Beware of Holiday Season Allergies

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The holiday season may holds many hazards for those suffering from allergies and asthma. During winter holidays when we gather with friends and spend more time indoors we are exposed to many different allergens. Eating at friends’ houses, at parties or in restaurants can be a huge source of anxiety for people with food allergies.

Even traveling and stress can lead to asthma attacks. Chemicals released by the body during stress can tighten the muscles around the airway causing the attacks.

Plan ahead and take some preventive actions to be safe  during the holiday season.

The scent

You probably want to create a cozy atmosphere with scented candles like pumpkin, pine, and vanilla. These scents can be hazardous to some people. One third of asthma sufferers have a problem with scented candles and air-fresheners. Even low levels of these compounds can increase the risk of asthma, especially in children. Limit or eliminate scented candles, potpourri, air fresheners, and plant arrangements.

Instead of using these aromatic scents, open the windows to air out the house, or let the smell of fresh baked cookies from the oven provide natural aromas.

Look for hidden allergens in decorations.

Real Christmas trees can make you sneeze because the fragrance may be irritating.  They can carry mold spores causing allergy symptoms. Let the real tree dry in the garage for a week and give  it a good shake before you bring it inside.  You can also use a leaf-blower (away from the house or garage) to remove visible pollen grains. Wipe the trunk thorougly with a solution of water and diluted bleach( 1 part bleach to 20 parts water) to remove mold. If you suffer from allergies consider using an artificial tree, girland, or wreath. Be careful with  artificial snow; It can cause lung irritation.

Your decorations from the last year could become moldy, dusty and loaded with allergy-triggering dust mites if they weren’t stored properly in an air-tight container.

Also be aware of ponsettias since the plant is a part of the rubber tree family, which can cause serious problems for those with latex allergy.

Choose gifts carefully

Jewelries such as earrings, necklaces, watches contain Nickel, a common cause of contact dermatitis. Candy can contain nuts. Parfume and other things with strong scents can trigger allergic reactions, rashes, and asthma. Better to chose gifts like books, clothes, or gift cards.

The food                                                                                                                      

Holidays are filled with foods which makes difficult to navigate through for those who have food allergies. Ask about ingredients before you chose to eat them. Be aware of the possibility of cross-contamination during the food preparation. If you think the provided food hide too much risk for you, don’t eat them. Bring your own food or eat at home before you arrive.

Take time to check restaurant menus before eating out. Call them ahead to help you identify menu items  that allergic people can  eat safely. Ask if the restaurant’s chef can prepare an allergy-free meal for you. This tip is valuable year-round, but especially important during the holiday season. Order simple food like broiled chicken, fish and avoid food which requires complicated preparation. Beware of buffets where cross-contamination may take place.

Be prepared

Any precaution can be a weapon against an allergic reaction. When visiting family or friends be prepared for possible allergic reactions to everything from food to pets to parfumes. Make sure someone else knows about your allergies, signs of a reaction and emergency procedures. Always carry your appropriate medications, and a written action plan highlighting  your physician’s name and phone number for quick reference in case of an emergency. Have your autoinjectable epinephrin at-hand just in case.

 

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Source:

Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) Editorial Board

Why Global Warming Makes Allergies even worse?

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Global warming and allergies are certainly linked together based upon scientific studies done on weeds, trees and grasses in recent years. As the temperature of the planet continues to rise, undoubtedly the amount of pollen will increase as well.

All over the world, people suffer from seasonal allergies on a regular basis. Not too long ago, people could predict when certain allergy seasons would occur, and could prepare accordingly. Now, for seemingly unknown reasons, allergy seasons are by far more potent than ever before. Recent studies have shown that pollen counts are higher, and allergy seasons seem to be longer than they have ever been in history.

Some theory blame the man-made increases in greenhouse gases which are responsible for warming the oceans by melting the polar ice cups, as well as the increase of global temperatures, freakish weather such as hurricanes and tsunamis and the increase growth of various plants(such as trees, weeds and grasses),all refer to as climate change.

Others are convinced that climate change in an inevitable cycle that the earth goes through and there is not man related. Anyway, there are measurable changes in the earth’s climate, which were responsible for the significant increase in allergic diseases in the past few decades.

Global warming has led to longer and warmer seasons, causing the trees and grasses to flower much earlier, thus more pollen is released at an earlier time. Some studies have shown that the season begins up to two weeks earlier and last longer than in previous decades. The increased pollen and mold spore counts increase the sensitization to allergy and will increase the allergy symptoms in those who already suffer from allergic diseases. Higher pollutant levels likely to cause worsening of asthma symptoms in affected people. Many studies have shown that with the rise in average daily temperatures, there is a rise in the rate of asthma and asthma symptoms. On days when pollen and mold count are higher, there is an increased emergency room visits for asthma.

