Welcome to Allergy and Asthma News
Welcome to Allergy and Asthma News, a newsletter with information about how you can find relief from your allergies and asthma and how an allergist can help.
Your best defense against the flu this year is a good offense, especially if you are among the 23 million people who have asthma.
As the world braces for the 2009-2010 flu season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) advice is loud and clear: Get vaccinated. This year's flu season is fully expected to bring another surge of the novel H1N1 or "swine flu" virus, in addition to the other forms of the seasonal flu. While the CDC has advised everyone to be vaccinated, people with asthma are in the top five priority target groups. Because asthma, seasonal flu and swine flu are respiratory conditions, the viruses can trigger more frequent and severe asthma attacks, resulting in a more severe case and longer recovery.
Pregnant women, young children 6 months to 4 years of age, children ages 5 to 18 who have chronic medical conditions, those who care for children younger than 6 months of age and health care workers with direct patient contact have been identified as those who should receive the vaccine first if it is in limited supply.
While H1N1 never disappeared entirely, the number of cases in the United States dropped as expected during the summer months. However, the anticipated increase in the 2009-2010 fall and winter seasons started unusually early this year, with widespread flu activity already reported in several states as early as August.
If you have asthma and the H1N1 vaccination is not available when you first seek it, the CDC recommends that you get the seasonal flu vaccine and return to your health care provider or a public health clinic to request the H1N1 vaccination. Local news reports and your public health department also may help you determine the availability of the vaccine in your area.
The seasonal flu vaccine can be given separately or on the same day as the H1N1 vaccine. In addition to the vaccine, mom's advice also applies here: Frequent hand washing (with soap and water or alcohol-based hand cleaners) and covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze are two of the best ways to stay healthy and prevent the spread of flu. Other preventive tips from the CDC:
- Stay home when you have the flu to prevent spreading it to others.
- Keep your distance from those who are sick.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth, which are the most common ways to spread germs.
- Take care of yourself: Get plenty of sleep each night, drink lots of fluids, eat nutritious foods, stay active and reduce stress.
- Influenza, a.k.a. the flu = a contagious respiratory illness caused by viruses.
- Millions of people in the United States — as many as 1 in 5 — get the flu each year.
- The flu can cause severe illness and life-threatening complications: About 36,000 Americans die from it each year.
- Swine (H1N1), the newest strain of flu, has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization because of its rapid spread across the globe and the number of deaths.
- People with asthma are at increased risk. Like asthma, seasonal flu and swine flu are respiratory conditions. Flu can trigger more frequent and severe asthma attacks, resulting in a more severe case of flu and a longer recovery.
- Flu symptoms include: fever, headache, fatigue, dry cough, sore throat, stuffy nose and body aches.
- If you suspect flu, visit your doctor right away to discuss treatment options.
- Vaccination is the best way to prevent the flu and it is even more important for those who have other health conditions such as asthma. This year there are two recommended flu vaccines: the seasonal flu vaccine and an H1N1 vaccine.
- People with asthma or other chronic health conditions should get the flu vaccine via injection rather than nose spray, ideally in October. It takes about two weeks for sufficient antibodies to develop after the vaccine to help protect you against flu.
- If you're allergic to eggs, talk to your doctor before receiving any flu vaccines.
Thanksgiving, Hanukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and New Year's — the fall and winter holidays bring festive times and seasonal activities that can trigger allergies and asthma. Allergists suggest the following tips to steer clear of potential culprits and enjoy healthy holiday cheer this season.
- Identify the Source of Your Suffering: Finding out what triggers your allergy and asthma symptoms is an essential first step. If you're not sure, make an appointment to see an allergist, who can identify the source of your suffering and help stop it. To take a free self-assessment quiz and receive a personalized relief plan, or to locate an allergist near you, visit Allergy and Asthma Relief.
Wash the Tree Before Trimming: Terpene is a potential allergen found in the oil or sap of live Christmas trees, evergreen wreaths and garlands. Mold also can reside on trees, and pollen is commonly found on junipers and cedar evergreens. Use a leaf blower in a well-ventilated area to remove some of the pollen from live trees and decorations. Wash the tree, especially the trunk, outdoors with a garden hose and leave in a bucket of water in the garage or on a covered porch to dry. Wear gloves when handling the tree to avoid contact with sap.
Artificial trees also may harbor dust and mold. Wash them outside as well to help remove allergy triggers. When storing an artificial tree and decorations for next year, place them in airtight bags or containers.
- Let it Snow… Outside: While the artificial snow contained in aerosol cans helps bring the outdoor ambience in, these sprays can trigger asthma and allergy symptoms. Also be wary of scented candles, scented items including potpourri and wood-burning fireplaces. Your best bet is to avoid using these items if they trigger symptoms.
- Deck the Halls… After a Good Dusting: Menorahs, ornaments and other holiday decorations stored in attics and basements during the off-season often gather dust and mold that can cause an allergic reaction when they are removed from storage and readied for use. Clean each item thoroughly before decking the halls, dining room or tree. When packing these items away, store them in airtight containers to minimize dust and reduce your prep time next year.
- Plan Ahead for Healthy Travel: Traveling for the holidays has its challenges, but there are several things you can do to keep asthma and allergies in control whether you're on the road, on board or at your destination. Talk to an allergist before you depart to identify preventive and emergency relief strategies. Pack your medications in your carry-on bag so they'll always be there for you at a moment's notice. If you're allergic to dust, consider bringing your own pillow and mattress covers. Early morning and late evening travel, when air quality is generally better and traffic is lighter, also may be helpful. When renting a car, be sure to request one in which no one has smoked.
