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Allergies and why they matter

As we travel through this allergy season, I am actually having an easier time of it than usual, in what is apparently one of the worst in Southeastern Oklahoma in several years.  Due to the lack of a cold winter, we did not have the period to kill off the normal plants and decrease the load, so I have a great deal of patients in my office complaining of allergy symptoms that in many instances never had.

What exactly are allergies?

According to the Institute of Public Health allergies are defined as “an exaggerated immune response or reaction to substances that are generally not harmful.” 1.   The key to that definition is “generally.”  Because of that word we are aware that there are those that are harmful.  Today more than ever we hear about children who have anaphylactic reactions to foods such as peanuts and nuts.  And yes, I did mean to separate them, because a peanut is technically a member of the legume family and not a nut at all.  Other foods that commonly trigger an allergic reaction include shellfish, eggs, wheat, milk and soy.  These are not always as serious as anaphylaxis but they can be.   Today there is a big attempt to remove milk from the diet, and creates gluten free diet, and unless you are a celiac (allergic to the binding protein in wheat, rye and other common grains) it is found to be a limited benefit in others.  However, limiting your gluten intake may make you feel better, if only due to removing most of the processed food from your diet.  And for those that are allergic to soy, well this diet would cause more problems than not, since many of the replacement foods contain soy.

Another issue that is appearing with soy is that in males in may lead to hypogonadism and infertility.  Now these studies are early and they are still looking closer, but one of the beliefs is that the link may be the result of soy breaking into down into estrogen like compounds and at least temporarily decreasing the sperm count.  Soy can also as I learned in the past week cause anaphylaxis.

 

This picture is actually my son, 30 minutes after his school gave him a large dose of benedryl, which may have been more than the recommended dosage, but with his whole face swelling up, I think it was the better of the two choices.

I myself have food allergies, and hay fever, and everything else that goes with it.  I spent years wearing long sleeves in hot weather, and other ridiculous things to hide arms so that I didn’t have the ridiculous questions about the “track marks” on my arms, and “how I couldn’t hit the vein.”  This is my arm today

This is my arm today.  It actually is relatively under control  Yes you can see the eczema- but there are only a few spots that are terribly red and irritated.  And there is the scratch on the arm.  Must have done that in my sleep.  I am better most days now that I am older and more aware of the damage that I do so I can at least attempt not to scratch.  Those white spaces scarring from the years of scratching.  It makes my skin fairly tough, and hard to take blood, well at least getting through the skin- once through the veins are right there.  But this is enough of an issue that I had to argue with the people at the blood back that they could take my blood.  I mean there is a blood shortage, and you want to not take my blood because of a little scar tissue.  Once the needle is in the vein it all comes out the same

Anyway, other than the unsightly skin, and itchy, watery eyes, and sneezy nose- why do allergies matter?  I mean if those reasons are not enough.  The National Institute of Public health states that most children outgrow their allergies- I am not so sure.  I haven’t outgrown mine yet.  But the Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America estimates that allergies cost $14.5 billion a year.  This includes the direct costs of $1.3 billion for office visits and $11 billion for medication, both prescription and over the counter.  The rest are the indirect costs of missing of work and decreased productivity.  “For adults, allergies (hay fever) is the 5th leading chronic disease and a major cause of work absenteeism and “presenteeism,” resulting in nearly 4 million missed or lost workdays each year, resulting in a total cost of more than $700 million in total lost productivity.” 2  This makes allergies the 5th leading cause of doctor visits in the United States.

If possible removal of the allergen is recommended for those that suffer from allergies, and those that suffer heavily may benefit from allergy testing and immunotherapy.  At the very least, there might be an improvement in the allergy sufferers quality of life.

 

 

1. “Allergies” A.D.A.M.  Medical Encyclopedia  PUBMed Health  last reviewe October 2011, obtained online at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001815/(May 6, 2012)

2. Allergy Facts and Figures.  Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America found online at http://www.aafa.org/display.cfm?id=9&sub=30 (May 6, 2012)

 

 

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