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Friday, 05 February 2016 07:00

Is There A Link Between Asthma and Autism?

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asthma allergiesAutism and autism spectrum disorder involve impairments in communication and social interaction and are thought to result from abnormal brain development. This type of abnormal brain development is most likely due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. The rate of autism diagnosis has increased significantly since 1980, as has the diagnosis of asthma. Nonetheless, because autism is primarily thought to be a manifestation of abnormalities in the brain, its potential link to asthma is not intuitive.

However, research has shown that women who are diagnosed with asthma or allergies while in her second trimester of pregnancy is at an increased risk for having a child with autism. Further, a new study, published in the medical journal Pediatrics in January, found that mothers who take certain types of asthma medications while they are pregnant are slightly more likely to have children with autism than those not exposed to such medications. This effect was seen regardless of whether a woman was using drugs for asthma during her first, second, or third trimesters, or even during preconception.

The United Sates Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that autism currently affects approximately one out of every 68 children in this country. Not all asthma medications were found to be associated with autism in offspring. Even more important is that failing to manage asthma during pregnancy can be much more dangerous than the drugs used to manage the disease.

The drugs studied in this study were drugs called beta-agonists. Such drugs tend to influence the muscles around the airways, relaxing them so that breathing becomes easier. The beta-agonist asthma medications that are often used are: salmeterol, also known as Serevent, formoterol, also known as Foradil, and albuterol, which is often used as a rescue inhaler during an asthma attack. The former two drugs are more often used to prevent asthma attacks. Because the drugs are able to cross the placenta, they can biologically impact the growing fetus during its development.

Laboratory studies on these drugs show that they can affect the development of brain cells, or neurons. Nonetheless, scientists who have looked at national databases in Denmark found that only 4% of children diagnosed with autism had been exposed to beta-agonist drugs. This finding demonstrates that the vast majority of autism cases are caused by something other than beta-agonist drugs. Further, the study published in Pediatrics only shows that babies exposed to beta agonists have a slightly increased risk for autism but does not demonstrate a causal link between these drugs and the disorder.

There are a number of other drugs for asthma that are not beta-agonists, and doctors may recommend some of these medications to pregnant women as alternatives to beta-agonists. For quick relief of asthma symptoms, corticosteroids, which are anti-inflammatory drugs, and anticholinergics, which are bronchodilators, may be used. These drugs tend to get rid of coughing, wheezing, and chest tightness in the short-term. For long-term control of asthma, leukotriene modifiers can block chemicals that cause inflammation, whereas mast cell stabilizers can minimize the release of chemicals that lead to inflammation. Theophylline is a bronchodilator that specifically reduces nighttime symptoms of asthma. Finally, for those who do not respond to inhaled drugs, immunomodulator injections may be recommended. These injections tend to be used for patients whose asthma is related to allergies.

When asthma is not well controlled in pregnant women, outcomes for babies have been shown to be poor. Babies born to mothers with uncontrolled asthma are more likely to be born before they are full term and to be born at a low birth weight. These babies are also more likely to end up being admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit. The drugs that are used to control asthma help ensure that the mother and baby are getting sufficient oxygen, which is critical for their health. It therefore important that pregnant women who are taking asthma medications do not just stop taking their medications without speaking with their physicians.

Friday, 22 January 2016 07:00

Can You Be Allergic to Wi-Fi?

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can you be allergic to wifiThough the medical community has not acknowledged it as a legitimate allergy, people have begun to claim that they suffer from allergies to Wi-Fi. Over the years, a number of health risks associated with our smart devices have been revealed – including insomnia, neck pain, and brain changes. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity Syndrome (EHS) is a disorder that involves a number of non-specific symptoms that affect those who are exposed to electromagnetic fields. The apparent existence of EHS may be confused with an allergy for Wi-Fi, and EHS has itself come under scrutiny as a legitimate disorder.

Because the symptoms said to be involved in EHS, including headaches, fatigue, dizziness, rashes, and heart palpitations, are so common and caused by a number of different factors, it is difficult to determine if EHS is a true condition. People claim to suffer the symptoms when exposed to a number of devices, including mobile phones, televisions, and Wi-Fi routers. WHO has attempted to determine what specific environmental triggers could lead to EHS and have considered things such as excessive noise, air pollution, and fluorescent lights emanating from screens. However, no causal association has been persuasively identified.

