Why are Asthma & Allergy increasing so much?
Asthma and allergy have become so common nowadays that these medical terms have become
When, at a social gathering, I tell someone that I am an Asthma & Allergy specialist, the usual
response is: “Doctor, why is asthma increasing so much? It must be the pollution.” This tells us
two things. One, the increase is so clear and obvious that lay people have also observed it. And
second, the popular perception is that it must be related to the increasing pollution. But is
pollution the only or the main reason? Asthma is a genetic disease. Genetic diseases do not
suddenly become more common .Obviously the influence of our environment is far more
important in asthma than we had thought.
Some sobering facts:
- Asthma is increasing at a rate of 50% every decade
- In India, Asthma in children was 2% forty years ago; now it is 12%
- In a class of 50 children in India, 6 are likely to have asthma
- In the more “westernized” countries like Australia and UK, the incidence of asthma in
- children is even more: 1 in 5 have asthma. India may well achieve the same dubious
Asthma and allergies are more common in:
- The English speaking western countries than in the developing/underdeveloped countries.
- Urban areas than in the rural areas
- Affluent people
- Societies having hygienic living conditions
- Children of small families
- More polluted cities
- In countries where carpeting is the norm
The immune system of a newborn is like a clean slate. When it is stimulated and kept active by
dirt, germs and worms it develops in a certain way. It is pre-occupied in fighting germs and
worms. But if it is not given any work, it starts reacting to innocuous things like pollens and dust
by making IgE antibodies against them. This lead to an allergic tenddency and asthma.
So the hypothesis is that the epidemic rise in allergy is due to our immune system getting mis-
We give our immune system too little right kind of stimulation by our too hygienic living, early
use of antibiotics and vaccinations.
We also give too much of the wrong kind of stimulation by pollution, house dust exposure and
our wrong type of diet.
In my opinion, the main reasons for this epidemic of asthma and allergy are:
- Our obsession with hygiene.
- Our faulty eating habits.
- Increased exposure to allergens like house dust mites and fungal spores.
Over hygienic living, vaccinations, early antibiotic use for every childhood infection has resulted
in the immune system of the younger generations not being called upon to work. Just as an idle
mind is a devil’s workshop, an idle immune system is an allergy producer!
Much as we would like to blame pollution for the increasing incidence of asthma; it is not the
real culprit. Pollution does not cause asthma. Yes it does make existing asthma worse.
Our westernized diet of fizzy drinks, fried food, ready to eat foods, colours and preservatives and
a diet lacking in fruits, nuts and vegetables is also responsible for the increasing trends of allergy.
Obesity is also linked to asthma.