Something in the Air: Airborne Allergens

Allergy Research

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) conducts and supports research on allergies focused on understanding what happens to the body during the allergic process--the sequence of events leading to the allergic response and the factors responsible for allergic diseases. This understanding will lead to better methods of diagnosing, preventing, and treating allergies.

NIAID supports a network of Asthma, Allergic and Immunologic Diseases Cooperative Research Centers throughout the United States. The centers encourage close coordination among scientists studying basic and clinical immunology, genetics, biochemistry, pharmacology, and environmental science. This interdisciplinary approach helps move research knowledge as quickly as possible from research scientists to physicians and their allergy patients.

Educating patients and health care workers is an important tool in controlling allergic diseases. All of these research centers conduct and evaluate educational programs focused on methods to control allergic diseases.

Researchers participating in NIAID's National Cooperative Inner-City Asthma Study are examining ways to prevent asthma in minority children in inner-city environments. Asthma, a major cause of illness and hospitalizations among these children, is provoked by a number of possible factors, including allergies to airborne substances.

Although several factors provoke allergic responses, scientists know that heredity is a major influence on who will develop an allergy. Therefore, researchers are trying to identify and describe the genes that make a person susceptible to allergic diseases.

Some studies are aimed at seeking better ways to diagnose and treat people with allergic diseases and to better understand the factors that regulate IgE production in order to reduce the allergic response in patients. Several research institutions are focusing on ways to influence the cells that participate in the allergic response.

Because researchers are becoming increasingly aware of the role of environmental factors in allergies, they are evaluating ways to control environmental exposures to allergens and pollutants to prevent allergic disease.

These studies offer the promise of improving treatment and control of allergic diseases and the hope that one day allergic diseases will be preventable as well.