Recently, a woman in the UK blamed an allergy to Wi-Fi for her daughter’s suicide. She claimed that both she and her daughter had become ill because of the Wi-Fi in their house, suffering from bladder pain, headaches, and fatigue and had thus discontinued Wi-Fi at home. However, according to the woman, her daughter continued to suffer because of the use of Wi-Fi at her school. She claimed her daughter did not intend to commit suicide and blamed the school, and especially the principal, who refused to accommodate the “Wi-Fi allergy” by allowing the girl to participate in activities only in areas free of Wi-Fi, for her daughter’s untimely death. Nonetheless, the medical examiner investigating the girl’s case did not find any evidence to suggest that the suicide was a result of either a Wi-Fi allergy or EHS.

In a separate case in France, a woman was able to collect $900/month in disability benefits as a result of her apparent EHS, the first time the legal community appeared to legitimize the syndrome. The court case sparked controversy and concern among the medical community, who generally do not believe that EHS is appropriately viewed. Specifically, research has shown that the syndrome that is termed EHS does not seem to have any true connection to exposure to electromagnetic or radiofrequency signals. WHO has therefore suggested that EHS be renamed “idiopathic environmental intolerance with attribution to EMF.”

A psychiatrist at George Washington University in Washington D.C. says that EHS it not recognized as a real medical disorder and that those who apparently suffer from EHS are more likely to be suffering from a psychiatric condition. In this case, the patient would be said to be suffering from a somatization disorder. Of particular concern is that the likelihood of people believing they suffer a disease or disorder is much more likely when people first know of, or believe in the existence of that disorder. A study demonstrating this phenomenon exposed subjects to a fake Wi-Fi signal after showing half the subjects a BBC series that claimed that Wi-Fi signals were dangerous. Those who saw the series were significantly more likely to develop symptoms associated with EHS. The tendency for people to believe they are sick after being exposed to something they believe should sicken them has serious implications with respect to the growing concern about EHS and Wi-Fi allergies.

As a result, the medical community has appeared to become more vocal about their belief that people cannot really be allergic to Wi-Fi. As evidence for their position, they point out that the radiofrequency signals to which we are constantly exposed are quite weak and that there is no good evidence to show that they do true damage. Given the growing concern of health risks associated with the Internet and smart devices, as well as the known health risks posed by some devices and technologies associated with radiation, it is likely that research into any potential health threat that the Internet or relevant devices could pose will continue. Though allergies to Wi-Fi appear a far-fetched idea, it is not out of the question that the growing use of the Internet may pose new health risks in indirect ways.

sesame allergiesThough sesame allergies affect less than 1% of the United States’ population, somewhere between 300,000 and 500,000 people in the U.S. are allergic to sesame. According to allergists, many more people are afflicted in the U.S. today than a decade or two ago. The most common symptom associated with sesame allergy is hives, with hives, stomach problems, and respiratory problems also occurring quite frequently.

The allergy appears to now be as serious and as frequent to other common allergies, like those to tree nuts. Tree nuts include walnuts, cashews, hazelnuts, almonds, pistachios, and Brazil nuts. Further, recent research has shown that those allergic to tree nuts are at a higher risk for also suffering from a sesame allergy than those who are not allergic to tree nuts. One study found that 70% of those who were allergic to sesame were allergic to tree nuts, and 65% were allergic to peanuts. A study on children conducted in Boston determined that kids with tree nuts allergies were three times more likely to be allergic to sesame seeds as well.

The growing prevalence of sesame allergies could be due to greater awareness of the allergen or due to more people actually experiencing it. With respect to the latter reason, one explanation that has been posed for the rise in the number of allergic reactions to sesame is the enhanced popularity of Middle Eastern foods. Whereas sesame seeds were once most commonly associated with bagels in the U.S., they are now found in a number of foods that can be purchased in grocery stores and that are served in restaurants. Hummus, falafel, and halvah for instance, are now popular foods in the U.S. and contains sesame.

A major concern with regard to the growing number of allergy cases related to sesame is that sesame is often not found on the label of foods that contain sesame. A number of cases have been reported where identifying the problematic food was quite difficult due to a lack of knowledge about the presence of sesame. Tahini, for instance, contains sesame that has been transformed into either a paste or a powder, and it is often not explicitly said to contain sesame. Similarly, many foods with sesame often account for that ingredient by including the term “spice” or “natural flavoring” on the label. Some foods more common to the U.S. historically that often serve as sources for sesame include: breads (especially hamburger buns and pizza crust), noodles, cookies, pretzels, crackers, oils, margarine, soups, ice cream, salad dressing, energy bars, and pastries.

