Allergies and Superfoods

September 23, 2014 by  
Filed under ALLERGIES

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Suffering from allergies is never fun. Besides for ensuring you have the right medication in reach when you need it, you can do something else to keep your allergies under control or prevent attacks: check your plate! By fuelling your body with important nutrients gained from special superfoods, you can help to alleviate your allergies.

Bring on Anti-Inflammatory Foods

Allergies are essentially inflammation in the body. Some foods have anti-inflammatory properties so they should be consumed if you suffer from allergies. These include:

  • Ginger

A 2008 study that was published in the International Immunopharmacology journal stated that ginger can decrease the body’s immune response to inflammation when it came to allergic asthma.

  • Yogurt

If you are intolerant to a protein called casein in milk, dairy is best avoided. However, if not then Greek yogurt should be part of your regular diet. It contains probiotics that lower inflammation in the gut. This is important because probiotics balance digestive system bacteria, making the immune system less likely to overreact to allergens such as pollen.

  • Garlic

A fascinating study from 2014 showed that garlic works in a similar way to NSAID pain medication (such as ibuprofen), which helps to block pathways that can cause inflammation. This is because garlic contains an essential fatty acid called ethyl linoleate (ELA) that is known to fight inflammation.

  • Omega-3 foods

Foods such as fatty fish that contain omega-3 can be useful when it comes to asthma. If you’re vegan or simply don’t like fish, supplements can work just as well. In a study, children who took fish oil supplements over a period of ten months experienced decreased allergy symptoms.

Choose Natural Antihistamines

If you are accustomed to reaching for your trusty box of antihistamines, it’s good to know that your diet can also provide some natural antihistamine effects. To achieve these benefits, you should try to consume:

  • Tea

Tea a product that contains natural antihistamines, so drinking it daily can help to fight the body’s production of histamine, a chemical that is released during an allergic reaction. Your best bet is to drink green tea. According to Japanese research, EGCG, an antioxidant compound that is found in green tea, can prevent the body’s immune system from reacting to allergens such as pet dander, dust and pollen.

  • Vitamin C

This nutrient also works as a natural antihistamine, so foods that are packed with it, such as kale, spinach, tomatoes and strawberries, all provide a punch against symptoms associated with allergies, such as sneezing and a runny nose.

Prevent Histamine Release

Besides for foods that act as natural antihistamines, quercetin is a compound that can actually prevent cells in the body from releasing histamine. It is plant-derived and can be found in a variety of foods, such as apples, tomatoes, broccoli and onions. Sometimes quercetin supplements are also recommended for allergy sufferers to help prevent attacks.

Avoid Nutrient Deficiencies

We need a range of vitamins to ensure that we are healthy and function at our best. When it comes to allergies, a lack of Vitamin D has been linked to higher incidents of it. Although you get the best Vitamin D from the sun, there are some foods that contain high amounts of this essential nutrient. These include oily fish like salmon, mushrooms and fortified cereals.

Consume More Carotenoids

Carotenoids are antioxidant nutrients that help to stave off allergies such as rhinitis, an inflammation of the mucous membrane in the nose that can be caused by hay fever. So, foods containing carotenoids are good to have around when the seasons change and rhinitis runs rampant. You can find this allergy-fighter in foods such as sweet potatoes, spinach, kale and carrots. These foods help prevent facial spots as well.
By bringing more superfoods into your diet on a regular basis, you give your body an extra powerful defence against the frustrating and draining effects of allergies.

ST-Superfoods


Cleaning to Rid Your Home of Harmful Allergens

August 12, 2013 by  
Filed under ALLERGIES

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Allergy sufferers may be surprised to find that the place where they have the most problems with allergies is their own home. It is important, of course, to avoid or limit exposure to things that trigger allergies while at work or in other locations, but you probably spend most of your time at home. It’s where you have meals, spend time with your family and sleep. You do a lot of breathing in your home. The best way to fight allergens in your house is to keep it clean and tidy.

Sleep Tight Without Dust Mites

Change your bedding at least once per week. You spend approximately one-third of your life in your bedroom. Lots of dead skin cells, dust, pet dander and other allergy triggers build up in your bedding over time. For the best results, wash your bedding in hot water. If you wash the bed linens in cold water, drying outdoors in the sun can help kill dust mites. Severe allergy sufferers may need to encase their pillows and mattresses in allergen barriers in order to get a handle on their symptoms.

Curtains and Carpets are Common Culprits

Any fabric surface in your home has the potential to house dust mites, pollen, pet dander and other allergens. Rid your home of any unnecessary fabric, especially carpet and drapes. Window shades are easier to clean with a simple dusting or wipe down. If you like the look of drapes, opt for lightweight curtains that can hold up to frequent washings.

Remove carpet if at all possible. Hard floors like wood, tile or linoleum are a cinch to wash and don’t retain moisture like carpets do after cleaning. Every few months, try a floor scrubber rental to deep clean your hard floors. If you want to keep your carpet, treat it with allergen-reducing products and vacuum 1-2 times per week using a vacuum with a HEPA filter. You may want to wear a dust mask when vacuuming since the circulating air can stir up dust.

Air It Out

Indoor air can often be more polluted than the air outdoors. To keep the air in your home as pure as possible, open the windows to let in fresh air. This will also reduce humidity in your home. On high pollen days, keep the windows closed and instead use a dehumidifier and air purifier. Cover your heating and cooling vents with allergen-reducing filters to clean the air before it comes into your home.

These steps can help you to avoid unnecessary discomfort and suffering. Give them a try and you could soon be breathing more easily and enjoying your home far more than in the past.


Thanks for allergies?

February 9, 2011 by  
Filed under ALLERGIES, CANCER

Here is another news item that supports the idea that allergies are “a blessing in disguise.“ It may provide protection against a type of brain tumor.

