Jul
07
2018

Asthma In Adults

On April 6, 2018 CNN published an article about asthma in adults. It was called “Developing Severe Asthma in Adulthood”.

Asthma in adults occurs with a frequency of about 2.3 per 1000 people per year. This publication also noted that women suffer from this condition more often than men. For both sexes the occurrence of asthma in adults peaks at 35 years of age.

Symptoms of asthma

The triggering factors for asthma can be infections, allergies, or the condition can come on spontaneously. Coughing is one of the main symptoms. You may be breathless when walking stairs. You may feel weak or tired when exercising. After exercise you may be wheezing or coughing. If you measure your breathing capacity with a peak flow meter, the values are lower than normal. Cold air or irritants like cigarette smoke may trigger coughing or wheezing. In industrial workers the trigger for asthma can be noxious fumes.

Diagnosis of asthma

Spirometry

Your doctor likely will order a test, called spirometry. You are breathing into a tube with a connection to a spirometer. A technician will instruct you to breathe out to the max (maximal exhalation). Next you will have to breathe in as quickly as you can. These breathing activities translate into a breathing curve on the read-out of the spirometer. With asthma there is a certain degree of restriction of airflow due to spasms in the smaller bronchial tubes, called bronchioles. This will be obvious from the breathing pattern of the spirometry read-out.

Methacholine challenge test

When the spirometry test is normal or near normal, a Methacholine challenge test can be another diagnostic tool. If this produces an asthma attack, it is clear that the person does indeed have asthma.

Measuring nitric oxide in your breath

Our bodies normally produce nitric oxide, and a small amount of it appears in your breath. But if there is a large amount of it present in your breath, it indicates chronic inflammation in your airways, which can be one of the causes of asthma.

Other tests to rule out other related diseases

Your doctor may want to order sinus x-rays to rule out sinusitis or a chest X-ray to rule out pneumonia. If he suspects allergies a referral to an allergist sill be next. The specialist will do skin prick tests to see what you are reacting to.

Differential diagnosis of asthma and other diseases

When the physician is thinking about an asthma diagnosis, it will be necessary to exclude other diseases first. It is important to exclude a bronchial or lung infection as well as the presence of emphysema or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Clots in the pulmonary vasculature (pulmonary emboli) have to be ruled out. When there is a history of gastroesophageal reflux, tests should exclude that there is aspirated gastric contents into the lung. Another condition that could bring on wheezing is chronic congestive heart failure, where the heart fails to pump enough blood, and shortness of breath is a consequence. Tests are available to exclude all of these conditions.

Treatment of asthma in adults

Anti-inflammatory medication

As all patients with asthma have inflammation in the airways, it is important to use corticosteroid inhalers that will control this. These inhalers will control the swelling and mucous production in the lining of the bronchial tubes. With the daily use of these inhalers the airflow improves, the airways become less sensitive and the patient experiences fewer asthma episodes.

Bronchodilators

Bronchodilators are inhalers that will relax the muscle bands around the bronchial tubes. This allows the patient to breather easier. The mucous flows more freely and can be coughed up easier. There are short-acting and long-acting forms of bronchodilators. Your physician will instruct you which one to use.

Asthma In Adults

Asthma In Adults

Conclusion

Adult onset asthma is separate from asthma of childhood. Often the triggers are allergies or irritants, including industrial irritants. With a proper diagnosis and treatment adult asthmatics have a normal life expectancy. It is important to control the inflammation of the airways with anti-inflammatory corticosteroid inhalers. For acute asthma attacks a bronchodilator must be used right away to ensure normal airflow is restored. The patient learns how to modify the asthma therapy. As a result there are very few occasions where the patient would need treatment in a hospital. Most patients can treat an asthma attack quickly and they respond very well to the treatment. As a result adult asthmatics can lead active lives and have no physical limitations.

Mar
15
2014

Mold Allergies Often Overlooked

In a recent news story extensive mold infestation was found in a house that had oriented strand boards (OSB) instead of plywood walls. The house also was tightly sealed trapping moisture, which contributed to the extensive mold problem.

Mold problems have been around for centuries, but only in the past few decades allergists  have pointed out to their patients how important it is to prevent this from happening.

In the following I will review a few typical scenarios that can lead to mold accumulation.

1. Mold from airtight house construction

The homeowner described in the link above is not the only case in the world that has a mold problem. Energy efficient homes are popular because they save energy costs; homeowners often also respond to gas companies, electric utility companies and government incentives to convert to airtight home construction.

In the 1980’s the construction industry introduced the cheaper OSB products to replace the more expensive plywood for wall construction. This is often the problem with newer house construction. However, older homes are not immune to mold development.

