One-in-four of us affected by 'epidemic' of allergies
An obsession with hygiene, high antibiotic use, food additives, and rising pollution levels have all been linked to an alarming spiral in allergic conditions across Ireland.
One in four people now suffer from a serious food or environmental allergy, and the effects are becoming more serious.
Leading expert Dr Paul Carson of the Allergy Ireland Clinic, warned of mounting evidence that between 1pc and 1.5pc of people, usually children, have developed life-threatening conditions. It is feared that the rate of these dangerous food allergies has doubled over the past two decades.
"It has been described as an allergy epidemic and that is precisely what it is," Dr Carson told the Irish Independent.
Now, University College Cork (UCC) is taking part in a €9m project aimed at creating the first ever baseline study of allergies in Ireland.
The study, which is being undertaken in conjunction with experts in the UK, France, Germany, Australia and the US, is aimed at tackling the lack of scientific knowledge about what has triggered the explosion in allergic conditions.
It is now estimated that one million Irish people suffer from allergies of various types - with 20 million people suffering across Europe.
Dr Carson, who has specialised in allergy treatment for 30 years, said the problem is now close to crisis levels in Ireland and causes misery for the estimated one million sufferers on the island.
Dr Carson said the number of allergies, particularly food allergies, that doctors are now being confronted with are bewildering. Common food allergies such as peanut, gluten and shellfish have been joined by eggs, oil and even Kiwi allergies.
"It was estimated that 1pc of these allergies are potentially life threatening but I think the figure is actually much higher than that," he said.
Most alarming is the number of children who are inheriting allergies from their parents but at a much more severe level.
"I treated people 30 years ago who are now coming back to me with their own children and the worrying factor is that the children have allergies that are much, much more aggressive," he said.
It is estimated that 4,000 Irish children every year develop some form of serious allergy.
The UCC survey's results will be used to formulate new EU policies aimed at helping reduce the threat to allergy sufferers.
The Cork research team, which includes Dr Audrey Dunn Galvin, will study 14,000 Irish children aged from five to seven. The study will include all types of allergies, as well as asthma.
It will extend to possible trigger factors including diet, environmental conditions, lifestyle factors, family allergy history, antibiotic use, stress, exposure to animals and pets as well as hygiene.
Anaphylaxis Ireland official, Regina Cahill, said the initial hope is that the study will impose strict new conditions on food producers to accurately label their products. She said the phrase 'may contain' has been a curse for allergy sufferers for years.
"Careful scrutiny of food labels is an essential part of daily life for food allergic individuals and their families," she said.