Posted by kevvyg on Tuesday, May 29, 2012
It Ain't Easy Being a DogThough this entry isn't as provocative as the title might lead some to believe, for those of us with dogs, you may notice your dog licking and biting their paws from time to time. There are a few reasons why they do this, and as a recent piece posted at suggests, it may be due to allergies.

I notice my dog, Cotton, licks his paws from time to time, but then I've also noticed that he's very particular about his feet. Specifically, he doesn't care much for you touching them or getting them wet. I really don't pay that much attention to my own, but since he is much shorter and has four of them, I assume that he likely takes many more steps throughout the course of the day. Thus, I reason he's "on his feet" more than I(not to mention barefoot). Regardless, what can cause your dog to lick his/her paws can sometimes be allergies.

There are three main types of allergies that can be the culprit, flea, food and environmental. Flea allergies seem fairly obvious. When your dog comes in contact with fleas or flea saliva, they will dig and itch at the point of contact. Vets will always recommend sometime of monthly flea control, and while I've never been a fan of applying topical insecticides or pesticides directly to Cotton's skin, I do use the pet shampoo by Ecology Works, and that keeps him flea-free throughout the year. So whether you go with a shampoo or medication, keeps tick and flea repellents in mind.

The next two causes may be somewhat less obvious. Of the two, environmental allergies are a bit easier to spot since this culprit will likely be seasonal in nature - noticeable during the warmer months with the licking and biting tapering off during the winter. Since most dogs are 99% hair factories, the paws are places where allergens can most directly affect exposed skin. I can imagine that if I never wore shoes, from time to time, my feet would likely come in contact with a few unsavory things that would make me want to scratch them too!

The last culprit is food allergies. This may be the case if your dog is licking and biting his paws all year round. While the ingredient list is most dog foods is as long as a monthly grocery list, it can be difficult to pin down what's causing it, but in working with your vet, you can try a few different types of protein bases to begin eliminating what ingredients may be causing the reaction. As the article suggests, you may try a dog food with a protein base of venison or rabbit. Test a few different types and see if you begin to notice a difference. In more severe cases your vet can run your dog through a variety of allergy tests to help you narrow down the list of culprits.

In the case of seasonal allergies your vet can prescribe antihistamines and you can also try avoidance. Though, the latter can be difficult if your dog typically spends a fair amount of time outdoors.

I'm not sure if Cotton has allergies. I tend to think he is a bit like a feline since he usually starts the licking and cleaning right after bath time or if he has had the unfortunate luck of going outside when it was raining. I had never given thought to an allergic reaction being the cause for this, but if nothing else, it gives me something to keep an eye on and directly discuss with the vet on his next visit.


Posted by kevvyg on Saturday, May 26, 2012
Ogallala Hypodown BeddingFor those who were or are thinking about adding Ogallala custom pillows or comforters to your current bedding set, now is the time to act. In less than a week prices are going up. Due to and increase in the price of raw goods, prices on Ogallala's hypoallergenic pillows and comforters is going up by an average of 20%. Shop now to take advantage of pricing before the increase!

Ogallala pillows are some of the most luxurious pillows available today. Filled with their patented Hypodown, these pillows provide all of the feel and comfort of down without any of the allergic reactions. Ogallala pillows are guaranteed to NOT cause you an allergic reaction for up to TEN YEARS. No other pillow makes that kind of claim, and no brand other than Ogallala can provide these kinds of custom allergy-free pillows.

Similar to the pillows, Ogallala blankets are filled with the patented blend of down and Syriaca clusters. Customized to the size, fill power and design you want, each Ogallala hypoallergenic comforter is crafted to provide you comfort and warmth all year round. Aside from pillows and comforters you can also soften your mattress when you sink in to a fluffy down mattress pad

So whether you are looking to replace a worn, old down pillow or add a new favorite comforter to your bedding, take advantage of Ogallala pricing before the June 1st increase and start sleeping better today!

Posted by kevvyg on Friday, May 25, 2012
What are your Memorial Day plans? Watch a parade? Go see an air show? Cook out with friends and family? Go canoeing down a local river? <---My plans! This weekend is bound to be full of festivities, food, commemorating, and for most of us, plenty of time outdoors. While the spring pollen season has pretty much drawn to a close, the rising temperatures are starting to trigger smog alerts and air quality warnings in metro areas across the South. Today we are going to see a code orange which means the air quality will be slightly worse than moderate with the main pollutants being fine particles and ground level ozone.

Ground level ozone is formed when the pollution from factories and vehicles mixes with high temperatures, and while there is not much you can do about it, the best advice is to avoid it. So if you're planning some jogging or other strenuous activity, try to time it around the early morning and evening hours.

