Posted by kevvyg on Tuesday, July 31, 2012
Dana Vollmer - Overcoming Food AllergiesWith the Olympics in full swing, millions around the world watch each day as athletes from across the globe compete. For those of us who sometimes feel that allergies and asthma are a problem we deal with on our own, it is always a good idea to take note of how others who cope with these conditions continue to push and achieve. There are numerous athletes who have overcome allergies or asthma to shine in the Olympics, and perhaps Dana Vollmer is the brightest star in group.

After struggling for years with a variety of ailments, including shoulder problems and a heart condition that required surgery in 2003, Vollmer continued to excel by winning gold as a member of the U.S. 4x200 freestyle team in 2004 and again in 2007. In 2010, Vollmer had to drop out of a race she had traditionally swum due to fatigue and unexplained stomach pains severe enough to put in her in hospital on three separate occasions.

With no medical explanations for her condition, Vollmer was tested for allergies and food sensitivities. The results showed that one of the staples in her diet, eggs, may have been causing her problems. Vollmer was allergic to eggs, and was sensitive to gluten, dairy, and walnuts.

After changing her diet, she began to notice her energy was returning and stomach pains were going away. Like in 2004, Vollmer qualified for the women's U.S. Olympic swim team. Just days ago, Vollmer swam in the final of the 100-meter butterfly, and bested the world record and won the gold. From health issues and failing to qualify for the Beijing games, to feeling better and winning Olympic gold, Dana Vollmer's story highlights a few important things for those who suffer from food allergies. Food allergies can affect anyone, including Olympic athletes, and their impact can slow even world-class swimmers. However, proper diagnosis and management of food allergies can mean the difference between feeling poorly and performing at your best, when it matters the most.

Author: Kevin Gilmore

Posted by kevvyg on Thursday, July 26, 2012
When Strawberries Bite Back!Despite the topsy-turvy weather, I hope this summer is treating everyone well.  Children are out of school, families are going on vacation, and people should be enjoying the outdoors and all that summer has to offer.  For those with allergies, summer provides something of a break from the spring and fall pollen seasons, but the season can present new challenges.  A recent trip to a Saturday farmer's market held a local church highlighted one of these challenges for my friend "Gabe."

Now, Gabe isn't his real name, but he was  bit embarrassed by the whole ordeal, so I offered to give him a suitable cover name.  In any event, Gabe, another friend of ours, and I were at the local market last Saturday looking for fresh fruits and veggies.  I'm a big fan of summer tomatoes, and my single plant doesn't seem to be producing enough to satisfy.  Gabe had picked out a couple quarts of fresh picked strawberries and a few genuine Georgia peaches.

As we are heading home, as often happens, our new purchases prove to be too tempting to wait.  About a block from the house, I happen to look over at Gabe, who has already dispatched a half a quart of his strawberries, and I was almost certain his lips looked... puffy.  I continue towards the house and ask, "Gabe, you have allergies, right?"  He rattles off a short list of things he's allergic too, not noticing the slight swelling that's going on just under his nose.

When we get to the house, I turn to Gabe and simply tell him.  "Put down the strawberry."  And after a little prompting he pulled down the sun visor and looked at himself in the small mirror.  We all went inside, and Gabe took some Benadryl, and within the hour his swelling has nearly completely cleared up.

Though Gabe does have allergies, he was unaware that strawberries was on his list, and thankfully for all of us, his reaction wasn't so severe that it required an Epipen or a trip to the ER.  This does highlight something common among allergy sufferers.  Allergies are rarely a "one and done" deal.  Most who suffer from allergies are affected by multiple allergens, and not all of them will be immediately known.  For all the research and testing that goes into the field of allergies, there is still much that is unknown, particularly why they occur, why they sometimes go away, and why sometimes, new ones just seem to crop up.

For severe allergy sufferers, it is always a good idea to remain aware of what you are eating, and it never hurts to have an Epipen handy.  Though this won't discourage Gabe from going to the farmer's market with us another weekend, it does mean he'll likely be sticking to the peaches for a while.  As for me, I won't complain about a free quart of strawberries that Gabe gifted me after the incident.

Author: Kevin Gilmore

Posted by kevvyg on Monday, July 23, 2012
Image by Simon GoldbergThough I know the Olympics are coming up very quickly, thoughts about it have largely been tucked away in the back of my mind. From an allergy/asthma perspective, there are certainly athletes competing who are dealing with asthma, like US swimmer Pete Vanderkaay, but with the games being hosted in London, there have not been the red flags going up like there were four years ago in Beijing. Is London's air quality really that good?