Glioma is “the most common form of primary brain tumors, which start in the brain or spinal cord.” Gliomas may be high- or low-grade tumors.

Here are some findings of a research study by scientists at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The more, the better

It seems that the more allergies you have, the better is your protection.

In fact, patients who had more types of allergies — seasonal, medication, pet, food, and other — had even lower odds of glioma, with an 11% reduction for those with allergies in one category and a 64% reduction for those with allergies in four or more categories.”

This is not the first time that research placed allergies in a whole new – and positive –light. Previous studies have indicated the reverse relationship between allergies and cancer risk. Other studies reported that asthma (a form of allergy) may also have some protective properties.

The current research looked at 419 patients with glioma and compared them with 612 control patients without brain tumor. Of those with glioma, 344 were high-grade and 75 low-grade. The presence of allergies was based on allergy diagnosis but also on their actual use of antihistamines which are medications commonly used for allergies.

“After adjustment for age, race, gender, education, and site, patients with both high- and low-grade glioma were less likely to report having any allergy than the controls.”

So why are allergies indicative of low brain rumor incidence and risk? The scientists believe that those with allergies have an immune system with “enhanced surveillance.” The superactive immune system may actually limit abnormal growth of cells that lead to cancer.

However, more studies are needed to confirm this hypothesis.

In the meantime, we can cautiously say “Thank God for allergies!”


Are you allergic to your cell phone?

February 2, 2011 by  
Filed under ALLERGIES

We have covered before the most bizarre forms of allergies but this one is something for the books.

The symptoms: itchiness and rashes in the areas of the jaw, face and ears which appear after phone use.

The hypothesis: allergic reaction to phones

Now, if this is true that some people are allergic to phones, this can have a tremendous effect on our lifestyle, not to mention the phone industry. After all the industry is already currently under fire about supposedly adverse effects on the brain that may lead to tumor development.

Well, let us look at what science has to tell us about allergic reactions to phones.

The most probable explanation is that people are allergic to certain substances on the phone surface, particularly metals like nickel.

Nickel allergy is a common condition. I myself have it. The prevalence of nickel allergy in the US is reported to be 3% in men and 20% in women, according to recent estimates. Nickel is found in many metal products such as jewelry and. That is why there is nickel-free jewelry (“hypoallergenic”) available on the market. Many people have reported allergic reactions from metal jewelry and piercings. There were even cases when people get allergic reactions when handling nickel containing coins.

Scientists call it “cell phone contact dermatitis with nickel allergy”. One case was described in the Canadian Medical Association Journal:

An 18-year-old male presented with pruritic lichenified dermatitis on his lower abdomen and eczematous dermatitis on his extremities, flanks and face that had lasted several weeks. We suspected his belt buckle had led to allergic contact dermatitis with subsequent autoeczematization. Patch testing using the expanded North American Contact Dermatitis Group allergen battery of 65 allergens1 disclosed an edematous and papulovesicular reaction to nickel at 72 hours. The patient had no other positive reactions, nor did he react to other metals tested, including gold, cobalt, chromium, copper and palladium.

The patient suspected that his recurrent facial dermatitis was related to contact with the headset of his cell phone. We spot tested both the antenna and the headset for free nickel. The test of the antenna, which was plastic coated with metallic paint, was negative. The test of the headset was strongly positive for free nickel. The patient began using a cell phone that contained no nickel, and his facial dermatitis cleared. He decided to resume using his old cell phone to confirm that it had caused his dermatitis and the eruption recurred. (Bercovitch & Luo, 2008).

The researchers went on to test 22 cell phone models and 1 Bluetooth headset for traces of nickel: the results showed that some of those tested have free nickel, including:

  • BlackBerry 8700c (on the speaker phone)
  • Motorola L2 (on the headset, decorative logo)
  • Motorola Razr (on the headset, decorative logo)
  • Motorola SLVR (on the headset, decorative logo)
  • Motorola Q (on the headset, decorative logo)
  • Samsung e105 (metal around the screen, menu button)
  • Samsung d807 (menu button)
  • Sony Ericsson W600i (menu button)
  • Sony Ericsson W810i (menu button)
  • Sony Ericsson T610 (Handset, if paint is chipped)

The good thing about fast-turnover technology is that the models listed above are most probably not being used anymore. Most phone models and headsets these days are nickel-free. But just in case, ask your vendor before buying.


Allergy attack!

December 9, 2010 by  
Filed under ALLERGIES

On the last weekend of November,when the Battling for Health site was down, I had a terrible allergic reaction to something – I don’t know what – that bloated the whole of my face and half-closed my right eye. It all started with a slight itchiness on the cheeks on Friday that developed into real bad rashes on Saturday. Then at a party on Saturday night, my cheeks were burning like mad that I had to leave the party early.
This is the worst allergy attack I had since 1999. That time, I ended up in an emergency clinic where I received anti-histamine IV. This time, I could wait till first thing Monday morning to go to my GP.
What annoys me the most about allergies are:

The itchiness. The urge to scratch my cheeks was so compelling. Lying in bed with my face on the warm bed covers made it almost unbearable. Sleep was practically impossible.

The sleepiness and sleeplessness. Allergic attacks make me tired but I can’t sleep because of the itchiness. What a drag!

The fact that many people do not take it seriously. “It’s only an allergy” they’d say. That was exactly what most of the guest at the party said. Except one guy, who was very concerned that I had to ask him “are you a doctor?” He was. In fact, severe allergy attacks can lead to life-threatening anaphylaxis wherein the patient goes to into respiratory arrest.

People telling me „you should know what you are allergic to.“ Again, only doctors would understand that in 85% of all allergy cases, the allergens are never identified. My GP told me “I have the same problem.”

