Navigation path

Themes
Agriculture & food
Energy
Environment
ERA-NET
Health & life sciences
  Allergy & asthma
  Biotechnology
  Communicable diseases
  Drugs & drug processes
  Genetic engineering
  Genomics
  Health & ageing
  Health & poverty
  Health & special needs
  Health systems & management
  Major diseases
  Medical research
  Molecular biology
  Neuroscience
  Public health
  Rare & orphan diseases
  Other
Human resources & mobility
Industrial research
Information society
Innovation
International cooperation
Nanotechnology
Pure sciences
Research infrastructures
Research policy
Science & business
Science in society
Security
SMEs
Social sciences and humanities
Space
Special Collections
Transport

Countries
Countries
  Argentina
  Australia
  Austria
  Belgium
  Benin
  Brazil
  Bulgaria
  Canada
  Chile
  China
  Croatia
  Cyprus
  Czech Republic
  Denmark
  Egypt
  Estonia
  Finland
  France
  Georgia
  Germany
  Ghana
  Greece
  Hungary
  Iceland
  India
  Ireland
  Israel
  Italy
  Japan
  Kazakhstan
  Kenya
  Korea
  Latvia
  Lithuania
  Luxembourg
  Malta
  Mexico
  Montenegro
  Morocco
  Namibia
  Netherlands
  Nigeria
  Norway
  Peru
  Poland
  Portugal
  Romania
  Russia
  Serbia
  Slovakia
  Slovenia
  South Africa
  Spain
  Swaziland
  Sweden
  Switzerland
  Taiwan
  Tanzania
  Tunisia
  Turkey
  Ukraine
  United Kingdom
  United States


This page was published on 01/08/2006
Published: 01/08/2006

   Success Stories

Last Update: 01-08-2006  
Related category(ies):
Health & life sciences

 

Add to PDF "basket"

Tackling allergies and asthma

It is estimated that between 15% and 30% of Europe's population suffers from some sort of allergic illness such as asthma or hay fever. By 2015 that number may rise to half of Europe's population. Asthma is especially commonplace. It is a major cause of hospitalisation among children in western societies and some 5-15% of children are affected by it. Studies show that asthma cases doubled in Western Europe between 1990 and 2000.

Causes of allergies

Video in QuickTime format:  de  en  es  fr  it  pt  ru  (33 MB)

Allergies are an over-reaction of the immune system to foreign substances. When in contact with these substances the immune system has an unexpected hypersensitive reaction to elements which would otherwise be harmless. There are hundreds of substances, or allergens, known to trigger allergies. These elements can affect the skin, eyes, respiratory system, and other organs.

The development of allergies can be hereditary, environmental or related to the lifestyle of a person. It can happen at any age but a person will most likely develop allergies at a very young age. Studies show that allergic tendencies are embedded in more than one gene making individuals with a family history of allergies more likely to develop allergic reactions than those who do not.

Outdoor air pollution is suspected to cause allergies. Data suggests that this is more prevalent in larger cities than in the countryside, but studies show that the degree of allergies suffered by people does not directly correspond to the level of air pollution of that city. In Europe, there are very large variations – up to 20 times – between different urban centres in the prevalence of asthma and other allergies. The indoor environment in which people live also plays its part. Homes with carpeting and other soft furnishings have a high likeliness of containing substances such as dust mites, pet fur, and gas fumes that can trigger allergies.

Young children seem particularly susceptible to allergies. A quarter of all children in Europe are known to be affected by one allergy or another. In some areas it rises to as much as one-third.

Allergic illnesses are usually not life threatening, but they do put a strain on public health resources, work and school productivity, and can seriously affect the quality of life of the individuals concerned. Allergies are a leading cause of children missing school. In the adult population, 70% of those affected say that allergies limit their daily activities. Days lost to allergies and health care for asthma cost Britain about €1.4 billion a year. The European Federation of Allergy and Airways Diseases Associations (EFA) claims that asthma is responsible for 9 billion lost working days in the European Union.

Lifestyle to blame?

Few scientists would argue that occurrences of allergies in the general European population is increasing fast. Why this is happening is far from certain.

Extensive genetic alterations cannot alone explain this upsurge, but environmental and lifestyle have been identified as potential risk factors. The overly clean and sanitised western lifestyle may be to blame. Research suggest that newborn children raised in very hygienic environments may actually become more prone to allergies later in their lives than children who grew up surrounded by animals, dirt and even other children.

Treating and controlling allergies

Allergies such as asthma cannot be cured, but they can be controlled and treated. Chronic and acute conditions will usually require extended medical care. However, many debate the effectiveness of treating allergies simply through drug treatments. They claim that specific treatments that focus on avoiding allergic substances can greatly benefit patients with allergies.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) claims that preventive measures may also go a long way in limiting the prevalence of allergies. This includes avoiding exposure to tobacco smoke, especially during pregnancy and early childhood, avoiding damp housing conditions, reducing indoor air pollutants, breast-feeding for the first 6 months, and generally eliminating irritating substances in occupational environments.

Extensive research is being conducted in the field of allergies in Europe and around the world. One network that is especially active in this area is the Global Allergy and Asthma European Network (GALEN). It is a network of 26 research centres and associations whose objective is to enhance the quality of research on allergies with a view to knowing more about and finding remedies to the allergic illnesses that afflict such a large number of Europeans.

Further information

Convert article(s) to PDF

No article selected


loading


Search articles

Notes:
To restrict search results to articles in the Information Centre, i.e. this site, use this search box rather than the one at the top of the page.

After searching, you can expand the results to include the whole Research and Innovation web site, or another section of it, or all Europa, afterwards without searching again.

Please note that new content may take a few days to be indexed by the search engine and therefore to appear in the results.

Print Version
Share this article
See also

Futuris, the European research programme - on Euronews. The video on this page was prepared in collaboration with Euronews for the Futuris programme.

Contacts


Unit A1 - External & internal communication,
Directorate-General for Research & Innovation,
European Commission
Tel : +32 2 298 45 40
  Top   Research Information Center