- Chill Out: Stress makes it harder for your immune system to do its job. Take time to decompress and stay on schedule with any allergy and asthma medications to prevent symptoms from interfering with holiday fun.
- Guard Against Flu: When people gather, viral illnesses such as the flu are more likely to be passed around. For tips to fight the flu this season, click here.
- Watch What You Eat: For tips to keep holiday food allergies at bay, read "Keep Tasty Traditions Safe for Those with Food Allergies."
'Tis the season of food galore. Halloween candy and the Thanksgiving feast are just a few of many tasty traditions that make fall holidays fun. But goodies also can spell trouble for more than just the waistline among the 12 million children and adults who have food allergies.
Here are some tips to help you, your child or holiday guests with food allergies stay safe this holiday season.
- Trade the Treats: Purchase Halloween treats that your child can enjoy safely and swap them for those without allergens after trick-or-treating. Send candy your child can eat — or non-food goodies such as Halloween stickers — to school parties.
- Be the Class Baker: Volunteer to provide the snacks for holiday parties at school to ensure that there will be foods available your child can enjoy.
- Inform Your Guests: Let guests know that you or your child have dietary restrictions and offer to let them bring holiday themed plates, cups or napkins rather than food.
- Give Your Host a Heads-Up: If you'll be attending holiday festivities away from home, let your host know about your food allergy and offer to bring safe foods.
- Don't Overlook the Turkey: Basted or self-basting turkeys can include common allergens such as soy, wheat and dairy. Your safest bet is choosing a turkey labeled "natural," which by law must be minimally processed and should contain nothing but turkey and, perhaps, water.
- Hang On to Food Labels: If you are the host of a holiday feast, keep the ingredient labels from the food you are serving for allergic guests to review before digging in.
- Carry Medications: Always have emergency medications on hand just in case unrecognized food allergens are hiding in holiday treats.
- Discuss Strategies with Your Allergist: An allergist can help you prepare for the holiday season and suggest allergy avoidance techniques to keep you or your child safe. Your allergist also can help you and your child become "label detectives" so you both know what ingredients to watch out for.
Allergies and asthma: If you have them are you stuck with them? No. There's a way to get to the root cause of your suffering, control your symptoms and even potentially stop allergic disease in its tracks.
If you have allergies, chances are you also may have undiagnosed asthma or be at risk of developing it. Allergy shots, also known as immunotherapy, can help control allergies and asthma or keep you from developing asthma. A three-year European study, for example, found that allergy shots reduced the risk of developing asthma by about 50 percent in children with seasonal allergies.
This safe and effective treatment has been used for many years. It is designed to develop your natural resistance to the allergens by introducing into your system small and gradually increasing amounts of purified substances to which you are allergic. Goals include minimizing symptoms, improving lung function, and reducing or eliminating the need for medications by increasing your production of blocking antibodies that will protect you from an allergic reaction in the future.
Allergy shots are prescribed by an allergist and given under medical supervision at a location where medical staff and medications are available to handle any reaction. Doctor visits are relatively brief, typically involving a review of any medications you are taking and a 20-minute wait after the shot is given in case of a reaction. Shots are often given weekly or biweekly during the first phase of treatment, and then every three or four weeks for several years. Immunity does not develop immediately, but some patients begin to feel better quickly. Generally, the benefits of allergy shots last for many years or even a lifetime.
Check out the ACAAI's free online slide program, "End Allergy and Asthma Misery — It's Worth a Shot," to learn about the connection between these conditions and when allergy shots should be considered to treat and help prevent them: http://www.acaai.org/public/patients/itprogram.htm
Q: My son is allergic to nuts and we'll be away from home for Thanksgiving this year. What should I do?
A: Two of the easiest and most beneficial things you can do are to notify your Thanksgiving host of your son's allergies and ask if you may bring a dish or two that is safe for him to eat. Also, be sure to bring his medication with you in case of an unexpected reaction. For more tips, read the article in this issue, "Keep Tasty Traditions Safe for Those with Food Allergies."
Q: I've been treated by a primary care physician for allergies but I've been told I should see an allergist. What's the difference?
A: Much like a cardiologist specializes in diagnosing and treating heart ailments, an allergist is a medical doctor (M.D.) who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of allergic and immunologic diseases. The allergist is trained to find the source of your suffering and treat it so that you can feel healthy all the time.
After earning a medical degree, an allergist completes a three-year residency-training program in either internal medicine or pediatrics. Next, the allergist completes two or three more years of study in allergy and immunology.
In a recent survey, patients who had seen an allergist were nearly three times more likely to say their treatment was effective than those who tried to manage their conditions at home with over-the-counter medicine. Other studies show that asthma patients who are being cared for by an allergist are less likely to visit an emergency room or be hospitalized as a result of their asthma.
Learn more by reading about others who are keeping their conditions under control.
Find an Allergist: To find an allergist near you, click here.
Take the Allergy and Asthma Relief Self-Test: Review your allergy and asthma symptoms and see if you need to find an allergist and find relief. The self-test also provides you with access to an Allergy and Asthma Relief Plan to help keep your condition under control.
His asthma doesn't get in the way of his love for the game: Jonathon is a typical 10-year-old who loves playing soccer. Read his story
Share with a friend Do you have a friend who has allergies or asthma?
Click here to share this issue of Allergy and Asthma News.