MANAGEMENT OF ALLERGIES

AVOID THE ALLERGENS

Of course the most logical thing way of managing allergies is to avoid the allergens. If you know what they are. Most often, it is not just one but a combination of different triggers.

If you don’t know the culprit(s), then better apply the ruling our principle.

Is it your clothes? Wear natural fabrics only, avoid synthetics. Apparently, allergies are easily triggered by synthetic fabrics.

Is it something you ate? Do not try out foods  or drinks that are not part of your usual fare. This is not the time to be adventurous.

Is it your jewellery? Remove all pieces of jewellery. Some metals such as nickel can trigger allergies.

Is it something in the air? It might be something inside the house, such as molds, spores or dust mites. Go outdoors and get some fresh air. Besides, the cold winter air certainly felt good on my burning cheeks.

MEDICATIONS

I am not really into taking pills or tablets at the drop of a hat. I usually try natural remedies first. But not with allergies. Because with allergies, I’d rather stay on the safe side and go for the well-proven and tested treatments: anti-histamines.

I tool several loratadin tablets during that weekend. My GP gave me a cortisone shot on Monday morning that knocked me out for 3 hours.

The allergy is still persisting, in the form of mild uticaria (hives). I still need medications from time to time. However, loratadin doesn’t seem to work for me anymore. I had to switch to citirizine which works better but somehow makes me sleepy.

PATIENCE

I  know that this allergy will eventually go away. In the meantime, I simply have to practice patients and use my common sense.


Is your home making you ill: the Sick Building Syndrome

October 12, 2010 by  
Filed under ALLERGIES, ASTHMA

Is something in your home making you sick? Being bothered by the constant “musty” smell?

If this is the case, then check your bathrooms and cellars and anywhere else that might be cool and damp. These are the places where molds and mildew abound.

And molds produce spores and toxins that get into the air that can make people sick. Mold spores are responsible for a lot of hay fever cases in the autumn and winter time, spores which can be outdoor as well as indoor.

Indoor molds and Sick Building Syndrome

Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) refers to a situation in which building occupants experience health problems while inside a particular building. Human health issues typically associated with SBS range from allergy attacks and asthma to more complex medical problems involving exposure to toxins.

SBS can be caused by molds, dust and other allergens that may be present inside a building.

Molds after the flood

Food waters recede but the damage lasts for a long time. As if water damage to your home and furniture is not enough, flood aftermath brings a lot of health problems. Molds are one of the major problems after a flood that can cause structural damage to a building as well as its occupants. In the period shortly after Hurricane Katrina, household levels of molds even surpassed levels found in some agricultural environments.

According Dr. H. James Wedner, professor of medicine and head of the Division of Allergy and Immunology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis:

“Mold loves water. When your building is flooded, it’s very difficult to dry it out quickly and completely, and that allows mold to grow. Walls made of Sheetrock soak up water far above the floodline, and mold can be hidden under wallpaper, carpet and floorboards and in ceiling tiles, furniture and clothing.”

The results are increased incidence of allergies and asthma among flood victims.

Ways and means to avoid mold development in your home

Dr. Wedner gives the following tips to those dealing with a flooded building:

Even if your home has not been flooded, these tips also apply. Bathrooms are especially susceptible to mildew since they often get wet. In the winter time, bathrooms are also well-heated. The result is an environment ideal for the molds to thrive in.

My strategies are air, dry and cool.

  • After a bath or shower, I turn off the heater, open the bathroom windows wide open for 5 to 10 minutes until the room is dry.
  • Optimize the drying time by scheduling bathroom use optimally. My 2 kids take turns in the shower in evenings, after which I immediately start the drying procedure.
  • Leave a window open. In the laundry room in the cellar, I often leave a window tilted so the dry the dampness from the laundry. I only close it when it goes subzero in the winter time.
  • Check signs of dampness and molds regularly, including hidden corners and curtains.

Check before your buy or build

When building a house, talk with your architects and engineers about installations that can prevent mold development.

When buying a ready structure, ask a professional to check for molds. One way is the mold seeking technique: Mechanical engineers are using radio waves to obtain 3D images of the inside of basement walls. If there’s water inside the wall, those waves will reflect the energy much more specifically than dry material will. The new tool helps make sure mold is not making itself at home in your house.


Your food allergy increases your risk for an asthma attack

October 5, 2010 by  
Filed under ALLERGIES, ASTHMA

What do kids, men and African-Americans have in common? Well, they are the segments of the American population who are highly susceptible to food allergies.

Recent estimates by an NIH-funded research show that 7.6 million Americans – that’s 2.5% of the country’s population – have food allergies. And of these over 7 million people, the majority are children, non-Hispanic blacks and males.

In order to estimate the prevalence of food allergies, the study used a nationally representative sample and analyzed specific immunoglobulin E (IgE) or antibody levels to measure sensitivity to common food items including peanuts, milk, eggs and shrimps.

According to NIH News:

 “The hallmark of food allergy is production of IgE antibodies to a specific food protein. Once IgE antibody is made, further exposure to the food triggers an allergic response. IgE levels are often high in people with allergies.”

The study was very comprehensive and covered all age groups and took into account, ethnicity, gender, and medical history.

The actual food allergy prevalence measured by the study is:

  • children 1 to 5 years – 4.2% (highest)
  • adults over 60 (lowest)

In terms of types of food allergies:

  • peanut, 1.3%
  • milk, 0.4%
  • egg, 0.2%
  • shrimp, 1.0%

In addition, food allergies seem to worsen asthma.  People with asthma and food allergies have to be extra careful because they have almost a 7-fold chance of having severe asthma attack compared to those with asthma only. According to lead author Dr. Andrew Liu of the National Jewish Health and the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Denver:

“This study provides further credence that food allergies may be contributing to severe asthma episodes, and suggests that people with a food allergy and asthma should closely monitor both conditions and be aware that they might be related.”

