Tis the season for sniffling and watery eyes. Although the warmer weather is usually welcome after a cold winter season, there are many people who dread the onset of allergy symptoms. But what separates the red-nosed, sneezing, itchy-eyed person from the one that isn’t affected at all by the change of season?
Researchers at the University of Southampton think they may have an answer to that question. By examining specific genetic markers, they have found that the season in which a person is born has a large bearing on whether or not they will develop allergies later in life.
Predicting allergic tendencies
Scientists have known for some time that the season that a person is born in affects several things about them, including things like height and lifespan. However, linking allergies to season of birth can have additional further-reaching implications.
“These are interesting results. We know that season of birth has an effect on people throughout their lives. For example, generally, people born in autumn and winter are at increased risk for allergic diseases such as asthma. However, until now, we did not know how the effects can be so long lasting,” said John Holloway, professor of Allergy and Respiratory Genetics at Southampton and one of the study’s authors.
He explains that the epigenetic marks that the researchers discovered attach to DNA and create a protein that can force genes to express certain behaviors, like allergic tendencies, for years. In some cases, this can even be passed down to future generations. The implications of the discovery could go even further than just understanding allergies, though.
“It might sound like a horoscope by the seasons, but now we have scientific evidence for how that horoscope could work. Because season of birth influences so many things, the epigenetic marks discovered in this study could also potentially be the mechanism for other seasonally influenced diseases and traits too, not just allergy,” said Dr. Gabrielle Lockett, first author of the study.
Although the study has already been certified through another testing of Dutch children, the researchers admit that there is more work to be done before they completely understand how seasons change the risk of allergies and disease.
Although the research may lead to greater understanding on how to avoid the risk of allergies, the researchers want to stress that their initial research should not act as a guide for parents-to-be on when they should plan to have children. “While these results have clinical implications in mediating against allergy risk, we are not advising altering pregnancy timing,” said Holloway.