For most of us, this may be a nuisance or something we just ignore this weekend, but with temperatures reaching into the 90's, asthmatics and others with respiratory problems should take note. So regardless of what your Memorial Day weekend plans are, stay safe and have fun!

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Posted by kevvyg on Thursday, May 24, 2012
With Technical Bulletin 117 in 1975, California became the first state to pass legislation that required flame retardants to be a part of the sofas. From there, the law spread to encompass nearly all home furnishings that included foam, like mattresses, love seats, chair, and even tents. The provision outlines that home furnishing and items such as these must be able to withstand an open flame for 12 seconds. As the years have passed and research has shed light on the chemical flame retardants used and their impact on health, what once seemed like a universal positive now casts a different shadow.

Multiple times bills have been drafted in the California legislature - each seeking to repeal the 1975 provision. Each time the bill has failed, arguably due to heavy lobbying efforts by the chemical industry. But why has California changed course? Why is there now a push to remove the flame retardants that were once thought to protect against house fires? To answer these questions, we need to look back at the original law, why it came about and what research since that time has shown us.

Consumer safety is at the heart of fire retardant use mandate. Testimony of accounts where home furnishings were accidentally set ablaze was one original driving factor. Yet contrary to this push, the law requires that for most products, only the foam must be fire retardant. So for many home furnishings, the exterior fabric, the logical point where a fire could possibly start often requires no special coatings or treatments, and items like mattresses, require a prescription from a doctor before a mattress without flame retardants can be sold or constructed. And to play devil’s advocate, how many times have you seen a house fire where the mattress or couch was all that remained?

Research into the health effects of the chemical flame retardants used has shown that exposure to many of the chemicals used have serious health consequences, including birth defects and increased rates of cancer. Chlorinated flame retardants are common, and substances that were originally grandfathered in, like many brominated fire retardants, have since been scrapped but testing of replacement chemicals and their long term health effects is slow in coming.

Statistics show that there has been a reduction in the number of fires that have started in homes, but physicians groups and others point to an overall decrease in smoking, the use of fire-safe cigarettes (FSC) and increased use of sprinklers and smoke detectors as the cause - not chemical flame retardants. To this point, one could still argue, as many politicians and lobbyists do, that the research behind the decrease the number of fires isn’t conclusive on this point.

For those who suffer from MCS or sick-building syndrome, the nearly 2 pounds of chemical flame retardants that can be found in modern home furnishings can be a continual source of aggravation and recurring reactions. As the public becomes more aware of what is in the products we have in our home, you see a push by many industries to lower the chemical content - take VOC's in paint as a recent example.

The latest iteration of the bill to provide choice when it comes to home furnishings with flame retardants has the support of doctors, firefighters and consumer safety advocates. Because California represents the fifth largest economy in the world, a change in the California law would likely cause a change in production of home furnishings across the Canada and the US. As of now, there is no choice, but should a repeal or amendment pass, which would you choose?


Tags: MCS, VOC's
Posted by kevvyg on Monday, May 21, 2012
Asthma: An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of CureWe've all seen those statistics, like "Allergies Cost Employers $750 Million Annually From Lost Work Time" or the stat that estimates how much money/productivity employers lose each March when the NCAA basketball tourney starts. (Don't go by that allergy number, I COMPLETELY made that up as an example!) What these stats underscore is how much money and time can be lost when the prevention of certain symptoms and exacerbation of chronic conditions is ignored. In the case of basketball, you may be stuck just having to live with that loss. However, for things like allergies or asthma, there are always real steps you can take to prevent loss of time, money and quality of life. A recent study took up the task of quantifying this for moderate to severe asthma sufferers.

In a piece published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, researchers quantified the effect of asthma exacerbations in terms of health care costs. Starting with a pool of asthma patients from a large administrative claims database (read: managed care provider, like an HMO), patients with moderate/severe persistant asthma who were taking controller therapy (read: were taking drugs like Advair, Symbicort and Singulair) were tracked for a year. By matching asthma patients who have at least one asthma-related inpatient visit or ER visit or corticosteriod prescription with patients who had none, researchers were able to calculate total and asthma-related health costs. The differences were fairly pronounced.

Patients who had made at least one trip to the ER or had inpatient treatment accrued nearly twice as much in asthma AND total health care costs for the year. This means for those who had severe attacks, the overall cost to manage the condition, and their health in general, doubled. As the double edge to this sword, those who did experience these types of severe exacerbations in their asthma condition also showed higher rates of sinusitis, pneumonia and other allergy related diagnoses.