Other countries, such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and several European nations are required to list sesame on their food labels. However, because the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act, passed by Congress in 2004 did not include sesame because it was not known to be a major contributor to allergic reactions. The foods included were instead: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, wheat, and soy. Because the idea of the Act was to cover 90% of all food allergies, many argue that our new knowledge regarding sesame allergies constitutes a need to add it to the list.

Though there have not been many deaths related to sesame allergy, there have been allergic reactions severe enough that they could have led to death if not treated properly and promptly. As a result, last year, the Center for Science in the Public Interest proposed that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) require that foods containing sesame or have cross contact with sesame during the manufacturing process have “sesame” on the food’s label.

Another concern related to sesame allergy is that exposure to sesame is not limited to foods. Certain beauty products, such as moisturizing creams and lipsticks also contain sesame and so can lead to allergic reactions, especially in those who would understandably not suspect the presence of sesame in their cosmetics. It is therefore important to educate those at risk for sesame allergy on the various ways they may be exposed to sesame and ensure that those people are protected from severe allergic reactions with medications. For those at risk for anaphylaxis, carrying an EpiPen is generally advised.

Friday, 18 December 2015 07:30

Allergic Reactions to Insect Stings

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allergic reactions to insect stingsMany people are allergic to insect stings, which can be associated with a number of insects including honeybees, sweatbees, bumblebees, paper wasps, white-faced hornets, yellow hornets, yellow jackets, harvester ants, fire ants, and jack jumper ants. Less often, allergies can also occur to proteins found in the saliva of other insects, including mosquitos, horseflies, and kissing bugs.

Stinging insect allergy can occur in response to insect venom and has the potential to be fatal if it causes anaphylaxis and disrupts the breathing process. This type of reaction occurs in approximately 0.4-0.8% of children and 3% of adults, leading to about 40 annual deaths in the United States. However, when it does not cause anaphylaxis, stinging insect allergy is not and manifests in non-respiratory ways.

There are three main ways that the relevant insect venom tends to affect those with stinging insect allergy. For systemic reactions that include anaphylaxis, other systems may also be impacted. These systems include the gastrointestinal tract, the respiratory system, the heart, and the brain. A second potential outcome is a systemic reaction that is isolated to the skin, impacting skin all over the body. Finally, the venom could cause a local reaction, leading to swelling that is focused around the area where stings occurred.

When systemic reactions occur, they usually happen fairly quickly after the sting and often involve highly noticeable symptoms such as anaphylaxis. On the other hand, local reactions may occur over a day or two, and it may take up to about 10 days for the associated swelling to go away.

There main ways to prevent allergic reactions to insect venom are to avoid insect stings and to undergo venom immunotherapy (VIT). The latter is an effective way to prevent anaphylactic reactions in certain patient populations that have demonstrated allergic reactions to insect venom. In this case, patients are usually screened with tests such as skin tests to assess their suitability for VIT, though screening tests are not generally a recommended preventative measure for insect venom allergies.

When VIT is employed, 95-98% of systemic reactions are successfully prevented, and the therapy may also minimize local reactions. Rarely, VIT itself causes allergic reactions and can cause anaphylaxis, so patients undergoing this preventative measure must be monitored for about half an hour following each session of therapy. This form of therapy is usually started at a low dose (0.1-1 mg weekly) and is increased incrementally (to about 100 mg). The highest VIT dose is thought to be equivalent to about 2 insect stings and would thus ideally protect against at least the relevant amount of venom. Therapy is usually used for 3 to 5 years but is generally extended in high risk patients who continue to have severe reactions or are frequently exposed to insects.

Because the best way to ensure that allergic reactions to insect venom do not occur is to avoid stings, there are a number of recommendations for how to do so. Removing nests from places where patients spend a lot of time, such as the home, is an important first step. Wearing closed shoes and clothing that covers the skin while outdoors can also be effective. Wearing muted colors and scents is a less intuitive means for preventing insect stings but can work because insects are attracted to bright colors and can track strong scents. Areas like bushes and attics should be approached with caution when attempting to avoid insect stings.

When stings do occur and are followed by an allergic reaction, the type of reaction dictates what type of treatment should be undergone. Local reactions can be treated with cold compresses and analgesics to help manage any pain occurring as a result of the sting, as well a antihistamines for itchiness. However, if anaphylaxis occurs, an epinephrine needs to be administered to reverse the dangerous respiratory symptoms.