The study results are very invaluable since “the national prevalence and patterns of food allergy (FA) in the United States are not well understood”, according to the authors.  Dr. Linda Birnbaum, director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS):

“Having an accurate estimate of the prevalence of food allergies is helpful to public health policy makers, schools and day care facilities, and other care providers as they plan and allocate resources to recognize and treat food allergies.”


Pollen and Mold Counts

September 28, 2010 by  
Filed under ALLERGIES, ASTHMA

Spores of molds and pollens of plants are the most common airborne allergens that can cause hay fever, asthma, and other allergic reactions. Depending on where you live and the time of the year and the weather conditions, the type and number of pollens and molds in the air we breathe vary. There is where pollen and mold counts come in handy.

Only certified agencies can count pollen and mold levels in the air. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI), in cooperation with the National Allergy Board (NAB) provides official figures on pollen and mold counts. Their data is based on data collected by more than 85 counting stations all over the US.

How does pollen and mold counting work?

The Saint Louis County Health Services tells us the following:

Counters use air sampling equipment to capture airborne pollen and mold. Recently, the Environmental Health Laboratories switched from using a rotorod impaction device to using a Burkard slit-type volumetric spore trap. The rotorod sampled only at specific time intervals while the Burkard is able to continuously sample over a 24 hour period. The device is mounted on the roof of a centrally located County building away from any obstructions. It uses suction to pull air through a slit-type opening. Inside the slit is a greased, flat surface (a collection tape) that advances in increments over time. This greased surface collects any particles that are sucked in with the air. How are pollen and mold counted? The collection tape is removed from the sampling device and brought to the laboratory. Here it is stained and prepared for analysis. The sample can then be magnified 400 times to count the pollen grains. For some mold spores, the sample must be magnified 1000 times to be seen and counted. Using the exposure time, the volume of air sampled, and the number of pollen grains or mold spores counted, calculations can be made to determine the number of particles per cubic meter of air sampled. This is the number reported by the laboratory.

How can you use these counts in managing your allergies?

The AAAI has come up with recommended definitions of low, moderate, high and very high concentration levels of molds and pollens. These levels represent outdoor exposures only. Based on these levels, comparison between different areas and regions can be done. These counts are also useful in the management and treatment of allergies due to airborne allergens.

Other resources on airborne allergens:


Mommy’s diet and baby’s wheezing

September 23, 2010 by  
Filed under ALLERGIES, ASTHMA

One of my sons developed wheezing when he was a couple months old. Wheezing is that high-pitched whistling sound that his nose made when he had a cold. His twin brother did not.

He was started on inhaled medications which he had to use during attacks. I used to dread the coming of the cold months when kids would surely catch the colds. Because I knew that for him, it would not be just ordinary sniffles. Several times he was also diagnosed with acute respiratory tract infection that was luckily caught early before it developed into full-blown pneumonia. When he was 2, his wheezing progressed into asthma.

But as he grew older, his condition improved. He hadn’t had a wheezing/asthma attack in over 3 years until a couple of weeks back (see other post on this).

The causes of wheezing that eventually lead to asthma are many and complex. Allergies, family history, and maternal diet during pregnancy are just some of the few factors that have been linked to wheezing. Some studies (source: Reuters), for example, have reported that children of pregnant women “who eat more fish, apples, omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins D and E seem to have relatively lower risks of the breathing problems.” However, the findings were not conclusive as it wasn’t clear what exactly are the benefits of these foods. Some experts suggest that it is not specific food stuffs that do the job but the mom’s overall dietary pattern.

Researchers decided to delve further and conducted a survey of 1,376 mother-child pairs. The moms were asked to complete a questionnaire during their first and second trimesters concerning their diet during pregnancy. The babies were monitored for wheezing rates till age 3. Diets of the moms could be broadly classified as

Eighteen percent of the children developed recurrent wheezing within the first 3 years of life. However, the incidence of asthma was not linked to any specific diet pattern.

So does this mean we can eat anyway we want during pregnancy? Wrong! A healthy pregnancy diet is highly important even if it is not linked to asthma.

A study, for example, has linked high intake of diet soda to premature delivery. Another study showed that children who were born during food shortage period have a higher risk for abnormal blood sugar levels and eventually diabetes.


It’s September: know your autumn allergens

September 2, 2010 by  
Filed under ALLERGIES, ASTHMA

Autumn is almost here. And although we mainly associate hay fever with springtime, autumn or fall is actually the season for hay fever, when grass and grains are cut to be turned into straw and hay. Aside from grass pollens, autumn (and also winter) months are peak season for molds (a type of fungus), another major cause of hay fever. According to emedicine:

Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley recently published report that babies born during the autumn months which is the high mold season have the a higher likelihood to developing wheezing as early as age 2.

According to lead author Kim Harley, associate director of health effects research at UC Berkeley’s Center for Children’s Environmental Health Research:

“In our study, we took a different tack to understand the link between month of birth and asthma by considering ambient concentrations of fungal spores and pollen, which follow distinct seasonal patterns. Until our paper, there were very little data about exposure to allergens in the air, which we know can trigger symptoms for those who already have asthma. This is the first study to look at the potential role of early life exposure to multiple outdoor fungal and pollen groups in the development of asthma.”

The study results were based on data from 514 children born in Salinas Valley, California, a region with mild, rainy winters and dry summers. In this area, mold spore levels peak in November and December, whereas pollen levels peak in the early spring months of March and April.

When comparing babies born in the autumn and winter months compared to those born at other times of the year, the researchers found these babies have 3 times the likelihood of wheezing 24 months after birth.