In the months leading up the 2008 games in Beijing, there was a lot of well placed concern over the air quality that Olympic athletes would have to deal with. Concern over the air quality in Beijing is well placed as it has some of the most consistently poor air quality of any city on this planet. The Chinese did recognize this problem and attempted to improve air quality in a few ways, namely they cut emissions in the time leading up to the games. One effort involved cutting the number of vehicles that were operating in the city in half. Fast forward four years, and there's been nary a peep about air pollution in London.

London has a troubling past when it comes to air pollution. Everyone's heard the term "London Fog," but in this instance, I'm not referring to a soup, cocktail or nightclub. In 1952 thousands of Londoners died from the effects of "the great smog of '52". Air pollution settled over the city in a thick smog, and following this event air pollution laws went in to effect to prevent this from happening again.

I'm not suggesting that a toxic cloud of smog is going to amass over London and wreak havoc, but critics are quick to point out that London is not in compliance with EU air quality guidelines and that levels of nitrogen dioxide are frequently high. Additionally, studies attribute roughly 4000 premature deaths each year in London due to air pollution. While not occurring from a single event like the Great Smog, the death toll from exposure to consist pollution annually equals that of the Great Smog - 4000.

For most people this will equate to a moderate warning that you will find in a lot of U.S. cities during the summer months. However, for Olympic athletes, these small reductions in air quality can translate into the difference between 1st and 2nd.

Author: Kevin Gilmore

Posted by kevvyg on Friday, July 20, 2012
I wanted to deviate a bit from the usual blog topics, particularly in light of the news yesterday. The entire staff would like to extend our sincerest thoughts and prayers to the victims and those effected by the shooting in Aurora, Colorado. It is a truly tragic event that has saddened a nation.

Posted by kevvyg on Tuesday, July 17, 2012
FDA Bans BPA in Baby BottlesThe Food and Drug Administration has officially banned the use of bisphenol A in children's sippy cups and infants bottles. Though at first glance the news may seem positive, a look closer reveals lingering problems with the FDA ruling and use of BPA in food packaging materials.

Linked to the potential health problems, BPA was labeled an "endrocrine-disrupting agent" last year by the American Medical Association. In recent years, public outcry over the use of BPA in children's bottles and sippy cups had prompted the pro-chemical group, The American Chemistry Council, to publicly push for the ban in 2011. As a spokesperson for the ACC explained, the use of BPA in children's cups and bottles, "had become an unnecessary distraction to consumers." For the chemical industry, this ruling will hopefully put consumer's minds at ease over the safety of plastic sippy cups and bottles.

For environmentalists and those who are calling for a full ban on BPA, their time will have to wait. Earlier this year the FDA denied a petition by the National Resource Defense Council calling for an outright ban on the use of BPA. In response to that petition, the FDA reaffirmed its stance that BPA is essentially safe for humans and that previous reports of exposure have been overstated. Citing a lack of enough solid evidence, the FDA upheld the use of BPA in food packaging and containers.

While research regarding potential long term health issues over the exposure to BPA continues, production of the product does not. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 2.4 billion pounds of BPA was produced in 2007. With consumption of BPA containing product increasing worldwide, researchers may have trouble finding study participants who have NOT been exposed to BPA.

Author: Kevin Gilmore

Tags: MCS, BPA
Posted by kevvyg on Tuesday, July 17, 2012
For anyone with severe food allergies, one of the most basic needs can feel like a perpetual challenge - eating. Eating out is a near constant worry, and even preparing your own meals can be difficult, particularly when first diagnosed and trying to come up with safe, healthy alternatives. As food allergies have dramatically increased in occurrence and awareness, there has been a variety of companies spring up to help meet the needs of this growing population. Tailored and specially designed foods, free of allergens, are growing in popularity, but it can still be daunting in trying to select the right products for your needs.

A friend of mine recently introduced me to Pamela's Products. Tracing its history as a offshoot of a family health food bakery in the early 1940's, Pamela's Products specializes in gluten-free foods. More than that, they also specialize in allergen free food and recipes. Allergy information is posted so you can check before you try.

As with any new recipe or food product, I always suggest trying it out before jumping all the way in. You can find many of Pamela's Products in brick and mortar stores like Whole Foods and even supermarket chains or order larger quantities online.