Different treatment plans may be indicated for distinct patient populations suffering from insect sting allergy. Though it is often suggested that pregnant women adhere refrain from taking medications they took before pregnancy, both VIT and anaphylaxis interventions can continue in pregnant women. However, patients who take beta-blockers or angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors may be more susceptible to anaphylaxis from VIT so are generally encouraged to undergo an alternative treatment plan. Children with skin reactions to insect venom are less likely than adults to eventually suffer severe reactions. The assessment of children and adults for suitability for VIT therefore differs.

Friday, 04 December 2015 07:30

The Role of Platelets in Allergic Reactions

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the role of platelets in allergic reactionsThere are a number of cells of the immune system that are involved in allergic reactions. Relatively recently, platelets were added to the list of known immune cells that contribute to the body’s response to allergens and to underlie aspects of asthma. Platelets are the smallest cells that travel within the blood and are shaped like plates when they are inactive. One microliter of blood usually contains somewhere between 150,000 and 450,000 platelets.

Platelets are traditionally viewed as functioning to stop blood flow, which they do by clumping together to form blood clots. Given this function, it is important that we have enough platelets so that we are not at risk for losing too much blood should we cut ourselves. However, too many platelets can cause cardiovascular issues. Given their role in thrombosis, or blood clotting, platelets are also often referred to as thrombocytes.

In the 1980s, seminal scientific research demonstrated that the role of platelets is not limited to blood clotting. The work showed how platelets can also kill some parasites. This other function of platelets was realized when scientists observed the presence of certain receptors, called IgE receptors, on the surface of platelets. IgE receptors are antibodies whose main function is to fight parasitic infections.

Also in the 1980s, other scientists observed that platelets appeared depleted in rabbits suffering airway constriction due to allergies. These observations were the initial findings that helped confirm that platelets have a broader role than their role in blood flow and clotting.. It is now clear that platelets play a direct role in allergic reactions. Specifically, they impact other cells of the immune system during inflammatory reactions to help recruit leukocytes into tissues. Not only do their coordinate inflammation responses, but they are also activated by other inflammatory mediators. When platelets are depleted, leukocytes are not as populous within tissues as when platelets are present in normal amounts.

Because of their specific role in inflammation, platelets are critical in inflammatory diseases other than allergies, such as asthma. Research in both animals and humans has demonstrated that platelets are also associated with the pathogenesis of aspirin-exacerbated respiratory disease (AERD), which is an inflammatory disease that involves not only asthma but also nasal polyposis and pathognomonic respiratory reactions when aspirin is ingested.

When asthma occurs, changes in platelet activity are often observed, including changes in the amount of platelet secretion, as well as the molecules that are expressed on the surface of platelets. Asthma and allergies are also associated with abnormalities of both the aggregation and adhesion of platelets to one another.

In this scenario, platelets have been referred to as “exhausted platelets” that may have been activated too often during allergic responses and are thus unable to respond appropriately when needed for clotting functions. Accordingly, people with allergic disease often have what is referred to as a mild hemostatic defect, where it takes them longer to stop bleeding when they are cut than those without allergies. On the flip side, this group of people may also experience cardiovascular benefits as a result of their reduced clotting. Some research has suggested that these people have less calcified arteries.

The specific activities of platelets within the immune system lead to the pathogenesis of asthma in a few different ways. First, platelets cause bronchoconstriction. They do this by releasing what is known as spasmogens, which included chemicals like serotonin. Second, they lead to the remodeling of the walls of the airway by signaling to a number of relevant cells to modify their activities. Third, they cause inflammation of the airway, which is often accompanied by the release of free radicals. Free radicals are physiologically destructive and often associated with poor health.

The blood-related effects that are seen in patients with allergy and asthma are likely a result of reduced platelet survival time, which can be reversed with glucocorticosteroid medications. However, given that platelet activity can both help and harm people, depending on the context in which the platelets are activated, as well as on the specific needs of the person, it is important not to aim to minimize or maximize platelet activity but instead to find a balance that optimizes outcomes. As more research helps clarify the specific role of platelets in allergies and asthma, new treatments options that involve platelet activity will likely be developed.

Allergies caused by pollutionThe incidence of allergies and asthma has been on the rise in recent years. Western countries have seen more of a rise than other countries. However, even in Asia and Africa, the allergies and asthma occur with higher frequency in urban areas than in rural ones.

