Are Allergens Genetic? A Huge New Study Shows How Hay Fever Is Influenced By Your Genes

There’s no doubt that seasonal allergies are super frustrating. While there are few pleasures as uplifting as the sun-drenched days of spring and summer, the allergy symptoms that often accompany the uptick in pollen counts are an unequivocal drag. Now, in the largest study ever done to date on allergic rhinitis, otherwise known as hay fever, scientists have discovered that your genes may increase your risk of developing allergy symptoms. According to a new study published in the journal Nature Genetics, the data of nearly 900,000 study participants showed that certain changes in the human genome up the risk for developing disease. According to the study’s abstract, hay fever is the most common form of allergic reaction in humans, and affects up to 400 million people worldwide each year. The abstract also states that this number is on the rise in western countries.

In order to better understand why people develop allergies, and the genetic factors underlying hay fever symptoms, researchers conducted a meta-analysis of the study participants. They found a total of 41 locations along the human genome that indicated an increased risk of allergic rhinitis, including 20 not previously known about, according to the study’s abstract.

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A recent press release states that hay fever is triggered by environmental factors — airborne allergens — like animal dander, pollens, dust, and dust mites. Lead study author, Dr. Marie Standl, who's head of the research group at the Institute of Epidemiology at the German Research Center for Environmental Health, was quoted in a press release as saying that in order to develop more effective allergy treatments, researchers “first need to understand why the body defends itself against certain, actually harmless substances.” The goal of this study was to compare genetic profiles between those who experience seasonal allergies and those who don’t. To achieve this, the study’s authors analyzed the genome of 60,000 study participants with hay fever against over 150,000 healthy controls — folks without allergic rhinitis — and found that there are over 42 “significant risk genes” for hay fever. Standl further noted in the press release that studying a large pool of patients meant more accurate testing. She went on to say that risk genes revealed by this research may account for as much as eight percent of all rhinitis cases worldwide.

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And while you may not be able to do much about your genes, there are steps you can take to ease your allergy symptoms and up your overall health. As it turns out, gut health may have an important role to play in how our genes express both health and disease, and whether or not we develop severe hay fever symptoms. According to Medical News Today, hay fever symptoms might be alleviated by a good probiotic supplement — and who doesn’t want relief from the itchy eyes, runny nose, and sneezing galore? Medical News Today further reports that the probiotic strains Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria may be helpful in easing hay fever symptoms, and can give your immune system an overall boost — so seeking out these strains in particular might be extra helpful for allergy sufferers. Foods that support the gut microbiome, like miso, sauerkraut, beans, and bananas, may also be helpful.

If airborne allergens are making your summer days miserable this year, you might also want to invest in some allergy-busting products, like a good air purifier, which can significantly reduce allergens (think pet dander and mold) in your home. You might also want to check out some hypoallergenic pillow covers and sheets for the bedroom. And according to WebMD, the natural treatment butterbur may be as effective as antihistamines for hay fever relief. Regardless of whether you go the natural route, or take something over-the-counter to help ease allergy symptoms, there are steps you can take to feel better — and remember that, come fall, those allergy symptoms will be long gone, so hang in there.