2. Roof leaks in older homes

Older homes that were built in the 1970’s may have plywood walls and have a bit of airflow from poorer wall construction, which would prevent mold formation. But roofs are older and do not always get replaced right away when a leak is detected. It may even take some time in areas where there is less precipitation before it is picked up during a particularly heavy rainstorm. Water that enters from a leaky roof can form a puddle on top of the ceiling where mold softens the drywall material until a leak in the ceiling causes water to drip down onto the floor. The mold spores multiply particularly well in wall-to-wall carpeting, but OSB material is also a good growth opportunity for molds due to the mini air spaces between the glued wood pieces. Plywood with its several tight layers is much more resistant to water penetration and mold growth.

Mold Allergies Often Overlooked

Mold Allergies Often Overlooked

3. Mold growth after hurricanes

After hurricane Sandy images of “black mold” were frequently shown in the media. The problem is that after 48 hours anything that was in contact with water produces mold. However, often with disasters like hurricanes there are evacuation orders and you cannot return to your home for several days. There may be further delay because there is a waiting period for insurers to assess the amount of damage, before you can clean all surfaces affected by mold.

The end is result often that expensive mold sanitation is needed or the person ends up moving away and the house is levelled before a new house can be built.

4. Effects of molds

People with preexisting allergies and asthma are more susceptible to the effects of molds. It leads to itchy eyes, wheezing, coughing, and exacerbation of asthma.

Here is a brief overview what the CDC is stating about mold. This site also explains that you can recognize a mold problem because of a musty smell or foul stench in the air and because of the appearance (discoloration of ceilings or walls, water damage).

You can clean hard surfaces with bleach water. Bleach kills molds, but it may have to be cleaned several times within a few days to get rid of the last spores. Whatever cannot be sanitized in this way must be removed or replaced.

5. Health concerns regarding molds

Ref. 1 reviewed the public concern about the toxic effects of molds. It noted that with the Internet and the popular press having exaggerated some of the connections of symptoms with mold allergies, the term “mold madness” has been coined (Ref.2). Despite the paranoia in the general public about toxins from molds, there is only a small percentage of the population that is sensitive to molds where IgE antibodies and IgG antibodies against molds can be determined through blood tests. These individuals often are also allergic to other environmental allergens like grass pollen and dust mites. The asthmatic reactions in sensitive people are not as severe as what peanut traces would do to peanut sensitive patients, but skin testing and blood test screening for specific IgE and IgG antibodies do often confirm that sensitive people indeed can have specific mold allergies. In the vast majority of people these tests are negative and correlations between mold infestations and allergic reactions could not be verified (Ref.1).

6. Fixing mold damage and dealing with allergies

It follows from this that you should remove any visible molds and fix whatever the cause was for its appearance. Carefully disinfect the areas with diluted bleach water (the CDC recommends 1 cup of bleach per 1 gallon of water) several times. Make sure the areas are dry and not musty otherwise you  have  work on improving ventilation. If you are not one of these hypersensitive persons, there is nothing to worry further. However, if you are hypersensitive an allergist should examine you. Common indoor molds that cause the so-called “immediate type hyper reactivity” are due to the mold species Aspergillum and Penicillium. Most outdoor molds that can cause problems for sensitive people are due to Alternaria and Cladosporium species. The latter would be the ones found in carpets after a leaky roof has caused problems. When the allergist has found specific allergies to one or several of the mold species, allergy shots may be prescribed that would have to be given weekly to the sensitive person who was found to have environmentally induced asthma. Often it takes several years for these desensitization shots to stop the affected person from reacting  to molds. In some cases patients need to stay on these shots life-long.

Conclusion

The key with regard to mold allergies is to prevent mold growth by being vigilant about detecting early problems with leaky roofs, walls and cleaning up water damage right away. When there is a musty tell- tale smell, investigate right away and remedy the problem. For most people this is the end of the story. However, a small percentage of very sensitive people need to consult with an allergist who should investigate whether or not these people would benefit from allergy injections.

In some rare cases the affected person may have to relocate to another house that is free from molds.

More information about asthma: http://nethealthbook.com/lung-disease/asthma-introduction/

References

1.Shannon: Haddad and Winchester’s Clinical Management of Poisoning and Drug Overdose, 4th ed. Copyright 2007 Saunders

2. Zacharisen MC, Fink JN: “Is indoor “mold madness” upon us?” Ann. Allergy Asthma Immun. 2005; 94:12-13.

Last edited Nov. 7, 2014

Sep
28
2013

Sleepless Nights

Sleeping problems (insomnia) are very common. About 10% of the population suffers from chronic insomnia; 30% of the population suffers from occasional sleep problems. In a large outpatient population of a clinic consisting of 3500 patients who had at least one major clinical condition, 50% complained of insomnia, 16% had severe symptoms, 34% had mild symptoms (Ref.1). Insomnia is more common among women, and older people as well as in people with medical or psychiatric illnesses. Long-term studies have shown that the same insomnia problems persist throughout many years. It is not possible to offer a simple remedy for insomnia, because insomnia is a complex problem. Here I will discuss some of the causes of insomnia and also discuss some of the treatment options.

