It wasn't long after my wife and I started raising honeybees that a woman whose property adjoins ours asked to buy some of our honey. We were so excited to have a customer--months before we even figured out how to extract honey from the hives--that I nearly missed her next statement.
"I have really bad allergies," she sniffed.
I felt like a killjoy when I explained to her that there were probably better ways to control allergies than eating honey produced locally, especially since honey doesn't help cure or lessen allergies.
In honor of fall allergy season, here are some other facts about allergies you might not know.
Myth: Kids grow out of food allergies
Although it is common for kids to leave some allergies behind as they get older, certain food allergies almost never go away. Unfortunately, they tend to be the more severe kind: Peanuts, tree nuts and shellfish.
Allergists used to think that kids grew out of other allergies within a few years of diagnosis, but recent research suggests that food allergies linger much longer. Two studies from 2007, for example, found that most children will outgrow allergies to milk and eggs, but not until they reach adulthood.
The good news: Doctors are coming up with new methods for desensitizing children to the worst food allergies.
Myth: You can buy a hypoallergenic dog
A few years ago we acquired a Labradoodle puppy as a rescue pet. We hoped our son, who is severely allergic to cats and doesn't handle dog dander very well either, would have a sniffle-free companion.
But even hypoallergenic dogs shed and have dander. They just have less than other breeds. And you pay a price premium for so-called hypoallergenic dog breeds and hybrids like labradoodles, which are often even more expensive, especially compared to pound puppies. You may empty the bank on one of these hounds and still have to invest in tissue.
Myth: Poison ivy is contagious
For people with allergies to poison ivy, oak or sumac, a walk in the woods can quickly turn into itching agony. That's because the plants contain an oil called urushiol. Brushing uncovered up against a plant or even coming into contact with a pet who's brushed up against poison ivy can cause redness, itching, swelling and even blisters.
But once urushiol is cleaned off the skin, you can't spread poison ivy to someone else. Their skin must come into direct contact with the plant's oil to be affected.
Myth: Allergy tests are accurate
Allergy tests are a great tool for allergists to narrow down possible allergies when a patient is experiencing allergic reactions, but they're not that reliable. That's because skin scratch and blood serum tests vary in accuracy and can result in false positives. In fact, the same test given at different times to the same person may result in different findings.
That's not to say these food allergy tests have no value. Doctors can use them along with medical history and follow up tests to diagnose and treat patients. An allergist might use the results of a scratch test for food allergies along with patient history, for example, to recommend a food challenge test, the gold standard of food allergy testing.
The good news: Researchers are getting close to a test that is as accurate as a food challenge test and less expensive.
Myth: Honey can cure your sniffles
Unfortunately this isn't true. Honey bees typically harvest pollen from flowers. But most people aren't allergic to that kind of pollen; they're allergic to wind-spread pollen from tree and grass, which is why research indicates that local honey is no cure for allergies.
Funny thing about bees and allergies: Six months after we installed our bee hives I found out I was violently allergic to honeybee stings. No amount of honey, unfortunately, can cure my allergy.