The impact of industrialization on health is not a new concept. During the Industrial Revolution, people in the United States and Great Britain experienced a number of symptoms consistent with allergies, such as itchy and watery eyes, inflammation of the respiratory tract, and increases in the production of mucus. Public health experts often attribute enhanced allergy and asthma issues to reactions to the Industrial Revolution. Specifically, because decontamination, sterilization, and pasteurization measures were undertaken to reduce the incidence and spread of infection following the Industrial Revolution, people became less significantly exposed to diseases and bacteria. This reduction in exposure may carry with it the development of an overly sensitive immune system that is not well protected against allergies and asthma. Indeed, many countries today that do not have high health standards tend to have lower incidences of allergies than those with higher health standards.

In addition to our growing focus on cleanliness as we become more industrialized, we have also focused on efficiency, which may cause other issues related to asthma and allergy. For instance, we have created better means for insulating our homes to keep heat in, but these measures also increase the ability of dust and mold to stay and accumulate in our homes. These substances are common irritants to allergy and asthma sufferers.

Industrialization seems to promote allergies and asthma, but urbanization appears to do so as well. There is a significant amount of research showing that those dwelling in cities experience allergies and asthma more often than those who live in rural areas. Air pollution is widely blamed for the rise in these disorders in urban areas. Research aimed at supporting the hypothesis that industrialization increases allergies and asthma by causing air pollution has shown that animals exposed to air pollutants and allergens suffer synergistic effects that increase the impact of each irritant on the animals’ respiratory systems. In humans, air pollution caused by vehicles has been shown to aggravate asthma. Further, those living in highly populated cities may put even more emphasis on cleanliness, using sanitizers and anti-microbial products more often than those living in less heavily populated areas, who may worry less about the spread of germs.

Another problem for allergy sufferers in cities is the interaction that occurs between allergens and the air. Specifically, air pollution can react with irritants like pollen to produce compounds that are much more impactful on the human immune system. Other aspects of cities, such as their higher levels of carbon dioxide and generally higher temperatures can also increase the production of allergens like pollen and make them more likely to cause allergic reactions.

People often assume that cities are more protective against allergies than other areas because of their relative lack of trees and flowers. In response to this idea, the hygiene hypothesis was formulated, which suggests that growing up in rural areas can help build strong immune systems protect individuals against allergies later in life. Consistent with this hypothesis is the observation that children who grow up in cities do suffer from allergies more frequently than those who grow up in rural environments.

Though the increased exposure to microbes in rural areas is often viewed as a reason for better protection against allergy and asthma in these areas, researchers have also found asthma frequency to be high in inner city areas that have high levels of microbes. It has therefore been suggested that exposure to microbes may impact the likelihood of developing allergies but not asthma.

Given that the factors that are thought to contribute to rising allergy and asthma rates – namely, air pollution, global warming, and sanitation measures – are likely to continue or even increase, so too may the enhanced incidence of allergy and asthma. If we are going to slow the pace of allergy and asthma incidence, researchers will need to focus efforts on more clearly delineating what has caused the recent rise in these disorders and determining what can minimize the effect of those factors on allergies and asthma.

Food AllergiesWhile many medical efforts have focused on increasing access and use of epinephrine, a powerful, often life-saving allergy medication, to ethnic, racial, and socioeconomic groups that have been shown to suffer from lack of access to this important drug, recent efforts have also emphasized the importance of research that clarifies differences in allergy incidence among different racial and ethnic groups. Indeed, it seems that those of different races and ethnicities may be prone to different allergies or allergy severities. Given the distinct genetic makeup of those of different such demographics, this insight is perhaps not that surprising. Racial differences in disorders related to allergy, such as asthma and atopic dermatitis, also make the idea that there are racial differences in allergy susceptibility quite intuitive.

Of particular concern is the rise of allergies that has occurred over recent years. Given that the specific change in allergy incidence has varied by race, it seems reasonable to assume that there are differences in racial vulnerabilities to allergens. One study found that the incidence of allergies increased about 1.0% in whites individuals between 1988 and 2011. The study found that during the same period, Hispanics suffered a 1.2% increase in allergy incidence, whereas non-Hispanic blacks suffered a 2.1% increase in allergy incidence.

So what are the differences in allergies among different ethnic and racial groups? Some data suggests that African American children are more prone to food allergies than those of other groups. Among black children, black boys appear particularly at risk for some of the most common food allergies, such as allergies to milk, soy, eggs, shellfish, and peanuts. A study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found that Hispanic children, on the other hand, are less likely to suffer from food allergies than children of other ethnicities.

It has also been shown that Chinese people are less likely to demonstrate allergies to peanuts than are Americans. However, the difference in incidence in allergies in these groups has been suggested to be due to different cooking techniques generally used by these distinct groups. Supporting this idea are the results of a United States government study that found that boiled or fried peanuts, which are often found in Chinese cuisine, are less likely to cause allergies than the roasted peanuts often found in the United States.