Symptoms of insomnia

The person who suffers from insomnia will usually state that they have problems falling asleep. Worries of the day suddenly circulate through their thoughts and they toss and turn nervously looking at the clock from time to time and getting more and more anxious that they cannot sleep. Others fall asleep OK, but in the middle of the night they wake up perhaps to visit the restroom, but then they cannot go back to sleep. Others wake up 2 hours before their normal alarm clock time and they feel their stomach rumbling making it impossible to fall back to sleep. Older people with chronic diseases and general poor health suffer more from insomnia. In this setting insomnia may be more related to the underlying disease rather than old age. Psychiatric disorders also are associated with more insomnia. Treat the underlying psychiatric illness, and the insomnia disappears.

Although insomnia is a sleep disturbance during the nighttime, people who are affected with this complain of daytime fatigue, of overstimulation, yet they catch themselves making frequent mistakes, and their inability to pay attention gets them involved in accidents and falls. Longitudinal studies have shown (Ref. 1) that people with chronic insomnia are more likely to develop psychiatric disease, such as major depression,  anxiety disorder and alcohol and substance abuse. Unfortunately these disorders can by themselves again cause insomnia, which reinforces chronic insomnia. Insomnia leads to poorer social and physical functioning, affects emotions, leads to a lack of vitality and physical endurance, contributes to worsening of pain and can affect general and mental health.

Research about insomnia

Much has been learnt from sleep studies using polysomnography monitoring during a full night’s sleep. These studies have been used mainly as a research tool. In such studies eye movements, brain wave activity, muscle activity, chest movements, airflow, heart beats, oxygen saturation and snoring (with a microphone) are all simultaneously recorded. This way restless leg syndrome, sleep apnea, snoring, seizure disorders, deep depression etc. that can all lead to insomnia can be diagnosed and separated from insomnia. The stages of sleep (wakefulness, stage 1 to 3 sleep and the REM sleep stage) can also be readily measured using polysomnography (Ref.2). According to this reference the majority of insomnia cases do not need this complex procedure done.

Sleepless Nights

Sleepless Nights

Causes of insomnia

Traditionally insomnia cases are classified into primary insomnia and secondary insomnia. Secondary insomnia is caused by all of the factors discussed below. When they are dealt with, we are left with cases of primary insomnia.

The following medical conditions can cause insomnia: heart disease, pulmonary diseases like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD); gastrointestinal disease like liver cirrhosis, pancreatitis, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers, colitis, Crohn’s disease; chronic kidney disease; musculoskeletal disease like arthritis, fractures, osteoporosis; neurodegenerative disease like MS, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease; endocrine disease like diabetes, hyper- or hypothyroidism, adrenal gland fatigue and insufficiency; and chronic pain conditions. Also, psychiatric conditions like major depression, schizophrenia and anxiety disorders can cause insomnia.

This list in not complete, but it gives you an idea of how complex the topic of insomnia is.
The physician who is seeing a patient with insomnia needs to rule out any of these other causes of insomnia to be certain that the only condition that is left to treat in the patient is insomnia itself. The other diagnoses have to be dealt with separately or else treatment of insomnia will fail.

Ref. 1 points to a useful model of how to think about causation of insomnia: there are three points to consider, namely predisposing, precipitating, and perpetuating factors. Let’s briefly discuss some of these.

Predisposing factors

We are all different in our personal make-up. If you are well grounded, chances are you are not susceptible to insomnia. Anxious persons or persons who have been through a lot of negative experiences in life will have personality traits that make them more prone to insomnia. Lifestyle choices such as late nights out, drinking with the buddies in a bar (extreme circadian phase tendencies) will have an impact on whether or not you develop insomnia.

Precipitating factors

A situational crisis like a job change or the death of a loved one can initiate insomnia.  However, there could be a medical illness such as a heart attack, a stroke or the new diagnosis of a psychiatric illness that has become a precipitating factor. Sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome belong into this group as well as would the stimulating effect of coffee and caffeine containing drinks. Jet lag and nighttime shift work can also be precipitating factors.

Perpetuating factors

Daytime napping to make up for lost sleep the night before can undermine sleep initiation the following night, which can lead to a vicious cycle. Similarly, the use of bedtime alcoholic drinks leads to sleep disruption later that night and can become a perpetuating factor, if this habit is maintained. Even the psychological conditioning of being anxious about whether or not you will fall asleep easily or not the next night can become a perpetuating factor.

I will return to this classification and the factor model of causation of insomnia when we address treatment options.