But it is not only the mildew at home that is releasing spores to cause wheezing. The mushrooms are part of it, too. The researchers found 2 types of fungal spores which are especially bothersome at this time of the year – basidiospores and ascospores – which are released by mushrooms, molds, and rusts on plants.

However, the researchers are quick to say that there are other factors involved, including genetics in the development of wheezing, which is a precursor to asthma.


Oral allergy syndrome: how pollen + fruit make you feel worse

August 19, 2010 by  
Filed under ALLERGIES

You would think eating healthy fresh fruit can help you fight your allergies. Unfortunately, some food stuffs, especially certain fruit act as collaborators of pollens to make life even harder for you. Examples are cantaloupes working together with ragweed pollen; apple and birch tree pollen

When these fruits are combined with these pollens, the result is itchy mouth and oral sores on top of your hay fever.

The phenomenon is called oral allergy syndrome and the immune system which treats pollen proteins as foreign invaders also finds similar proteins in fruits and vegetables unacceptable, thus the allergic reaction. It is also called cross-reactivity.

WebMD gives us a few more examples of foods that may have proteins that cross-react with pollen proteins:

Ragweed Allergy: “Ragweed, in theory, cross-reacts with bananas and melons, so people with ragweed allergies may react to honeydew, cantaloupe, and watermelons, or tomatoes,” says Warren V. Filley MD, from the Oklahoma Allergy & Asthma Clinic in Oklahoma City. Aside from fruits, zucchini, sunflower seeds, dandelions, chamomile tea, and Echinacea also cross-react with ragweed pollen.

Birch Pollen Allergy: People with birch pollen allergies may react to kiwi, apples, pears, peaches, kiwi, plums, coriander, fennel, parsley, celery, cherries, carrots, hazelnuts, and almonds.

Grass Allergy: People with grass allergy may react to peaches, celery, tomatoes, melons, and oranges.

Latex Rubber Allergy: Like pollen allergy, people allergic to latex rubber may react to bananas, avocados, kiwi, chestnut, and papaya.

Let us thank our lucky stars that oral allergy syndrome seems to be rare in children but emerges when people reach their 20s or 30s.

At any rate, health experts recommend to avoid the above mentioned trigger foods.

I would also say do not give up on your fruit and veggies just because you have these allergies. Luckily there are many other fruit and vegetables that are not in the list above. If you have a seasonal allergy, you should time eating the trigger foods so as not to overlap with the season of the cross-reactive pollen. There are also other ways and means of enjoying your favourite fruit and veggies to minimize cross-reaction.  Dr. Filley also recommends

  • Peeling the fruit before eating
  • Cooking (e.g. apple sauce, zucchini soup)
  • Eating canned fruit

How asthma protects (yes!) you from cancer

July 21, 2010 by  
Filed under ALLERGIES, ASTHMA, CANCER

My family has a history of asthma. One of my sons is suffering from wheezing and eczema. How can I say that these are good things to have, that they are actually blessings in disguise.

But that is actually what this recent study by French Canadian researchers tells me. Their findings show that men who suffer from eczema had a lower risk for developing lung cancer. And those who suffer from asthma have a lower risk for developing stomach cancer.

But how can one health condition provide protection against another more serious condition? Study author Professor Marie-Claude Rousseau of the INRS–Institut Armand-Frappier explains:

Asthma and eczema are allergies brought about by a hyper-reactive immune system – a state which might have enabled abnormal cells to have been eliminated more efficiently, thereby reducing the risk of cancer.”

The researchers actually looked at exposures to occupation hazards and the risk for getting cancer. They checked 3000 male participants who have been diagnosed with cancer and compared to 512 people who did not have cancer. They specifically looked at the link between allergies and the incidence of the 8 of the most common types of cancer.

It is ironic to think that a bothersome condition such as allergy can have some benefits. Especially as both cancer rates and allergy rates are on the rise.

A recent estimate gives us the following figures: Allergy rates in the Western world in 1980 were 10%. Today it is 80%. Should this give us hope that our body is fighting back against cancer? It is really too soon to tell.

The study authors wrote:

These findings contribute important knowledge to population health and provide new research leads. Although the study did not allow to identify which specific factors related to asthma and eczema were responsible for reducing the risk of cancer, it offers new angles for research into the molecular and immunological mechanisms that are involved in immunostimulation, a potentially promising strategy for cancer prevention.


Allergy test for your newborn

May 24, 2010 by  
Filed under ALLERGIES

When I became mom seven years ago, I was very much concerned about allergies. My family has a history of asthma and I do get hives and hay fever from the time to time though the allergens have never been identified. When I expressed my concerns to our paediatrician, he told me that I have to wait till my kids (I had twins) reach the age of two. By then, it would be evident whether they have allergies. It was a bit frustrating for a mom to play trial and error for two years with food and other stuff. I had to be content with the fact that at least they weren’t allergic to milk – breast milk as well as cow’s milk.

A recent discovery by researchers at the University of Adelaide In Australia may just put mothers’ minds to rest about their babies’ allergies. The researchers at this university developed a simple yet feasible blood test that can predict whether babies are at risk of developing allergies later in the life, a test which can be performed right after delivery.

According to Professor Tony Ferrante, an immunologist from SA Pathology and the Children’s Research Centre at the University of Adelaide:

“A protein in the immune cells of newborns appears to hold the answer as to whether a baby will either be protected, or susceptible to the development of allergies later on.”

The protein kinase C zeta is a cell signalling protein which is present in all babies but whose levels are much lower among those with allergies. The current indicators for allergy risks are family history or the measurement of the antibody IgE. According to the researchers, this protein is far more effective and precise that the currently used indicators. Furthermore, researchers also used this test to find ways and means to reduce the allergy risk. Here is what they found:

“There is evidence that the levels of this important protein increase with fish oil supplementation to protect against allergy development.”

