Do Allergies Affect Men and Women Differently?

Do you think of allergies as an equal opportunity disease? If so, you might be surprised to know that there seems to be a strong sex difference—at least when it comes to immune system reactions to certain foods and drinks.

Food Allergy Symptoms in Women

When it comes to allergies and sex, women are more likely to suffer from food allergies than men—although researchers aren't sure exactly how or why such differences exist. Part of the problem is that not much attention has been focused on this connection yet. However, these findings have called attention to the need for future efforts to look more closely at how allergies and sex seem to connect and to use this information to develop effective treatment strategies.

Findings on Allergies and Sex Differences

Consider some of the allergy and sex differences that have been identified to date. For instance, women seem to have more severe food allergy reactions than men according to data from the Norwegian National Register. In fact, the data showed 60 percent of reactions occurred among women, compared with only 40 percent among men.

This finding raises a number of questions about why this discrepancy exists. Some scientists wonder whether the difference has its roots truly in biological factors, or whether women are more likely to expose themselves to foods that can trigger a reaction.

Another possible theory is that female hormones create more antibodies that can be linked to allergies. Other research efforts have identified the fact that women have a different perception than men in rating the severity of symptoms, which could account for at least part of the differences.

Hormonal Differences

Researchers have also found that women are more prone to experiencing serious asthma than men, perhaps due to hormonal changes that occur around puberty. Since allergies and asthma often go hand-in-hand, this may not be a coincidence and the same hormones could be to blame for increased food allergies among women.

The Need to Study Allergies and Sex

To better identify sex and allergy differences, researchers will need to take a closer look at this issue and more clearly identify patterns that exist. Getting a handle on why food allergy symptoms in women are more common may be a big step to developing more effective prevention and treatment strategies.

What You Can Do

Regardless of your sex, if you suffer from food allergies, you need to pay close attention to the foods and drinks that trigger a reaction. Since food allergies can be serious, it's important to narrow in on what causes your symptoms and steer clear of any ingredients that could make you sick. Your allergist can do some testing to help you identify your triggers and also come up with a plan on how best to avoid them. You'll also need to take precautions to stay safe when you shop and eat out. Reading labels and asking questions can be essential. You should always be prepared for the worst and carry an EpiPen® just in case you do have a serious allergic reaction.




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Melgert, Barbro N., and Dirkje S. Postma. "All Men Are Created Equal? New Leads in Explaining Sex Differences in Adult Asthma." The Proceedings of the American Thoracic Society 6 (2009): 724-727. Web. 12 July 2011.

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