Drugs that can cause insomnia

One major possible cause for insomnia  can be side effects from medications that patients are on (would belong to the ‘perpetuating factors’ among causes). Physicians call this “iatrogenic insomnia”. The antidepressants, called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI’s) like Prozac are particularly troublesome with regard to causing insomnia as a side effect. Other antidepressants like trazodone (Desyrel) are used in small doses to help patients with insomnia to fall asleep. Some asthmatics and people with autoimmune diseases may be on prednisone, a corticosteroid drug. This can cause insomnia, particularly in higher doses; so can decongestants you may use for allergies; beta-blockers used for heart disease and hypertension treatment; theophylline, an asthma medication and diuretics. Central nervous stimulants like caffeine or illicit drugs can also cause insomnia. Hormone disbalance in general and hyperthyroidism specifically as well as Cushing’s disease, where cortisol levels are high will cause insomnia.

Treatment of insomnia

So, how should the physician approach a patient with insomnia? First it has to be established whether there is secondary insomnia present due to one of the predisposing, precipitating or perpetuating factors. In other words, is there secondary insomnia due to other underlying illnesses? If so, these are being addressed first. Lifestyle choices (staying up late every night) would have to be changed; alcohol and drug abuse and overindulging in coffee or caffeine containing drinks needs to be dealt with. Cognitive therapy may be beneficial when mild depression or anxiety is a contributing factor to insomnia.

The remaining insomnia (also medically termed “primary insomnia”) is now being treated.

The following general points are useful to get into the sleeping mode (modified from Ref. 3):

  1. Ensure your bedroom is dark, soundproof, and comfortable with the room temperature being not too warm, and you develop a “sleep hygiene”. This means you get to sleep around the same time each night, have some down time 1 hour or so before going to bed and get up after your average fill of sleep (for most people between 7 to 9 hours). Do not sleep in, but use an alarm clock to help you get into your sleep routine.
  2. Avoid caffeine drinks, alcohol, nicotine and recreational drugs. If you must smoke, don’t smoke later than 7PM.
  3. Get into a regular exercise program, either at home or at a gym.
  4. Avoid a heavy meal late at night. A light snack including some warm milk would be OK.
  5. Do not use your bedroom as an office, reading place or media center. This would condition you to be awake.  Reserve your bedroom use only for intimacy and sleeping.
  6. If you wake up at night and you are wide awake, leave the bedroom and sit in the living room doing something until you feel tired and then return to bed.
  7. A self-hypnosis recording is a useful adjunct to a sleep routine. Listen to it when you go to bed to give you something to focus on (low volume) and you will find it easier to stop thinking.

Drugs and supplements for insomnia

1. In the past benzodiazepines, such as diazepam (Valium), lorazepam (Ativan), fluorazepam (Dalmane), temazepam (Restoril), triazolam (Halcion) and others were and still are used as sleeping pills. However, it was noted that there are significant side effects with this group of drugs. Notably, there is amnesia (memory loss), which can be quite distressing to people such as not remembering that someone phoned while under the influence of the drug, you promised certain things, but you cannot remember the following morning what it was. Another problem is the development of addiction to the drugs with worse insomnia when the drugs are discontinued. Many physicians have stopped prescribing benzodiazepines.

2. There are non-benzodiazepines drugs that are used as sleeping pills (hypnotics), such as Zaleplon (Sonata), Zolpidem (Ambien) and Eszopiclone (Lunesta).  They seem to be better tolerated.

3. Ramelteon, a melatonin agonist, is available by prescription in the US. It probably is the best-tolerated mild sleeping pill and works similar to melatonin, but is more expensive. Chances are that your physician likely would prescribe one of the non-benzodiazepines drugs or Ramelteon for you as they do not seem to be addicting.

4. However, there is an alternative: Many patients with insomnia tolerate a low dose of trazodone (Desyrel), which is an antidepressant with sleep restoring properties. A low dose of 25 to 50 mg at bedtime is usually enough for insomnia. This allows the patient to fall asleep within about 30 minutes of taking it, and sleep lasts through most of the night without a hangover in the morning. Many specialists who run sleep laboratories recommend trazodone when primary insomnia is diagnosed. However, this is still a drug with potential side effects as mentioned in the trazodone link, but 50 mg is only ¼ of the full dose, so the side effects will also be less or negligible.

5. I prefer the use of melatonin, which is the natural brain hormone designed to put us to sleep. Between 1 mg and 6 mg are sufficient for most people. We know from other literature that up to 20 mg of melatonin has been used in humans as an immune stimulant in patients with metastatic melanoma with no untoward side effects other than nightmares and some tiredness in the morning. A review from the Vanderbilt University, Holland found melatonin to be very safe as a sleeping aid. There are several melatonin receptors in the body of vertebrates (including humans), which are stimulated by melatonin.

6. Other natural methods are the use of L-Tryptophan at a dose of 500 mg at bedtime, which can be combined with melatonin. It is the amino acid contained in turkey meat, which makes you tired after a Thanksgiving meal. GABA is another supplement, which is the relaxing hormone of your brain, but with this supplement tolerance develops after about 4 to 5 days, so it is only suitable for very short term use. Herbal sleep aids are hops, valerian extract and passionflower extract. They are available in health food stores.

Conclusion

A lack of sleep (insomnia) is almost a given in our fast paced lives.

