergy/rolleyes.gif[/img]
Amy

Posted on: Wed, 08/02/2006 - 12:12pm
LisaM's picture
Offline
Joined: 11/04/2005 - 09:00

i'd be interested in taking a look at this book.
for the record, there is a clear description of anaphylactic shock in George Henry Lewes' _Physiology of Common Life_ (I think that was published 1859-60) . . . the description of anaphylaxis was from an earlier medical text. (of course, they didn't call it "allergies" or "anaphylaxis")
has anyone read E.M Forster's _Howard's End_? several characters in that novel have "hayfever" if I remember correctly, Tibby's hayfever sort of goes hand in hand with the way in which he is distanced from the type of masculinity represented by the Wilcoxes.

Posted on: Wed, 08/02/2006 - 3:44pm
Corvallis Mom's picture
Offline
Joined: 05/22/2001 - 09:00

What a load of cr@p.... MAYBE most children with severe atopic conditions died early in childhood prior to modern medical treatment and pharmacology.
It is like saying hemophilia or MS didn't exist before we all got so "sensitive." Wonder why type one diabetes was so rare until the 1920s...
SNORT.
Maybe he should roll his asthmatic kids in the dirt and tell 'em they just need to toughen up instead of giving them an inhaler, eh?
Idiot.
If this [i]were[/i] true, then why are asthma rates disproportionately higher among low-income inner city children? And why is asthma severity so much worse among the lowest socioeconomic levels of the affected? (Maybe because they can't afford appropriate treatment, hmmmm?)
[This message has been edited by Corvallis Mom (edited August 03, 2006).]

Posted on: Wed, 08/02/2006 - 9:26pm
Going Nuts's picture
Offline
Joined: 10/04/2001 - 09:00

Good heavens, I do believe this article has given me a raging case of the vapors. I think I'll head off to my fainting couch and swoon. I just hope I can find my lavender scented lace hankie in time.
Amy
[This message has been edited by Going Nuts (edited August 03, 2006).]

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