By supplementation, the researchers refer to giving fish oil supplements to pregnant women and those women who are breastfeeding.

Allergies, especially food allergies are on the rise, and allergic reactions can be severe or even life-threatening. For parents as well as paediatricians, identifying allergy risks early on would be a great help in raising a healthy child. This new blood test holds a lot of promise in addressing these concerns and “the new marker may be the most significant breakthrough in allergy testing for some decades.


Eggs, milk and peanuts: how your allergies connect

May 11, 2010 by  
Filed under ALLERGIES

Milk and egg allergies today, peanut allergy tomorrow? This could well be, according to findings reported in May issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. The study was conducted by a group of researchers who are part of the Consortium of Food Allergy Research (CoFAR), a major food allergy research program supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The CoFAR reseachers studied more than 500 babies aged between 3 and 15 months who were allergic to milk or egg and followed up the participants until their 5th birthday. The children are known to be allergic to egg and milk and as expected, tested positive for immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies to these food items. However, none of the babies have known peanut allergy, yet many of these infants also surprising tested positive for allergic antibodies specific for peanuts. The researchers reported two unexpected observations:

More of the infants have elevated levels of IgE antibody to peanuts than the investigators had anticipated, and some of these infants have such high levels that they may already be allergic to peanuts without their parents being aware of it.”

Aside from being positive to peanut-specific antibodies, many of the children also had moderate to severe eczema (atopic dermatitis).

Milk, eggs, and peanuts are the most common food allergies in children, as listed in a previous post. Gluten is also another common source of allergen. However, allergy to nuts, especially peanuts, presents a major concern due to the high likelihood of anaphylactic allergic reaction which can be life-threatening.

The results of the study suggest that milk and/or egg allergy, as well as eczema are major risk factors for developing peanut allergy later in life. The researchers recommend that parents of children with these risk factors should talk to a health professional before incorporating peanuts or peanut products into their child’s diet.

In addition, I would like to emphasize the importance of recognizing the symptoms of food allergy and knowing what to do about them. As reported previously, many parents may not know how to act appropriately when their children present with allergic reaction to certain food stuff. In the light of this latest report from CoFAR, I think it is worth giving our readers again some links to useful allergy resources:

Take the Food Allergy Screening Quiz.

Info on Anaphylaxis on Severe Allergic Reaction


What you should do about food allergy symptoms

April 19, 2010 by  
Filed under ALLERGIES

Do you have a child with food allergy? Do you know what to do in case of severe allergic reactions? An Australian study indicates that many parents with children with food allergies are actually unprepared to act accordingly in case their kids develop allergic symptoms.

According to a study involving preschool children in Canberra in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), Australian parents may actually be short on food (e.g. peanut and other nuts) allergy awareness. Some figures that came out from the study are:

  • 3.8% of 5-year old children in the region have a history of peanut allergy.
  • 94% of local schools are aware of their pupils’ allergies.
  • 76% of these schools have a management procedure in place to mitigate allergic-related situations.

The study revealed some points that caused major concerns. The parents of children in this age group seem to lack the awareness of how to deal with allergic reactions.

According to Professor Marjan Kljakovic of the ANU Medical School:

“The study showed two things of concern. The first is that action on food allergy was influenced by the level of worry the parent had about their child’s allergy. In other words, the less worried parents were about food allergies, the less likely they were to observe their child having symptoms and to act on them.

The second concern is that some parents reacted inappropriately following seeing their child having an allergic reaction to peanut. In such cases, it is not appropriate to ‘watch and wait for the reaction to subside’, ‘induce vomiting in the child’ or ‘apply calamine lotion to the skin’, as some parents seemed to think.”

So what are the symptoms of food allergy?

According to Medicine.net:

  • Itchiness in the mouth
  • Difficulty in swallowing and breathing
  • Rashes, hives or eczema
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain

Allergic reaction manifesting in all of the above in severe forms is called anaphylactic reaction which is life-threatening.

The Australian study identified the following common mistakes of parents in handling allergic reactions:

  • Watching and waiting for the symptoms to subside.
  • Inducing the child to vomit
  • In the case of skin reactions, applying calamine lotion to the skin.

The recommended correct line of action is:

  • Administration of oral antihistamines which are available over-the counter.
  • If the child develops severe anaphylactic reaction, he or she should be taken to the doctor immediately. an adrenalin auto-injector is necessary.

Additional resources:

Take the Food Allergy Screening Quiz.

Info on Anaphylaxis on Severe Allergic Reaction


Know your pollens: a resource for hayfever sufferers

April 15, 2010 by  
Filed under ALLERGIES

Hey, do you know that there are pollens and there are pollens, and not all pollens are to blame for your hayfever symptoms? As I have written before, the pollens of your typical spring flowers in the garden are too big and too heavy to be airborne, and therefore, can’t be really airborne allergens. The bad pollens are those that come from the trees and grass. And the timing and severity of your hay fever symptoms would depend on where you are and the plants growing around you, the time of the day, temperature, and yes – rain. Those who are sensitive to these minute particles would have an immune reaction that induces the production of histamine, prostaglandin and leukotrienes.

Now, let us take a look at the two groups of pollens that cause your hay fever, what they are, and when they become a nuisance.

The Tree Pollens

According to the hay fever expert (UK), 20% of hay fever cases are due to tree pollen allergies. In the UK and many parts of Europe, the trees most likely to produce hay fever agents are

  • Birch
  • Alder
  • Yew
  • Elm
  • Hazel
  • Oak
  • Horse chestnut

The birch tree pollen is especially a problem for residents of the British Isles and Scandinavian countries. Tree pollens are mainly responsible for spring hay fever. High season for birch tree pollens is between March and May and worst in the month of April. The oak pollens come later, in May. In the southern part of the US, the oak accounts for more pollens (65% or more) than all other tress combined. The most common pollinator trees that can cause hay fever in southern US are (in order of importance, source, Davidson et al, 1934, Southern Medical Journal):

  • Oak (March to May)
  • Hickory (April to May)
  • Poplar or cottonwoods (February to April)
  • Box elder or water ash
  • Sycamore
  • Birch
  • Maple
  • Willow
  • Ash
  • Elms
  • Hazelnut

 In Japan, the pollen of the cedar tree seems to be especially bothersome at this time of the year.

