ask-the-docQ: Why are food allergies so prevalent in children these days? They seemed so uncommon before and now being allergic to peanuts or gluten is the new norm!

A: Doctors believe that the increasing incidence of inhalant (airborne) and food allergies is due to the “hygiene” theory. In the US, our living environment has become too clean. Kids don’t play out side in the dirt as much, preferring to stay inside and play video games. We use anti-bacterial soap and disinfectants. We eat processed food. All of this reduces our exposure to naturally occurring bacteria, fungus and viruses that we once used to face, which would stimulate a child’s immune system to learn, adapt and grow stronger. If our immune systems are not properly stimulated, then it becomes more difficult for our bodies to differentiate between natural yet safe things like peanuts or ragweed from dangerous bacteria, viruses or fungus. Our bodies can become confused and mount an immune response to the wrong thing, a hyperactive response which we call allergies.

Q: I hear so much about neti pots. What are they, and who should use them? Do they actually work?

A: Neti pots are basically a way to flush out your nose using a small teapot filled with salt water. I definitely recommend giving the inside of your nose a rinse, especially if you are prone to allergy or sinus problems. Use distilled, purified or boiled water mixed with salt. Let the boiled water cool to room temperature (believe me, I’ve seen it all). The salt water moisturizes and cleans out the pollen and mucus in your nose, helping you breathe more freely and preventing nose bleeds too, especially in the winter.

Q: My nose runs often — especially when I’m laughing a lot or eating spicy foods. It’s not stuffy at all, but it is embarrassing! I’m considering taking an antihistamine, even though I don’t think it’s happening because of any allergy, per se. Is this safe?

A: A runny nose after eating spicy foods is perfectly normal. Taking an antihistamine before you go to your favorite Indian or Thai restaurant probably won’t help. Just make sure to bring a box of Kleenex and enjoy the curry.

Q: When I eat certain fruits, my mouth tingles. Am I developing an allergy?

A: Tingling in your mouth while eating certain fruit could be a sign of food allergy, if it is associated with swelling of your tongue, lips or throat. If so, my best advice would be to pick a different healthy snack.

Q: Is there a way I can prevent my child from developing allergies? I’m pregnant with my first child, and I am wondering what I can do to prevent a future problem from developing.

A: Simply, let kids be kids. Don’t be a “helicopter” parent that walks around with hand sanitizer spray and a bottle of Lysol. Let little Johnny get dirty. According to the ‘hygiene theory,’ Americans are too clean. Kids need to be exposed to the outside environment in order to build up a healthy immune system. I’m not saying “never wash your kids’ hands,” but let them play outside, roll around in the grass, pet the cat, and then take a bath.

Toledo Clinic ENT / Sinus Center of Excellence is at 5800 Park Center Ct., Ste. C. 419-574-9100.