When it comes to treatment, all of the other causes of secondary insomnia need to be treated or else treatment attempts would fail. What is left is primary insomnia. This is treated as follows:

We need to review our sleeping habits, lifestyles and substance abuse. Remove what is detrimental to your sleep. Start with the least invasive treatment modalities such as self-hypnosis tapes, melatonin, L-Tryptophan or herbal extracts. Should this not quite do the trick, asks your doctor for advice. The non-benzodiazepines drugs or Ramelteon would be the next level up. It may be that an alternative such as low dose trazodone would be of help. Only, if all this fails would I recommend to go to the more potent sleeping pills (keep in mind the potential for addiction to them).

References

1. David N. Neubauer, MD (John Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD): Insomnia. Primary Care: Clinics in Office Practice – Volume 32, Issue 2 (June 2005)  © 2005, W. B. Saunders Company

2: Behrouz Jafari, MD and Vahid Mohsenin, MD (Yale Center for Sleep Medicine, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT, USA): Polysomnography. Clinics in Chest Medicine – Volume 31, Issue 2 (June 2010), © 2010 W. B. Saunders Company

3. Jean Gray, editor: “Therapeutic choices”, 5th edition, Chapter 8 by Jonathan A.E. Fleming, MB, FRCPC: Insomnia, © 2008, Canadian Pharmacists Association.

Last edited Sept. 28, 2014

Apr
14
2013

Allergies Not Only In Spring

Springtime is the time of spring allergies: those affected develop a runny nose, itchy eyes and in more severe cases they may experience a flare-up of asthma. Allergies can be triggered by the increase of pollen counts in the air that occurs every spring. In those who are sensitive, this leads to antibody formation in the blood. But often people have not only sensitivities to the pollens of spring bloomers; they may also be allergic to spores from molds, to dust mites and may have underlying allergies to foods. The immune system has memory cells that memorize that a person has had an allergic encounter to one of these items in the past, and allergic reactions can become more significant with a future encounter. Allergies can also be made worse when a person has food sensitivities and there are cross reactions between pollens of trees or grasses that can share surface protein regions with similar protein regions in foods.

It is known that cross allergies are possible between birch pollen and apple, carrots or hazelnut. In its extreme form allergies due to antibodies, called IgE antibodies, can cause anaphylaxis. A person presensitized by inhaling birch pollen, after eating an apple, hazelnuts or a carrot can develop itching of the throat, swelling of the lips and very quickly deteriorate getting into an anaphylactic shock.

Other cross allergies exist between ragweed pollen, which is a powerful inhalant allergen and melons or bananas. Again there are specific IgE antibodies that are responsible for this immune reaction. In this case the ragweed allergy primes the immune system to produce IgE antibodies, which are potentiated by certain foods that share similar protein components as the ragweed pollen.

In the following I will deal with inhalant allergies separately from food allergies.

Allergies Not Only In Spring

Allergies Not Only In Spring

Inhalant allergies

Inhalant allergies are easier to diagnose and to treat than food allergies. Your doctor will likely refer you to an allergist when you have allergies that do not respond to treatment with intermittent over the counter antihistamines. Your symptoms may come on in the spring with itchy eyes and a runny nose. From year to year you find that you become more and more dependent on antihistamines and nose drops to unplug your nose. The allergist likely will do sensitivity tests, which consist of skin prick or scratch tests on the back or the forearms.

In more serious allergies, where the patient has coughing and wheezing attacks following allergic reactions, the allergist may suggest to start intermittent allergy injections alongside the standard inhalation therapy for asthma. An allergy serum is prescribed where the lab mixes ingredients based on all of the positive tests that led to a strongly positive skin reactions when allergy testing was done. Typically the family doctor or his nurse will start the allergy injections initially in weekly intervals, later when the maintenance dose is reached, it may be modified to injections every 10 to 14 days.

The allergy injections stimulate the immune system to produce harmless competing antibodies, which counteract the disease producing allergic antibodies. In the process of desensitization shots the immune system will normalize, which means that the inflammatory response of the immune system settles down to normal.

This is not the end of the story with inhalant allergies. The patient needs to be retested on a yearly basis by the allergist. The immune system changes all the time as new allergies can develop and old ones may go away.

Retesting is necessary to keep track of what is going on and to change the composition of the allergy serum. Those patients who are working together with the allergist can do very well, and often they gradually outgrow their allergies. Others may not be so lucky. They may have reactions to the allergy injections. In these cases avoidance of what causes the allergy may be the only solution to treat the allergies.

There is an alternative to allergy injections, which has been used in Europe, namely a sublingual immunotherapy. Recently there has been a review of the literature for FDA approval that is needed for oral desensitization for ragweed, dust mites, grass pollen and cat dander. It will take some time before the FDA approval process will become a reality for sublingual desensitization in the US.