The allergic rhinitis incidence in the United States population increased dramatically from 10 to 30 percent over the past 40 years. Similar increases were observed in westernized countries as Canada, and the rate of allergic rhinitis is expected to increase by 40% in Japan by 2050.

The global warming and allergy relation in not limited to seasonal allergies. The warming climate is also spreading the growing range of allergy-inducing plants into new areas of the world. Climate change means allergy season can last longer. Hotter summers make disease-carrying insects more active, for longer seasons; illnesses like West Nile, and Lyme are able to spread into new areas. Hotter weather reduces water supply and quality and diminishes food security. Heavy rains increase risk of drinking water contamination and illness.

Ragweed is one of the primary producers of pollen during the fall allergy seasons. Since 1995, the duration of this allergy season has increased by over 30 days, primarily in parts of North America.

Latest study pointed out that the excess CO2 now in the atmosphere stimulates the allergy-inducing ragweed to produce 60 percent more pollen. Scientists have found that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere that have increased steadily over the last several decades may be to blame. Carbon dioxide level has increased by more than 20 % since 1960. Not only do the increased levels of CO2 cause the ragweed to produce greater amounts of pollen, it has been shown that it is much more potent than ever before, leaving allergy sufferers in more agony year after year.

What You Can Do

Global warming is something that is ongoing, and because of this, those that suffer from allergies need to learn how to adapt. Check daily pollen reports and ozone quality conditions especially on sunny, clear, windless late summer days when ozone conditions usually high. If you have distinct breathing problems caused by pollen producing weeds, trees, or grasses, it is best to stay indoors on days where pollen content in the air is at its highest. Air quality conditions are posted daily by many services, giving you the information when it is best to go outside, and when you should stay in. When pollen and ozone levels are high better to stay indoors, keep windows closed. Take shower and wash bedding and outdoor clothing frequently, vacuum regularly using vacuum cleaner with high-efficiency particulate (HEPA) filter.

You should also consider talking to your local physician, as they will have certain remedies that can help you deal with the higher pollen amounts.

Molds – Are They Good or Bad?

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Molds are definitely bad for those who suffer from mold allergies. The presence of molds are often invisible and undetectable. After pollens, molds are the leading cause of airborne allergies, which can recur year-round.

Molds can be found almost everywhere, indoors and outdoors. They are always present in the air and on objects. They grow best in warm, damp, and humid conditions, and spread and reproduce by producing spores. These spores than move via air currents or they may cling to insects, animals or water.

When cold and dry conditions do not enable growth to take place, molds may remain alive in a dormant state for a long time.

Molds grow from dead or living objects. It is unknown how many species of fungi exist, but estimates range from tens of thousands to perhaps 300,000 or more.

Conidiophores of molds of the genus Aspergillu...Molds are made of microscopic threads or filaments. These threads are called hyphe. A vast collection of hyphe is called a mycelium. Visual inspections (when the colonies large enough for the naked eye) and smell are two important senses to detecting the presence of mold.

Outdoor molds can be found in humid environments, in shady, damp areas or places where leaves or other vegetation is decomposing. Mold can live on soil, plants, rotting wood, or dead leaves and various moist surfaces. Mold cannot grow under the sun’s ultraviolet light.  Outdoor molds usually bothering allergy sufferers from spring to late fall, and mold counts tend to pick in the afternoon (not in the morning like pollens).

Indoors molds can be present where humidity levels are high, such as basements, kitchen, bathrooms, refrigerators, in areas with poor ventilation, moist carpets, and house plants. Most molds need 24-48 hours of moisture to begin to grow. Therefore if a suitable material in your home is wet for more than 24 hours then you run the risk of mold starting to grow.

English: Blue Stilton PDO Cheese, one quarter ...Some molds are beneficial for us. Molds play an important role in certain fermentation process in food production. We eat molds in our cheese, yogurt, soy sauce, wine and beer, mushrooms, vinegar, pickles, dried fruits, foods containing yeast (like bread), pickled and smoked meats and fish, canned juice. Some cheese and sausages (such as salami), use starter cultures in their production, to improve flavor and reduce spoilage during curing.

Red rice yeast is a product of the mold grown on rice, and is common in Asian diets. The yeast contains monacolins, which are known to inhibit cholesterol synthesis. We also use mold as antibiotics to cure diseases. Penicillin for example, is derived from the mold Penicillium.

The three mechanism for disease caused by molds are infection, allergy, and toxicity.

The antibiotic penicillin  (from Penicillium)), and several cholesterol-lowering drugs (such as Lovastatin, from Aspergillus terreus) are derived from molds.

Some molds produce mycotoxins. Extended or high exposure of mycotoxins can lead to neurological problems, even death. On the other hand low doses of mycotoxins can be beneficial for humans, e.g. Penicillin to fight off infection.