The Grass Pollens

The summer and autumn hay fever are mainly due to pollens released by weeds and grass plants. In the UK, the main causes of hay fever  are the xx. In southeren US, the Bermuda grass are the bane of hay fever sufferers. There are many species and varietiess of grass and weeds that produce pollen allergens. The pollens are carried by the wind and transported to our eyes and nose. The grass speices most commonly associated with hay fever in southern US are:

  • Bermuda grass
  • Johnson grass
  • June grass
  • Annual blue grass
  • Orchard grass
  • Perennial rye grass
  • Crab grass
  • Sweet vernal grass
  • Timothy grass

The Weed Pollens

In Switzerland and in the US, ragweed seems to be the most bothersome. In southern US, the most common hay fever-associated weeds are (in order of importance):

  • Ragweeds (short and high)
  • Marsh elder
  • Cocklebur
  • Spiny amaranth
  • Red root or rougb pigweed
  • Careless weed
  • Lamb’s quarters
  • Jerusalem oak
  • Mexican tea
  • Red sorrel, or sheep sorrel
  • Yellow dock
  • Bitter dock
  • Annual sage or wormwood

As mentioned before, your symptoms will all depend on where you are and what pollens you are sensitive to. Here are some resources you might want to check out:


Things you may not know about hay fever

April 8, 2010 by  
Filed under ALLERGIES

Springtime is here. And the flowers are here, too. No wonder that springtime is high pollen season. Those of us who suffers from hay fever can attest to this. Hay fever or allergic rhinitis in doctor speak is on the rise. According to emedicine statistics, 10 to 30% of adult Americans and over 40% of children suffer from some kind of hay fever. In Sweden, the incidence has doubled over a 12-year period. Other developed countries have reported similar rising trends.

Al though hay fever is quite common, and I’ve had it intermittently over the years, I still learn new things about hay fever constantly. Here are some things that you might not know:

  • Hay is not a cause of hay fever. The term hay fever was probably coined as the autumn symptoms coincide with hay making time.
  • Hay fever seldom manifests in increased body temperature (fever).
  • Hay fever can be caused by many types of airborne allergens, not only pollen. Other airborne allergens are molds, spores, and dust.
  • Garden flowers usually do not cause hay fever. The pollens of these plants are usually too big and waxy. The culprits are the pollens from grass, weed and trees which are small, light, almost invisible and easily carried by the wind.
  • Hay fever is not only seasonal, it can be all-year round thing. Seasonal hay fever peaks in spring and autumn during high pollen season. I do get it once a year or every two years during spring time. A friend of mine, however, can get it anytime and would present with severe symptoms as early as February when snow is still thick on the ground.

So how does hay fever happen? Below is a description from emedicine of the sequence of events that occur leading to the typical hay fever symptoms:

Hay fever usually manifests in the following:

  • Runny nose with clear, thin discharge
  • Constant sneezing
  • Stuffy nose
  • Sore, scratchy throat
  • Red, watery eyes or allergic conjunctivitis
  • Itchiness in the nostrils
  • Rash
  • Fatigue
  • Sleeping problems

What are the most common remedies for hay fever?

  • Anti-histamines, which are available as oral or liquid medication over-the-counter. Take note that most anti-histamines can make you sleepy and might interfere with driving or operating complex machinery. I personally prefer to take loratadine because it doesn’t make me drowsy.
  • Corticosteroid nasal sprays  are administered through the nostrils and act as decongestants.
  • Decongestants (tablets or liquid) help relieve stuffy nose.
  • Eyedrops can help relieve eye symptoms

The most common causes of allergies

March 11, 2010 by  
Filed under ALLERGIES

Great Britain has the highest incidence of allergic diseases in the world. And health experts do not know why. In a BBC report, pediatric allergy expert Dr. Adam Fox explains the most common causes of allergies.

Food

Food allergies are on the rise, health experts report. And nuts are the most likely culprit, most especially peanuts. In addition to nuts, milk and eggs are also sources of allergens, and lately, sensitivity to gluten is commonly reported as well. Allergic reaction to food can be mild to severe and can range from skin rashes to gastrointestinal problems to life-threatening anaphylactic reaction. To avoid allergic reaction, choose your food wisely. Pay attention to food labels as they often contain warnings about possible traces of nuts or eggs or gluten.

Dust mites

Millions of dust mites are present in our homes even though we cannot see them with the naked eye. It is not the mites as such that cause the allergic reactions but the fecal pellets and dead bodies of the mites. Allergic reactions to mites may manifestation in wheezing, sneezing and coughing. To minimize dust mites, frequent vacuuming and airing of your home is recommended.

Pets

Pet dander, hair, shed skin and saliva from animals are potential allergens. Allergy to pets can manifest as skin rashes, wheezing, and sneezing. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to avoid this allergy except to avoid hairy pets.

Hay fever

Spring is coming so watch out for hay fever. Pollens from trees and flowers are most likely responsible for allergies in spring time. In summer and early autumn, it’s probably mainly from grass pollen. Many of us are familiar with the symptoms of hay fever: itchy eyes and runny nose. Even avoiding the outdoors doesn’t work out well as pollens do get everywhere.