While the causes of the exacerbation were not addressed, one overall conclusion that can be made is that by better controlling attacks (whether developing and using better medication or taking control of the indoor environment via improving air quality or limiting exposure to irritants), we have the potential to dramatically decrease overall cost to treat asthma, even in moderate to severe cases.

So while overall treatment is a multi-pronged approach that includes prevention and treatment, it kind of reminds you of a very old, but well-known saying by Benjamin Franklin.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Need more information? Read the full abstract of this study.

Tags: Asthma
Posted by kevvyg on Friday, May 18, 2012
Back in April of this year, we interviewed local allergist Dr. David Redding. Recently he was featured in a couple videos on the Weather Channel. In these, he goes over some in-home tips on how to reduce allergens. From using pillow covers and a high quality HVAC filter to vacuuming your mattress, Dr. Redding highlights areas throughout the home, hidden allergens that can reside in these places and how to reduce or eliminate them.

To read our April interview with Dr. Redding.

For more videos.

Posted by kevvyg on Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Asthma Study Focus on FrackingWhile the debate over the environmental effects of hydraulic fracturing continues, there is now a concentrated interest in studying the possible health effects of living in communities where "fracking" takes place. Communities in western and northern Pennsylvania offer a unique opportunity to start initial studies on the health effects of fracking.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a process of extracting natural gas by fracturing shale formation deep in the earth. Wells are drilled into shale or sand formations followed by explosives to begin breaking and perforating the rock. After this, a high pressure mix of sand, massive amounts of water and a proprietary formula of chemicals are pumped into the rock formation to widen the fractures and release gas trapped in the rock.

The health and environmental impact of this method of gas extraction is still unknown. Studies require funding, years to study/test, and in regard to health, a significant population on which to base a study. So while fracking has been going on in places like Colorado for nearly a decade any air quality research study data won't be available for another three years (in part because that study only began less than a year ago), and to date there have been no large studies with regard to the impact on health. In Pennsylvania though, this may soon be changing.

In more rural areas like western Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio, gas operations are quickly becoming the major source of ground level ozone, a pollutant that often forms around gas wells. However, since fracking has been going on for only five years in this area, and local doctors and clinics have ten years of medical data, there is the unique ability to glean before and after statistics about visits to the hospital and asthma as it relates to local air quality (measured by the EPA).

Ground level ozone comes from many sources but is the result of blending air pollution and heat. Those in urban areas know this haze well, as it is a major byproduct of vehicle emissions and industrial pollution.

Though the funding for this asthma related study is still being drawn together, David Carey, associate chief researcher at the Geisinger Health System has long term goals. The immediate research will focus on asthma and respiratory issues, but the long term goal is to study the effects on incidences of diabetes and cancer.

Though there is a history of over a decade of fracking in the U.S., there is yet to be any significant studies done about the effects of this on health, and in 2005 Congress voted to EXCLUDE fracking from falling under the jurisdiction of the Safe Drinking Water Act. Due to the current structure of laws regarding this method of extracting natural gas, residents who live near fracking wells still have no idea what chemicals are being put into the air or the full extent of what is being injected into the ground beneath their property. In states like Ohio alone, to date over 70 fracking wells have been drilled with more than 2000 expected to be sunk over the next three years.

For more information on this study.

Having grown up on a family farm in the rural tri-state area (Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia panhandle), I have my thoughts on fracking - both, the potential environmental and health consequences and the economic benefit for a region that is typified by burnt out coal towns and strip mining. What are yours?


Tags: Ozone, Asthma
Posted by kevvyg on Tuesday, May 15, 2012
Severe Allergies, Disabilities and the WorkplaceWhile I do not claim to be an expert in the areas of allergies, asthma and MCS, I do have some measure of confidence in my ability to speak and write on these issues. Though following news in regard to these topics is a relatively recent development for me (off and on for almost two years), I was surprised when a recent article in Forbes online suggested that employers accommodate food allergy sufferers in the same way they would accommodate "any other disability."

The article dealt with how employers and coworkers might want to consider possible reasons why a fellow coworker or employee may seem to anti-social around lunch or after work. Sure, some people might seem like social hermits, but there may be a good reason for it.

If a coworker has a severe peanut allergy, having a few beers at the local pub or going to a steakhouse where peanuts shells are hucked on the floor after work might be something he passes on. Even eating lunch the break room, where other people may spill or leave certain food contaminants behind, may pose a problem with severe allergy sufferers. And it would certainly ruffle some feathers in the office is a birthday cake was bought for an employee and then she didn't eat any (unbeknownst to everyone that she has a severe food allergy and doesn't to afford the risk in eating it). So rather than admit something that some might consider embarrassing, they politely decline.