Though more research will be needed to clarify how race impacts allergen vulnerability, healthcare professionals emphasize the importance of knowing what you are ingesting to avoid allergic reactions. The differences in cuisine associated with different races, ethnicities, and cultures can pose a problem for allergy sufferers because it is not always transparent what ingredients are in certain dishes.

Asian food incorporates a significant amount of the most common food allergens such as shellfish, eggs, peanuts, and soy. Thai food is particularly peanut-heavy. One challenge for those with peanut allergies is the difference in cooking technique. For instance, fried egg rolls and spring rolls are often sealed with peanut butter, but a menu would not necessarily include the information that peanut butter is included in the dish. Those unfamiliar with Asian cuisine may therefore experience increased vulnerability to allergies when dining on Asian food.

Another common issue with Asian cuisine is cross-contamination. The woks that are traditionally used in Asian cooking are often not cleaned between different cooking sessions because the buildup of food over time can act as a seasoning that flavors the food. Thus, though someone who is allergic to shellfish may order a meat dish, their meat may be cooked in a wok that recently housed shrimp, thereby leading to an allergic reaction. Nonetheless, the soy sauce that is used in Asian cooking often does not affect those with soy allergies because the soy proteins have been broken down by the time the sauce is created.

French food contains a number of allergens, including nuts, seed oils, and dairy products. One thing that can be particularly dangerous for nut and seed allergy sufferers is that the French often hand-press oils from these ingredients, and these types of oils tend to have more of the nut protein in them than oils found in other cuisines. Thus, those who think they can tolerate certain oils may be surprised by their reaction to those oils when they are found in French food.

Italian food can cause problems for a number of different allergy sufferers. Those with wheat allergies often have a difficult time with Italian food because of the amount of bread and pasta incorporated in this type of cuisine. Italian food also includes a good amount of dairy. Sauces, such as pesto, also contain nuts.

Indian food is made up largely of spices that tend to be safe for most people with allergies. However, those allergic to dairy products and nuts should use caution when eating creamy curries, pre-prepared teas, or Indian desserts, such as kheer. Mexican food is similarly filled with spices and often safe. However, some sauces used in Mexican cooking contain nuts.

Though cultural aspects of different race’s food tendencies can raise allergy issues, it is becoming an increasingly popular idea that people of different races may in fact have different susceptibilities to certain allergens. Research focused on identifying these differences may help different demographics protect themselves against the allergies to which they are particularly vulnerable.

Friday, 23 October 2015 07:00

Laboratory Animal Allergies

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Laboratory Animal AllergiesPeople who work with laboratory animals are susceptible to developing allergies to the specimens to which they are regularly subjected, a condition termed laboratory animal allergy, or LAA. Lung function and changes in the immune system have been identified in a number of such workers, and it is believed that between about 1 in 3 to 1 in 5 of those who regularly work with animals will develop these allergies within 2 years. However, females appear to be more vulnerable to developing these animal allergies than are males. People with higher levels of immunoglobulin E, an antibody involved in fighting off parasites, are also more likely to develop LAA. From an environmental standpoint, it seems that the more hours that workers tend to spend with laboratory animals, the more likely they are to develop allergies. The most common symptom is rhinitis, which involves inflammation of the nose, but asthma also often develops in these workers.

There are a number of animals that cause allergy problems in those working in laboratories. Some of the most often cited are rodents, cockroaches, and squirrel monkeys. Though people often associate fur and dander with allergies, people tend to react more to proteins in animals' urine. Major urinary proteins (Mups) are the culprit for many LAA cases and can lead to the development of asthma. One study found that over 65% of laboratory workers who had developed asthma while working in their laboratory displayed antibodies to Rat n 1, which, like Mup13, is a human allergen found in rodent urine .Because urine and its associated proteins are often embedded in animals' hair and fur, the presence or lingering of that hair or fur can cause allergic reactions.

Allergies and asthma tend to be especially problematic for workers whose work environment does not have effective mechanisms for controlling the presence of allergens. For instance, when laboratories are not engineered to eliminate allergens, do not involve administrative guidelines for manually doing so, or do not require that protective equipment is used or worn, the workers within those laboratories are more likely to develop allergies and asthma. Interestingly, rabbits appear to lead to the highest rates of allergy symptoms than any other laboratory animal. Rabbits do tend to spray their urine as a means for communication and also to shed more fur than other animals, which may account for their higher likelihood of leading to allergies.