Allergy symptoms caused by mold are watery, itchy eyes, a chronic cough, sinus problems, nasal blockage, frequent sneezing, rashes, conjunctivitis, inability to concentrate, difficulty breathing, fatigue. Symptoms usually disappear when the mold is removed.

Factors contribute to increasing mold counts:

  • Poor housekeeping practice (leaving      dirty dishes, food, cloth and wet towels lying around the house, keeping      trash in the house, and infrequent house cleaning.)
  • Using ceiling fans instead of air      conditions because humidity is not removed from the air. Inefficient      filters used in the heating/cooling system allow dirt to accumulate which      provide “food” for mold.

Preventing moisture from accumulating is the most important principle in mold control for allergy sufferers. The best way to get rid of mold indoors is by keeping room temperatures within 65° – 70°F and the relative humidity level within 45%-65%.

Charcoal and /or baking soda is a good practice to remove the odor of the  mold. Just place bowls of baking soda in the area to absorb odor.

To clean up mold in the house, best chemicals are; Bleach, borax, vinegar, ammonia.

Top 5 Airborne Allergy Triggers

Inhalant allergens are airborne allergens. Inhaling airborne allergens can affect the eyes, nose, ears, voice box, throat, airways, lungs, trachea, bronchioles and skin. Typical allergic symptoms caused by airborne allergens include sneezing, runny nose, and nasal congestion (allergic rhinitis or hay fever). When an allergic victim’s eyes are affected, they may experience itchy, watery and red eyes.

Most common airborne allergens:

  • Pollen : Pollen come from wind-pollinating plants. These include trees, grasses and weeds. Common tree pollens are olive, birch, elm, and walnuts. Grasses generate much pollen. Examples include blue, rye, bermuda grasses, and red top. Weeds  are mostly wind-pollinated. Examples of these are ragweed, pigweed, sagebrush, tumbleweed. Ragweed is the most important cause of seasonal allergic hay fever. There are many more trees, grasses and weeds that generate allergy-cause pollens.
  • Mold Spores: Many types of molds live in our environment. Mold can be found almost everywhere in indoor and outdoor areas that are warm, dark, and/or moist. Molds are that commonly grow on bread and food left out in the open. It is also mold that grows along the grout in the shower. Mold reproduce by sending tiny spores into the air.
  • Cat Dander, Dog Dander: Cats groom themselves, they lick their fur and when the saliva (which contain a specific protein) dries, it flakes off into microscopic particles that float throughout the air. Dander does not come from hair or skin itself, but comes from a protein produced by the saliva. Cat dander is not dandruff. Dandruff is composed of skin cells.  Cat dander becomes airborne, landing on different surfaces, like human’s skin and clothing. Through the air, dander can enter the mucous membranes in the lungs, causing allergies to some individuals. Cat dander allergens can remain airborne for long periods of time. They are also very sticky and cling to wall surfaces and clothing.  Cat dander particles are about 1/10th the size of dust mites. Cats may be more likely than dogs to cause allergic reactions because they lick themselves more, may be held more, and spend more time in the house, close to humans.
  • House Dust Mites: Dust mites are microscopic animals. The droppings and decaying bodies of dust mites are common allergens. These dust mites live all around us, in bedding, carpets, stuffed furniture, stuffed animals, old clothing. They feed on human skin scales. Dust mites are most common in humid climates. They don’t survive when the humidity is below 50%. If droppings or dust mites are inhaled or come in contact with the skin, they may cause allergy, asthma, eczema symptoms.
  • Cockroaches: Cockroach allergen is believed to derive from feces, saliva, and the bodies of these insects. Cockroaches live all over the world, from tropical areas to the coldest spots on earth. The amount of roach allergen in house dust or air can be measured. Allergen particles are large and settle rapidly on surfaces. They became airborne when the air is stirred by people moving around.

Local Allergy Forecast

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Allergy sufferers could be getting hit from every angle today as the pollen count for all allergens are very high for the first time this season, a local specialist says.

“Mold, weeds and ragweed are all high, and also grass is high, which may surprise many people,” Dr. Joseph Leija, a Loyola University Health System allergist, said in a statement.

Corn grass is the culprit, with high levels are caused by harvesting of the corn, which is a member of the grass family, according to Leija, who performs the Gottlieb Allergy Count, the official count for the Midwest.

Leija blames sunshine, humidity and hot temperature — combined with the recent rains — for keeping the mold count consistently high. Add in the corn grass and “headaches and sinus congestion will be common among Chicagoans today,”  he said.

“Midwesterners with sensitive respiratory systems will feel general fatigue and  experience itchy throats and  runny noses,” the statement said.

He advises allergy sufferers to stay indoors, keep windows closed, run air conditioners, and take their medications.