The latest issue of the Science in the News “Flash” is out now about the connections between atopic disorders – namely allergies, asthma and eczema.

Itchy, watery eyes, and a drippy nose. Constricted, swollen airways secreting thick mucus. Itchy, red, dry, cracked skin. These symptoms describe three conditions — allergies, asthma, and eczema, respectively — that are commonly found together in the same people. Yet, what causes these symptoms and why they are so closely associated with each other is still poorly understood.

The Flash is written and edited by graduate students, an all-volunteer effort to explain complex science to the general public. Last month, I wrote about the link between obesity, inflammation and type 2 diabetes. This month, graduate student Elizabeth Brown from the Human Evolutionary Biology department writes about another problem involving an overzealous immune system.

Despite progress in fighting infectious diseases in developed countries with increased sanitation, antibiotics, and antiviral medications, allergies have become increasingly common in these regions. A few hypotheses have been put forth to explain this trend.

Check it out!


  1. #1 Art
    January 9, 2012

    Informative, thanks.

  2. #2 rafael matias
    January 10, 2012

    In my opinion Hygiene Hypothesis is the best hypotheses to explain the “recently” epidemic of allergy related diseases. Zimmer has beautifully explained the lack of contact with parasites (worms) in our modern society in his book “parasite rex”

  3. #3 rehana
    January 11, 2012

    In fact I prefer the version of the hygiene hypothesis explained in Parasite Rex. According to that version, it’s not that your immune system is bored and looking for something to pick on, it’s that we’ve co-evolved with parasites that suppress our immune systems. Take away the parasites and our immune systems become too sensitive.

  4. #4 Kevin
    January 11, 2012

    @ Rehana – In fact, I think that’s a slightly more accurate way to frame it, but even that isn’t quite right. Really, our immune system evolved to expect parasites. It’s not necessarily that parasites are actively suppressing our immune system, but rather our immune system suppresses itself when it sees worms.

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