LAA can pose a number of challenges for workers. It can make them less efficient at work and even jeopardize their professional career if they are eventually forced to abandon their area of research. The psychological impact can be significant, as workers worry not only about their health but also about the uncertainty regarding their career paths. Lifestyle can also be adversely affected, with many of those suffering from LAA experiencing chronic itching, watery eyes, cough, and shortness of breath. These symptoms can make not only work activities, but other personal activities, such as hobbies and exercise, difficult to participate in.

The most serious consequences associated with LAA are of course related to health. The onset of allergies and asthma can be both severe and sudden, making them quite dangerous. Workers can suffer anaphylactic shock, which is potentially fatal. Even if they avoid anaphylactic shock, the development of complications related to allergies, such as asthma, tend to worsen health outcomes over the lifespan.

The scientific community has not focused a lot of attention or resources on the issue of LAA to date, though there are a number of cases of famous scientists suffering from such allergies. Barbara McClintock, a Nobel Prize winning geneticist developed an allergy to corn flowers, whereas Orley Taylor, an ecology at the University of Kansas developed an allergy to sulfur butterflies over the course of a decade. However, given what is known about LAA, there are some things that can be done to minimize its occurrence or to reduce the suffering experienced by those who develop it. The most critical component of LAA is exposure to allergens. Thus, any strategy that reduces this exposure should also reduce allergic reactions and symptoms. As more hours spent with animals is known to increase the chances of developing LAA, reducing the number of hours that are physically spent with the laboratory animals each week can help reduce allergies and asthma. Institution-wide measures can also significantly help the problem of LAA. By implementing filtering systems that rid the laboratory air of allergens, for example, can greatly improve air quality and reduce the burden on laboratory workers' immune systems. Requiring that protective gear, such as face masks, gloves, or body suits, are worn can have a similar effect.

Friday, 09 October 2015 07:00

Can Pets Suffer from Allergies?

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Can Pets Suffer from Allergies?People often wonder if their loving pets are susceptible to the same allergies that they are. Though our pets are less likely to suffer from the same symptoms that we do when we experience allergies, they are in fact vulnerable to allergies. Allergies occur in pets for the same reason they occur in us – their immune systems recognize certain substances as harmful, even though they may not actually be threatening. Pets usually do not show symptoms of allergies until they are between one and three years old, and when it comes to dogs, females are more likely to display allergy symptoms than males. Certain dog breeds are also more susceptible to allergies than others. Breeds with flat faces, such as pugs, bulldogs, and Boston terriers are more likely to suffer from allergies than breeds with longer snouts. Retrievers and setters are also particularly vulnerable to allergies.


There are a number of signs that can help you confirm whether your pet suffers from allergies. However, it is important to keep in mind that animals’ allergy symptoms are often quite distinct from human allergy symptoms. Whereas we are likely to have itchy, watery eyes and runny noses, our pets are more likely to experience irritation of the skin when exposed to environmental allergens. Though they may sneeze while experiencing allergies, pets are not likely to sneeze or cough like we often do when our allergies act up but instead are likely to be found scratching or licking their ears, eyes, or skin when allergies attack. Skin near their tails is often irritated when animals suffer from allergies. You may also notice red or scabbed skin on pets suffering from allergies, which could result from chronic scratching.

In addition to allergies that tend to be seasonal, our pets, like us, may also be allergic to certain foods. Symptoms associated with food allergies are more likely to resemble our own symptoms to food allergies. Vomiting, diarrhea, and an inflamed throat are likely to occur in your pet if they have ingested a food to which they are allergic. This type of allergy may require more immediate medical attention than seasonal allergies.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Seasonally, our pets are often allergic to pollens, dust, mold, perfumes, cleaning products, rubber, and plastic – just like we are – but also often succumb to flea saliva. Prescription drugs and certain foods, such as beef, chicken, pork, wheat, soy, and corn can also cause allergic reactions when ingested at any time. Though the severity of symptoms associated with food allergies are not likely to go unnoticed for long, it is also important to recognize seasonal allergies in our pets because the scratching that tends to occur while our pets suffer from these allergies can lead to bleeding to infection. Animals can also suffer secondary infections, such as yeast or bacterial infections, which can lead to significant discomfort.

Veterinarians can do allergy tests to determine if your pet experiences allergies, and if so, to what your pet may be allergic. Intradermal skin tests, like those used in people, are a common way to identify pet allergies to environmental allergens. Food allergies are more laborious to diagnose, usually requiring a special 3-month protein diet. Animal doctors can also provide treatments for these allergies, including allergy shots, or immunotherapies, which act much like allergy treatments that people use. There are also specific dietary supplements that have been shown to help allergy symptoms. Other treatment options include antihistamines, antibiotics, and corticosteroids.


