Why Do Only Some People Get Asthma?
The question of all questions. Why is it that only some people develop asthma and allergies? Why don’t we all develop these annoying ailments? According to one educated guess, the answer takes us all the way back to the primitive world of mankind. Here’s what to know.
What do primitives have to do with asthma?
Primitive people got their start around warm, swampy regions. They hunted for food around the Tigres and Euphrates Rivers. This is where the food was. They walked around in bare feet. They searched for berries. They hunted for animals that crawled and slithered over the ground.
They ate meat without cooking it. They didn’t wash berries. And even if they did cook it, they didn’t wash their hands with soap and water. So, needless to say, they were probably exposed to lots of pathogens, including lots of parasites.
Some of these parasites entered their bodies. And, this induced an immune response.1
What was this immune response?
Well, it was similar to if you inhale a respiratory virus today. Some immune cells released chemicals. And these chemicals induced cells lining your respiratory tract to leak some of their fluid. Blood vessels in the area were "told" to dilate. This response caused inflammation.1
This made airways red and inflamed. It made nasal passages red and inflamed. It made sinus passages red and inflamed. This inflammation irritated goblet cells, causing them to secrete more mucus. This was all needed to trap, kill, and remove parasites from their bodies.1
Of course, all of this caused symptoms. It caused itchy noses, runny noses, scratchy throats, coughing, sneezing, and wheezing. The guess is that this response was normal back then. It was needed to keep people healthy.
But then a neat thing happened.
People became civilized. They moved away from rivers and streams. They moved into houses. They started wearing clothes, particularly shoes. They started cooking their food. They started bathing. So, this response was no longer needed. Over time, genes in most of us adjusted. They changed to no longer produce this response.
But, in some of us, in about 30-40% of us, these genes never changed. But, they lacked any parasites to protect us against. So, they got bored and start recognizing harmless substances as harmful. Harmless proteins, such as those on dust mite feces, are abnormally recognized as harmful.2
And this is why some of us have allergies. It’s why some of us have asthma.
Yet there’s more.
This theory was born in the 1970s. It was devised after researchers made some neat discoveries. They discovered that people in undeveloped nations had lower incidences of allergies and asthma. This was compared to people living in developed nations, like the U.S., Europe, and Australia.
So, the theory postulates that people in undeveloped countries are more likely to be exposed to certain parasites. It’s often called the Hygiene Hypothesis. Parasites, or other germs, give their immune systems something to do. So, it prevents it from getting bored. It’s one hypothesis attempting to explain why our modern way of living may contribute to asthma.
What to make of this?
This is just one guess attempting to explain why. It attempts to explain why 30-40% of people worldwide develop allergies.3 It attempts to explain why 4.5% of poeple worldwide developed asthma. It’s just one guess. But, it’s guesses like this that give researchers something to work towards. This is part of the ongoing effort to learn more about our disease.
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