According to a sizeable new study, common allergy causes that have you wheezing and watery-eyed could soon join the list of heart disease risk factors, the number one killer of men and women in the United States. The researchers are quick to point out that the findings do not mean that these allergies cause heart disease.
Researchers also can’t tell us if allergies play a role in the development of heart disease, though the association between the two is intriguing.
At least one in every five Americans suffers from an allergy, either to foods (peanuts or milk for example) to animals, or the well known seasonal variety (grass, weeds, pollen or molds). These unfortunate souls know all about the discomfort of the symptoms – itchy eyes, sneezing, nasal congestion and wheezing – that can sap your strength, destroy your concentration and leave you feeling miserable.
The new study was led by Dr. Jongoh Kim of Philadelphia’s Albert Einstein Medical Center and examined data on over 8,600 men and women over 20 who took part in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 1988 and 1994.
The team saw that typical allergies and heart disease often were paired up, 18% of the subjects reported wheezing, another 46% dealt with bouts of stuffiness or itchy, watery eyes. These symptoms are known to medicine as rhinoconjunctivitis.
Heart disease appeared in 6% of subjects overall, with 13% of wheezing cases, 5% of rhinoconjunctivitis cases and 4% of those without allergy symptoms. After accounting for other factors associated with heart disease (like age and asthma) the team saw a 2.6-fold increased risk of heart disease for those with wheezing, a 40% greater risk with rhinoconjunctivitis as compared to those with no allergy symptoms. The association was seen most often in females under 50 years old.
Dr. Kim believes that the intermittent inflammation that is part of allergies might lead to thickening of artery walls and in time, heart disease. Another possibility is that some of us carry genes that are linked to developing both allergies and heart disease.
Even if, after much more study, allergies come to be linked to heart disease, it’s not clear that treating allergy symptoms will impact heart disease in any way.
Another expert. Dr. Carlos Inbarren, who wasn’t part of the study but is a research scientist at Kaiser Permanente in California, points out that common allergy symptoms are also very common in asthma. These latest findings are consistent with earlier work done at Kaiser that found a significant association of self-reported asthma and later risk of heart disease, particularly in women.
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Possible Link Between Allergies And Heart Disease… Continued…
The link between inflammatory conditions like asthma (and allergies) and heart disease in women, but not men, has also been found in work conducted by Dr. Viola Vaccarino of the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. Vaccarino was not involved in the latest study, but sees the findings as fitting with her own work. She suggests that younger women may have a stronger inflammatory response when faced with allergies than men. Estrogen may also be involved.
Another possibility is that those who have heart disease are dealing with respiratory symptoms because of their disease. As you can see, it’s still much too early to jump to conclusions or offer advice.
Interestingly, the subjects in the study identified as allergy sufferers had other heart disease risk factors (smoking, obesity, high blood pressure) compared to the allergy-free subjects. Medicine already knows these factors are important. So if you’re worried about your own risk, take steps now to change the risk factors under your control – don’t smoke, eat healthy, exercise regularly and get regular checkups so you can keep your body, and your heart, healthy.