A special form of inhalant allergies are allergies to pets (mainly dogs and cats, but also allergies to petting zoo animals). The dander that the human comes in contact with is a protein contained in the animal hair. It causes hives when it touches the skin. This occurs as the dander is absorbed through the skin and meets the local mast cells that release histamine. This in turn is responsible for the hive formation. Sneezing and even asthma can develop from inhaled protein particles that reach the lungs. Allergy injections for the treatment of animal dander allergies are very limited as they often do not help or make the allergies worse. Avoidance of animal contact is usually what the allergist recommends as the solution, a recommendation, which often is not appreciated by the affected animal lover.

Food allergies

Often we eat  some foods more frequently, because they are our favorites. This means that our gut lymphocytes that get in contact with these foods can start to react to one or more of the foods we ingest. At this time we may experience abdominal cramps, diarrhea, vomiting and a host of other possible symptoms.

The physician will tell the patient that testing for food allergies is a problem as most of the usual skin tests employed for inhalant allergies do not reliably work in determining food allergies. The doctor will ask the patient or the mother of the child with food allergies to keep a food diary and keep track of the allergic symptoms in the diary as well. An elimination diet will have to be devised based on the information gathered in the diary as it becomes clear from that record which foods cause which symptoms. The foods causing allergic symptoms are subsequently eliminated. This is a cumbersome process, but it is the most reliable method of testing and treating food allergies.

In the past there was a blood tests, called RAST test, which tested for common food allergies that can cause severe allergic reactions like egg, milk, peanut, tree nuts, wheat, crustacean shellfish and soy. Since about 2010 this has been replaced by the more sensitive ImmunoCAP Specific IgE test.

Children often develop food allergies to egg, milk, wheat, nuts, peanuts and soy, which are food allergies with positive IgE tests. When they age, their immune system develops tolerance to many of these foods and they often outgrow these allergies.

There are other popular lab tests where a blood drop is analyzed with IgG, IgM and IgE antibodies against a panel of foods. A number of suppliers offer these tests.  However, the specificity, sensitivity and reliability can pose problems with regard to the interpretation of the results: allergists often point out that a test may be a false positive when a person likes certain foods and IgG antibodies against this food show up despite the patient having no symptoms. Another specialist may interpret this to indicate that the body shows early sensitization to a certain food, but clinically it is not yet obvious. In other words the sensitivity of the test is so high that it undermines the validity of the test. Recently a panel of international scientists reviewed the validity of these IgG based food intolerance tests and they found the tests not reliable.

The immune responses to food allergies are complicated as there are immediate type immune reactions and delayed type immune reactions. The immediate immune responses are investigated with the above mentioned ImmunoCAP Specific IgE test. The delayed immune responses can be measured using the ELISA test.

Other considerations about allergies

You see from this discussion that a patient with allergies needs a properly trained allergist who will do a comprehensive analysis involving a thorough history, examination, blood tests and immune tests.  The test results have to be interpreted with the experience and the clinical judgment of the specialist.

Since the 1970’s when Clearfield wheat was introduced around the world on a large scale, which has a much higher gliadin (gluten) content than the old wheat varieties. As a result of exposure to this new type of wheat gluten intolerance and leaky gut syndrome have increased substantially in the world population. Genetically modified foods like soy, corn, sugar beets, canola and more have challenged the immune system of sensitive humans even more to an extent, which is not fully understood yet. We do know that some people can develop autoimmune diseases and this may be the reason that a host of diseases that belong into this disease category (MS, rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, ankylosing spondylitis etc.) are much more common now than in the past.

After food elimination for 2 to 12 months depending on the severity of the food allergy, your body may have eliminated the allergy to the food you have avoided, in other words your body built up tolerance. Before you expose yourself to any food that you used to be allergic to and that you want to re-test, it is best to have an EpiPen ready in case your allergy has not resolved. Caution is necessary with regard to foods that cause more severe allergies, e.g. shellfish or peanuts, which may last life long. It is safer to avoid these foods that cause more severe allergies altogether.

Allergic reactions of the immune system belong into the category of chronic inflammatory diseases. These are known to be the root of chronic diseases like asthma, arthritis, heart disease, high blood pressure and cancer. When you are vigilant about allergies and get proper assessment and treatment by an allergist, you will prevent serious health problems including the above mentioned chronic diseases.

More on asthma, which is a chronic inflammatory lung condition, often associated with multiple environmental allergies:

http://nethealthbook.com/lung-disease/asthma-introduction/

Last edited Nov. 6, 2014

Dec
01
2008

Treating Gastroesophageal Reflux Helps Asthmatic Kids

Asthma in children can be associated with allergies, but as Dr. Aaron K. Kobernick reported recently, other health conditions can also contribute to childhood asthma. He found that approximately two thirds of children with persistent asthma who had no allergic symptoms had another health condition, namely gastroesophageal reflux disease. The condition of acid reflux aggravates asthma. A prospective study examined children with moderate persistent asthma over a 2 year period. Initially the children underwent spirometry testing to assess their lung function. Another test involved monitoring of the acidity (ph values) in the esophagus of those children. The latter test demonstrated that the majority of the asthmatic kids also had GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease).

