Having This Common Health Condition Lowers Your COVID Risk, New Study Says


Most underlying conditions put you at greater risk of COVID-19 and its complications, but experts from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have found that one health condition, surprisingly, appears to confer some protection against the virus. If, like 36 million Americans—or roughly 10 percent of the U.S. population—you happen to have this particular condition, you may be half as likely to become sick with COVID, a new study says. Read on to learn whether your COVID risk is lower due to this common condition, and how it appears to offer protection.

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A new study explored the role of underlying conditions in COVID risk.

Recently published research known as the Human Epidemiology and Response to SARS-CoV-2 (HEROS) study has explored the connection between certain underlying conditions and risk of contracting COVID-19. Specifically, the researchers looked at obesity and high BMI, asthma, food allergies, and other forms of allergy, including eczema and allergic rhinitis.

To explore the link between these conditions and COVID risk, the team monitored roughly 1,400 households which included at least one individual aged 21 or under between May 2020 and Feb. 2021. Altogether these households consisted of over 4,000 individuals who agreed to take nasal swab tests every two weeks and fill out weekly health surveys. If someone in the household experienced COVID symptoms, the research team took additional nasal swab tests.

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Researchers found that having this common health condition lowers your COVID risk.

The study, funded by the NIH, confirmed previous research which concluded that having obesity or high BMI increased one's COVID risk. Asthma, eczema, and allergic rhinitis had no effect on one's susceptibility. However, the researchers made one surprising discovery: individuals who had physician-diagnosed food allergies had a lower COVID risk compared to the general population. In fact, individuals with this type of allergy developed COVID half as often as those without food allergies.

"Since all these conditions were self-reported, the HEROS study team analyzed the levels of immunoglobulin E (IgE)-specific antibodies, which play a key role in allergic disease, in blood collected from a subset of participants," explains the NIH. "A correspondence between self-reported food allergy and food allergen-specific IgE measurements supports the accuracy of self-reported food allergy among HEROS participants, according to the investigators."

Here's why they think food allergies help protect against COVID.

The researchers hypothesize that those with food allergies have higher rates of type 2 inflammation, which may reduce levels of ACE2 receptor, a protein found on the surface of airway cells. Since SARS-CoV-2 uses the ACE2 receptor to enter cells, having fewer of these receptors could limit the virus's entry opportunities.

The team also speculated that having food allergies might alter certain behavioral risk factors, since people with allergies may be less likely to eat in restaurants where transmission could be high. However, the study team probed some of these behavioral theories and determined that households that included individuals with food allergies had only slightly lower levels of community exposure than others.

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The study made other important discoveries, too.

Because the study focused exclusively on households containing members under the age of 21, researchers also made some important observations about how the virus affects people of various age groups. While children, teens, and adults all had a roughly 14 percent chance of developing COVID-19 during the study period, they presented with differences in their symptoms. "Infections were asymptomatic in 75 percent of children, 59 percent of teenagers and 38 percent of adults. In 58 percent of participating households where one person became infected, SARS-CoV-2 was transmitted to multiple household members," reports the NIH.

According to Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy, and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), "the study findings underscore the importance of vaccinating children and implementing other public health measures to prevent them from becoming infected with SARS-CoV-2, thus protecting both children and vulnerable members of their household from the virus." He adds that further research is needed to explore the association between food allergy and risk of infection.

Speak with your doctor for more information about how food allergies or other health conditions may alter your risk of developing COVID-19.