There are a number of preventative measures that can also be taken to reduce the chances that your pets suffer from allergies, or to minimize their discomfort when allergies do strike. Bathing your pets regularly can rid them of irritating allergens. Cleaning pets’ bedding and vacuuming regularly are other effective ways of eliminating allergens from your pets’ environments. Using unscented litter that is dust-free can help minimize allergies in cats. Preventative flea medications can protect pets from common flea allergies. Many veterinarians suggest topical or oral flea medications be taken regularly, or at least during seasons when fleas are likely to be a problem in your area. Removing the potential allergen is the most effective way to prevent allergies in animals, just as in people.

Friday, 18 September 2015 07:00

Impact of Pollen Types on Allergies

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Allergy doctor columbus ohioIt is common for people to be allergic to pollen, and to know that pollen irritates them. What is less well recognized is that there are a number of types of pollen, which peak at different times in the year and cause distinct symptoms for allergy sufferers. Having a precise understanding of the causes of one’s allergies can significantly increase the ability to manage symptoms, so learning the differences among allergens from various plants can be extremely useful for allergy sufferers.

A first step for allergy sufferers is to be tested for allergies to try to pinpoint which particular allergens irritate them. Once those allergens are identified, people can learn about when and where those allergens are likely to strike and take the necessary precautions to avoid exposure to those allergens. Below is some information on when different pollen types are likely to impact you. Because even allergy tests cannot always determine your particular allergies, paying attention to when you find yourself suffering from allergies can help you figure out what your immune system may be reacting to.

If you notice your allergies toward the beginning of the calendar year, you may be suffering from alder pollen, hazel pollen, or yew pollen, all of which are being released at the year’s start and lasting into April.

  • Alder: Alder can be found in the air until almost May, peaking from early February to early April.
  • Hazel: Hazel is around through mid April but peaks in February and early March.
  • Yew: Like Hazel, Yew can be found through April, but it peaks just a bit later, starting toward the end of February and lasting until late March.

If your allergies begin early in the year, but not in January, elm pollen or willow pollen could be to blame.

  • Elm: Elm is in the air from early February until almost May, peaking in March.
  • Willow: The season for willow allergies is almost identical to that of elm, though willow may stay in the air into March and may peak a bit further into April than elm.

If you notice that your allergies do not start until March or later and tend to be “spring allergies,” one of the following pollen types could be causing your symptoms:

  • Poplar: Poplar can be found from mid March into May but peaks for just a couple of weeks from mid-March to early April
  • Ash: Ash is in the air from the start of March to almost the end of May, peaking in April and perhaps into the start of May.
  • Birch: Sneezing and itchy eyes before June may indicate an allergy to birch pollen, a common allergen. Birch hits the air around the second week of March and does not leave until early June. Its levels peak from the end of March to mid-May.
  • Plane: Plane peaks for about three weeks from the end of April to mid-May, though it is in the air starting in mid-March.
  • Oak: Oak peaks between the end of April and early June but is around for all of April, May, and the first half of June.

One or more of the following plant types may plague those who find that their symptoms are particularly bad during summer months.

  • Oilseed: Oilseed is around from the end of March to mid-July, peaking from mid-May to the end of June.
  • Pine: Pine may be found in the air as early as April, but it is present into the summer, peaking in May and June.
  • Grass: Grass is in the air all summer, from the start of May to the end of September and peaks throughout June and July.
  • Lime: Lime does not usually hit the air until June, peaking during the bulk of the summer.
  • Nettle: Nettle peaks around July, from the very end of June to the very beginning of August. However, it is in the air for all of May, June, July, August, in September.

If you notice that your nose is running all year long, you are likely allergic to something that is around longer than the pollens mentioned above. Pets, mites, mold, or dust could be the culprit. Mold allergies tend to be most noticeable in fall and spring, a big sign of mold allergies is that symptoms are worse indoors than outdoors. Similarly, dust allergies are worse indoors and tend to peak in the winter. Central heat can be a major contributor to dust allergies. One thing to be aware of is that your sniffling is likely not from a food allergy. Though about 30% of people believe they suffer from a food allergy, only about 3% of the population actually suffers from such allergies. Further, if an allergy occurs as a result of ingestion, symptoms are usually much different than those that occur with the allergens we have discussed here.

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