Treating Gastroesophageal Reflux Helps Asthmatic Kids

Acid reflux aggravates asthma

 

 

 

Those children who were free of acid reflux received asthma medication only, but the patients with acid reflux and asthma received medication to treat the reflux.
In some cases surgical intervention was necessary. It became apparent that the children whose reflux was treated either surgically or with medication had an improvement of asthma symptoms of 22 to 25 %, whereas asthma medication alone contributed only to an improvement of 11%. Dr. Kobernick concluded that the large airways can react to the exposure of stomach acid, which results in an aggravation of asthma symptoms. Treating the acid reflux condition will result in less asthma in young patients with GERD.

More information on:

1. Asthma: http://nethealthbook.com/lung-disease/asthma-introduction/

2. GERD: http://nethealthbook.com/digestive-system-and-gastrointestinal-disorders/acid-reflux-gerd-esophagitis-barretts-esophagus/

Annual Meeting of the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, November 6 – 11, 2008, Seattle, Washington

Last updated Nov. 6, 2014

Jun
01
2008

Boost Babies’ Health with Mom’s Diet

Prenatal supplements and good advice on proper nutrition during pregnancy have long been included in proper prenatal care. Importance has been placed on folic acid to prevent neural tube defects in the fetal development. Calcium is recommended, often in the form of dairy products, but it does not end there: just swallowing the supplement and adding some more milk may be helpful but not quite enough. Certain dietary habits have been found more beneficial, such as the eating habits in the Mediterranean countries. A research team from the University of Crete in Heraclion, Greece included women who were involved in antenatal care at all general practices in Menorca, Spain. The study took place in the time frame of 12 month starting in 1997. After six and a half years 460 children were also included in the analysis.

Dietary habits were studied and assessed by food questionnaires and the children were assessed for the development of allergies and asthma.

Boost Babies’ Health with Mom’s Diet

Boost Babies’ Health with Mom’s Diet

The children of mothers who consumed the most vegetables, fish and legumes were almost 80% less likely to have persistent wheeze and more than 40 % less likely to have allergies. The results are consistent with the fact that a high level of adherence to the Mediterranean diet during pregnancy is protective not only to the mother but also to the child.

More information about prenatal visits (where nutritional habits are checked as well): http://nethealthbook.com/womens-health-gynecology-and-obstetrics/pregnancy-labor-delivery-2/prenatal-visits/

Reference: The Medical Post, April 22, 2008, page 25

Last edited December 18, 2014

Jul
01
2007

Incense Use Causes Cancer Of The Respiratory System

Incense use has been common in East Asia for a long time, but also in the Western world incense burning is not uncommon. It became very much “in” to burn incense sticks to create a certain “atmosphere” in a room. Incense burning during religious celebrations in some churches is a custom that goes back well over 1000 years. It is easy enough to observe, how a cloud of incense triggers a chorus of coughing and clearing of throats in a church ceremony. It has never been a laughing matter to people who suffer of allergies and asthma, as incense smoke –just like any other smoke- is a source of airway irritation.

But a bit of a cough and airway irritation are the smaller problems that long term incense use has in store. A study involving 61,320 Singapore Chinese showed that long term users had more than twice the relative risk of non-nasopharyngeal cancers of the upper respiratory tract, compared with people who did not use incense. The risk of squamous cell carcinomas of the lung rose 1.7 fold and the risk of squamous cell carcinomas of the entire respiratory tract rose 1.8-fold among long-term incense users, wrote Dr. Fribourg and his colleagues of the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis who conducted the study. The participants in the study were 45 to 75 years old and free of cancer when they enrolled in the study from 1993 to 1998. Living conditions, life style and dietary factors were examined and results were adjusted for a host of factors, such as cigarette smoking, alcohol intake, gender differences, and intake of Chinese preserved food.

Incense Use Causes Cancer Of The Respiratory System

Incense Use Causes Cancer Of The Respiratory System

The researchers also noted that incense burning is deeply engrained into the way of daily living in Southeast Asia. About half of the population burns incense at home every day. Incense smoke contains a large amount of particular matter and the burning releases many possible carcinogens including polyaromatic hydrocarbons, carbonyls and benzene.

More information regarding nose cancer: http://nethealthbook.com/ear-nose-and-throat-diseases-otolaryngology-ent/nose-problems/nose-cancer/

Reference: First published June 21, 2007 and subsequently published in a 2008 journal.

Last edited November 2, 2014

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Nov
01
2006

Houseplants Responsible For Allergic Reactions

Generally house dust and dust mites, pet dander, feathers, moulds and ragweed are meantioned, when it comes to the topic of allergies. Nuts and peanuts have also been associated with violent allergic reactions.
With skin prick tests (SPT) the allergists can very clearly determine what substances the allergy sufferer is sensitive to.

