Sneezing and wheezing: Are bacteria the cause and cure of allergies?

Bee pollinating a flower

Bonnie Jo Mount, The Washington Post

Gesundheit!… Have you considered that your bacteria may be to blame for that sneeze?

Invading bacteria can cause the misery of nasal congestion and labored wheezing of sinusitis, but our own microbiome might also be exacerbating the runny noses, itchy skin, and water eyes of hay fever. It may even contribute to deadly food allergies to tree nuts, peanuts, and more. The scientific research on the negative role of the microbiome in the growing allergy and asthma epidemic of the Western world is reviewed in this month’s issue of Current Allergy and Asthma Reports and places plenty of blame on the trillions of bacteria in our microbiome.

However, in a fortunate twist, bacteria may be the key to the treatment of allergies as well. Dog lovers should rejoice as Susan Lynch’s, of the University of California, San Franciscoresearch suggests you could further soothe your hay fever suffering with “dog dust.” Her group has found that exposure to dogs during infancy reduces your risk of developing allergies.

Bacteria could bring the peanut butter and jelly sandwich back to elementary schools with research such as Cathryn Nagler’s, from the University of Chicago, which may lead to new probiotics to treat food allergies. In a discussion of her work in the Huffington Post, Nagler says, “It seems that a consequence of some of our 21st-century lifestyle habits has been the disruption of our relationship with the communities of commensal (friendly) bacteria that reside on our skin and mucosal surfaces, and particularly in the gut.”

Hand washing

Are we giving ourselves allergies by being too clean?

Nagler is possibly referring to the “hygiene hypothesis,” which suggests that maladies like allergies are the result of our reduced exposure to germs of all kinds. This lack of exposure leads to a disymbiosis, or imbalance, in our microbiome. Since we are talking about allergies, you may be wondering, “what about the microbiome of my nose then? Is it in chaos if I have allergies?” Good question! We know that sinusitis comes with too little bacterial diversity, but that too much nasal Staphylococcus aureus can aggravate your allergies. Plus, disymbiosis of S. aureus in your nose could lead to skin infections all over your body. It also may explain pimple-prone faces. These far reaching effects highlight the importance of maintaining a healthy microbiome.

Whether the sight of freshly cut grass makes you anxious or not, to explore the microbiome of your own nose, we suggest our Gut Plus kit available here. This kit lets you sequence your gut and another site, like your nose. You can then compare your results to allergy suffers from all over the world!

If you are itching to learn a little more, The Washington Post created this quick video of allergy facts you can watch here.

If you are itching to learn a lot more about bacteria and their impact on allergies, join our allergy mailing list here.

Contributed by Brooke Anderson-White, PhD, uBiome Scientist