Much like we suggest with children in school, awareness if often the largest issue. So in workplaces, particularly as employers, it's important to identify anyone with food allergies, not only to discuss any sort of emergency response plan that may be necessary but also how to best deal with it in the workplace setting.

Back to the disability part of this article, after some digging, it seems a little hazy as to whether or not food allergies are a disability. The language that is often cited under the Rehabilitation Act is intentionally broad, as to be inclusive. Generally it forbids organizations and employers from excluding or denying individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to receive program benefits and services. Then, it goes on to define individuals with disabilities as those who have physical or mental impairment of major life activities, like walking, caring for yourself, breathing, speaking, seeing, hearing, etc. The subsequent amendment to the American with Disabilities Act of 2008 broadened the definition of disability even more.

So, an argument could be made that asthma and even severe allergies could be defined as a disability. Think of it like this. Asthma can severely impinge upon a person's ability to breathe, so much so that asthma attacks can be fatal. It is also true that anaphylactic shock brought on by severe food allergies can be fatal. So for these two groups, major life activities (eating and breathing) can be severely limited.

Does this mean that someone severely allergic to shellfish can apply for a disability benefit through the federal government? Well, it is a free country, but unless your situation is particularly acute, debilitating, or hard to control even with medication, you might be better served just helping to raise awareness in your workspace.

Work with your employer and coworkers to help create a better work environment that is more accommodating of severe food allergies or asthmatics. Maybe this means not having peanuts or tree nuts in the break room or limiting heavy fragrance/perfume at work. Ultimately, it's about creating a work environment that is healthy and safe for all, and that begins with awareness.

For full text of the Forbes article.

Posted by kevvyg on Thursday, May 10, 2012
As the prevalence of asthma and allergies continues to climb in most Western societies, the causes of these chronic conditions are still not known. Though, with a collection of news stories, research pieces, and press releases coming in over the last couple weeks, the 'Hygiene Hypothesis' on allergies is only looking stronger. Of these, the most prominent were studies that examined Finnish children and another that took a look at Amish children in Indiana and the link between growing up in more "natural environments" and a predisposition for allergies and asthma.

In the Finnish study, 14-18 year olds were tested to compare how many and what kinds of bacteria, particularly gammaproteobacteria, could be found in and on their bodies. This data, when compared to the type of environment they grew up in, showed that children who had Amish, Allergies & Asthma grown up and lived in more natural environments (read, less urban; more trees, less asphalt), showed a greater diversity of these tiny bacteria in their skin. They were also LESS likely to suffer from allergies.

Though the second study was very general in nature, in comparing Amish farm children with Swiss farm children and Swiss children who did not live on farms, they found that children not on farms had the highest rates of asthma and allergen sensitivity. Swiss children on farms had lower rates of asthma but the same sensitivities to allergies; and Amish children on farms had the lowest rates of asthma and sensitivities to allergies.

While neither study is a smoking gun, solidly proving the Hygiene Hypothesis, both lend at least some measure of support to the idea that the more sanitized the environment we grow up in, the more likely our immune systems are going to go haywire around harmless substances, like pollen, pet dander and dust.

As someone who grew up in a very rural part of Ohio, my siblings and I have experiences that fit this theory. Having spent much of my childhood on our family farm, playing in the woods, or chasing chickens, there are few instances outside of school where any of my sibling and I were "clean." My father literally nicknamed my one brother, "Dirt". To this day, none of us three older boys have any problems with allergies or asthma, despite a family history of the latter.

While surely it is anecdotal, my two youngest siblings both suffered from asthma. Between us three elder boys and the younger two, there is nearly a 13 year gap. My youngest brother and sister did not grow up as we had. The amount of time they spent inside as children was Ok, so maybe this garden pic isn't exactly true to my experience, but still..... inconceivable for us older three. In the summer, it was fairly common for the doors to the house to be locked. And why not? We had eaten breakfast or lunch. We lived off a dirt road and generally saw two vehicles pass by every day. We had a spigot outside, and air conditioning isn't cheap when you have three kids running in and out all day long.

So while the two youngest children in my family enjoyed the convenience of air conditioning, Playstation and Wii, the dirt, germs, and farm life likely served our immune systems better.... which I think is only fair considering the hundreds of rows of carrots, corn, potatoes, and peppers in our family garden that three older boys weeded throughout our childhood. To date, the youngest two siblings pulled weeds out of exactly zero rows of crops in the garden.

Abstract of the Finnish Biodiversity & Allergies Study.

Indiana Study of Amish and Asthma & Allergies.

Posted by kevvyg on Friday, May 04, 2012
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