A small study, which appeared in the September edition of Allergy has shown that allergic rhinitis in a patient, can have its origin in exposure to houseplants. Allergic rhinitis with a runny nose and sneezing is often neglected, as-opposed to asthma or an urticarial rash. It is perceived as more of a nuisance than a threat. Allergic rhinitis sufferers were subjected to SPT’s along with a healthy control group. 78 % of allergic rhinitis patient had a positive STP to at least one plant, while none of the control group developed significant reactions to any of the tested plants.

Houseplants Responsible For Allergic Reactions

Houseplants Responsible For Allergic Reactions

The plants that produced the most frequent sensitization were Ficus benjamina, yucca, ivy and palm tree.

More information about:

1. asthma: http://nethealthbook.com/lung-disease/asthma-introduction/

2. stuffy nose: http://nethealthbook.com/ear-nose-and-throat-diseases-otolaryngology-ent/nose-problems/stuffy-nose/

Reference: The Medical Post, October 10, 2006, page 2

Last edited November 1, 2014

Jun
01
2004

Eczema – More Than Skin Deep

Dermatologists have seen more than a threefold increase of eczema in the last thirty years. The condition is common especially in childhood. Skin irritants can play a role. Dr. Harvey Lui, Professor for Dermatology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, also observed, that eczema is much more common in the Asian population. Patients who came from the warmer climate of Southeast Asia and are exposed to a harsher, colder climate will get into trouble more easily, as dryness of the skin will aggravate the skin condition.

Dr. Lui also stresses, that patient education about sensible skin care is of great importance. Fighting fire with fire – like taking a hot shower to combat itchy and dry skin- will make things worse in the long run. Inflamed skin needs to be kept cool. Dr. Lui also stresses that skin has to be kept from drying out. These simple measures for which no prescription is needed are often neglected.

In severe cases the traditional steroid cream has been replaced by preparations, which have an effect on the immune response. Dr. Lui explains that eczema is partially an exaggerated response of the immune system to whatever is noxious or irritating in the environment. The medication tacrolimus (Prograf) is a naturally derived compound that makes the immune cells (T-cells) less active, as they are responsible for the overactive response. It is called an “immunomodulator”.

Eczema - More Than Skin Deep

Eczema – More Than Skin Deep

Due to this knowledge more treatment options are available than in the past. Atopic eczema is very often combined with asthma and allergies and tends to run in families. As the immune system gets strengthened during childhood, eczema tends to be worse in the young person, and time can be the greatest ally in the healing process.

More info on skin rashes: http://nethealthbook.com/dermatology-skin-disease/skin-rash/

Reference: 1. The Medical Post, March 2, 2004 (p.2 and 65) 2. “Guidelines of care for atopic dermatitis”
Hanifin J – J Am Acad Dermatol – 2004 Mar; 50(3), p.391

Last edited Oct. 26, 2014

Sep
01
2003

Asthma And Wheezing Influenced By Family Lifestyle (Swedish Study)

A new study from Sweden was published by Dr. Magnus Wickman and colleagues,from the Karolinska Hospital in Stockholm, in the medical journal Allergy 2003;58:730-731,742-747. The authors of this study were analyzing data of a prospective birth cohort study of 4089 children who were born in Sweden between 1994 and 1996.

The families were given health questionaires at the age of 2 months to assess whether the family was adhering to the allergy prevention guidelines (see below). Questionaires were again given at the age of 1 year and 2 years of these children. Specific questions were asked regarding environmental conditions in the house where the children lived. In the mid 1990’s allergy prevention guidelines were strongly recommended to the public in Sweden regarding the value of breast feeding, the avoidance of smoking inside the house in the presence of children, also that a house should be kept well ventilated and without dampness. All of these factors, as was stressed by the allergists in Sweden who organized the campaign, would protect the immune system from allergies against molds, dust mites as well as cigarette smoke and should reduce the rates of asthma.
Here are the results in tabular form.

Asthma And Wheezing Influenced By Family Lifestyle (Swedish Study)

Asthma And Wheezing Influenced By Family Lifestyle (Swedish Study)

As can be seen from this table, which is based on families without allergic parents, a two-fold drop of asthma and wheezing occured when the allergy prevention guidelines were followed in the house. With allergic parents the children had an even greater benefit as the reduction of asthma and wheezing was three-fold when compared to controls who did not follow the guidelines. This is one of the few studies, which shows conclusively that allergy prevention works!

Link to asthma chapter of Dr. Schilling’s Net Health Book: http://nethealthbook.com/lung-disease/asthma-introduction/

Swedish Family Lifestyle Study
Agreement with
allergy guidelines
% of asthma and wheezing at ages 1 and 2 of child:
1
year
2
years
Yes (all three measures followed) 6.8% 12.6%
No (one or none of measures followed) 17.9% 24.1%

Last edited October 26, 2014