Unknown cause

Finally, if you are like me, you might be allergic to something but you don’t know what it is. I’ve been tested several times and I’ve tried to keep a diary to pinpoint the cause but never really discovered the culprit. Luckily, the symptoms were usually mild – skin rashes or hives. There have been cases, however, of so-called idiopathic anaphylaxis, severe allergic reactions which can be fatal but whose cause is not known.

At any rate, it is advisable that we should always have antihistamines at home, which are the first-line treatment for allergic reactions. Remember, serious allergic reactions can be fatal and needs emergency medical care.


The bad stuff in your house dust

March 2, 2010 by  
Filed under ALLERGIES

Haaaa-tsing!

Is your house dust killing you and your family? Now, before you start panicking and reach for the vacuum cleaner, let me get this clear: This hasn’t got anything to do with your qualities as a housewife. It is a fact of life that things gather dust. Besides, we cannot live in a sterile environment and a little dirt doesn’t hurt anybody. In fact, health experts believe  dirty can be sometimes healthy.

However, what the Environmental Working Group (EWG) is trying to say is that house dust as such is not that bad but toxic house dust is very bad.

Let us take a look as to where these dust all come from. Here are some of the components of house dust, according to EWG:

  • pet dander
  • fungal spores
  • human hair and skin
  • soil tracked in on your feet
  • carpet fibers
  • other tiny particles
  • home-use chemicals
  • chemicals shed by household appliances

Although most of these are potential allergens, the latter two is the baddest of the lot and that’s what this post is focusing on.

A study by the Silent Spring Institute has identified 66 compounds in the normal household dust which have endocrine-disrupting properties. The most common of these compounds are brominated flame retardants, pesticides and phthalates. In this post, let’s focus on the fire retardant polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs).

What are PBDEs?

PBDEs are present in a lot of home appliance including your TV, computers, and furniture. PBDEs are fire resistant and are added to flammable synthetic materials to make consumer products less combustible. However, these products “shed” PBDEs as PBDEs degrade with time, so that flame retardant particles settle with the house dust.  

A 2004 EWG study revealed high levels of PBDEs in house dusts. The three main PBDEs used in manufacturing industries are the Penta, Octa, and Deca. Penta and Octa have supposedly been banned in the US since 2004 but Deca is still commonly used. Deca is predominant in the house dust sampled by EWG.

What are the health effects of toxic house dust?

How do we reduce the amount of toxic dust in our homes?

Aside from cleaning our house from top to bottom (which realistically we can’t do every day), the best way to reduce toxic dust is to reduce the amount of toxins coming in in the first place. Let’s take a look at EWG’s recommendations:

Photo credits: stock.xchng


Don’t let food allergies ruin your social life

January 11, 2010 by  
Filed under ALLERGIES

Having food allergies can be bummer for one’s social life. This is according to a report in USA Today.

Below, some situations are discussed, plus some tips on coping strategies

Dining out. The USA Today report cited a couple who typically has to grill their food server every time they go to a restaurant. It’s not only the ingredients that they have to check out; the preparation process also has to be scrutinized. It’s not that they are being complicated or picky. It’s simply a question of watching out for their health. For waiters, chefs, and restaurant owners, these are probably their nightmare customers. It’s not that they are inconsiderate. It’s simply making their jobs difficult, plus the threat of an injury in their premises, maybe eventually a lawsuit. I can imagine that for people with food allergies, the act of going out can become tedious, even embarrassing that dining at home may actually be the best option.

Invitations. I remember a boy in my son’s kindergarten class who was allergic to nuts and chocolate. The poor tot was not allowed to attend birthday parties. And the other kids resented them because the teachers wouldn’t allow any chocolate goodies within the four walls of the classroom for his safety. Talk about a considered a spoil sports at an early age. And it doesn’t get any better as the child grows. In fact, even adults run into social problems due to food allergy. Hostesses get offended or hurt feelings when guests refuse invitations. Or if the guests actually accept, they start questioning the menu.

Traveling. Traveling is especially a hustle since you would be away from your kitchen for a long period and be exposed to food allergens, whether through the plane food or the fast food stop on the freeway.

No wonder that food allergies may also cause psychological problems in some people, e.g. eating disorders, and poor self-worth. According to one doctor:

“I’ve had patients who’ve literally said they’d rather die than use an EpiPen (an injectible emergency treatment that counteracts life-threatening allergic reactions) because it’s so embarrassing… And I wonder: Where did they get that message?”

Some statistics on food allergies from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases:

  • Food allergies are on the rise.
  • 30,000 cases of anaphylaxis due to food allergies occurs every year
  • 2,000 hospitalizations and 150 deaths each year occur due to food allergies.

Some statistics from the CDC

Here are some tips on how to deal with food allergies without ruining your social life.

  • For dining out, keep a list of allergy-aware restaurants. Talk to the manager and explain your needs and concerns.
  • Accept invitations only from close family members and friends who are aware of your allergies. This is to avoid embarrassing situations.
  • When flying, inform the airline way ahead and make your meal request as clear as possible. Always carry a pack of your allergen-free snack.
  • When travelling, find accommodations with a kitchen so you can independently prepare your food.
  • Mail or order your food ahead, e.g. gluten-free food to your hotel or other accommodations.
  • Wherever your destination is, are sure you have access to retailers who carry a wide range of allergen-free foods.
  • Always carry an EpiPen (injectable epinephrine) and other necessary medications especially if you’re anaphylactic. If you are travelling with somebody, inform him or her about your allergy and make sure he or she knows where your medications are.
  • Get a certification from your doctor about your EpiPen in case you ran into security problems at the airport.
  • Finally, go out and meet others with similar food allergies and share your resources and experiences.
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NOTE: The contents in this blog are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or a substitute for professional care. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before making changes to any existing treatment or program. Some of the information presented in this blog may already be out of date.