Do you have any specific recipes you want to share for food allergy sufferers? Leave a comment and we'll post it!

Posted by kevvyg on Friday, July 13, 2012
After last week's record breaking heat and dry conditions, the pendulum has swung the other way. This week has provided continuing warm temperatures but also violent storms, high humidity and plenty of rain. The last part of this equation is much needed in many parts of the country, but the humid and hot conditions are also bringing along a very unwelcomed guest for allergy sufferers - mold spores.

Mold spores are all around us nearly all of the time. They float through the air and settle all around. For most of us, they only really become a problem when conditions allow them to grow from dormant spores to active colonies. Active mold colonies decompose the cellulose materials they settle upon, like wood, paper, plant matter and even microscopic bits of cellulose that can settle out of the air. This is why you will see mold grown on even plastic surfaces. While the actual plastic is not being consumed by the mold, microscopic bits of plant matter and debris that settles on the plastic is.

Mold in Petri Dish - Cappuccino Anyone?As mold grows, it begins pumping more spores out into the air. For allergy sufferers, these spores can aggravate allergic or asthmatic reactions. Other substances that mold colonies produce, like mycotoxins, can be cause respiratory issues even for healthy, non-allergenic adults.

Most of the time, we think about mold spores effecting people during the fall months. This is typically when large amounts of foliage falls to the ground and decomposes. This decomposition is driven by mold. However, when the summer months bring heat, humidity and rain, this too can cause the mold spore count to spike dramatically.

Mold Spore ChartAs evidenced by mold spore counts in places like Austin, TX, summer heat and rain can drive up the amount of mold in the air. On Wednesday, researchers at the Allergy & Asthma Associates in Austin counted 27,262 mold spores per cubic meter of air. This measurement falls firmly in the "High" count category (13,000 to 49,999) and far surpasses the standard average for Austin during this time of year.

For allergy sufferers, this means being mindful of the conditions around you. As mold spore counts rise, so too do the cases of sinus infections and allergy related symptoms. There are a few things you can do to cut down on the likelihood of mold spores slowing you down or causing an infection. When outdoors, keep a mask or respirator handy, particularly while doing yard work. In the evenings, it may also be helpful to use a Neti pot and rinse your sinuses. Also keep in mind that when the humidity outdoors is up, it is often up indoors as well. A dehumidifier, placed in the basement, crawlspace or living area, can remove excess moisture from the air in your home and make those spaces inhospitable for mold growth. Lastly, running a HEPA air purifier in your bedroom can help filter out spores that may be carried in on clothing and simply through air circulating through your home.

As the the days of hot, humid rain continue throughout the eastern part of the country, look for mold spore counts to rise considerably as favorable conditions allow mold to proliferate.

Author: Kevin Gilmore

Posted by kevvyg on Thursday, July 12, 2012
For many homeowners there is a certain amount of pride that comes along with having a well manicured lawn. It can take a great deal of work and money to keep a lawn looking green, lush, and free of weeds. While there's not a thing wrong with wanting to have a lawn that's the pride of the neighborhood, it is worth noting what is actually being used to keep it that way. An examination of some of the chemicals commonly used in lawn care, gardening and even farming reveals a troubling story of how pesticides, fertilizers and other chemicals can affect pets and quite possibly humans.

A study published earlier this year laid the groundwork for determining a link between the use of common lawn care chemicals and cases of malignant lymphoma in dogs. Building on previous research, this study built on the premise that repeated exposure to certain chemicals may be related to CML (Canine Malignant Lymphoma) and possibly non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in humans. By examining hundreds of cases of dogs with benign tumors and hundreds more with malignant tumors, researchers found a 70% increase in the risk of a pet developing CML in homes where professionally applied pesticides took place.

Dogs run, play, roll around in and even snack on grass, so when it has been treated with pesticides and certain chemicals, dogs generally tend to have the greatest exposure to these chemicals. Certain classes of IGR's (insect growth regulators) can negatively impact the health of not only your dog but also you. We've mentioned IGR's in pet flea and tick treatments previously, as well as safer alternatives.

In addition to exposure for pets, there is some concern over exposure to humans as well. Research continues as to how the chemicals found in pesticides, insecticides, weed Weeds, weeds, Go Away! killers, and fertilizers effect human physiology. Those who suffer from grass allergies or have asthma that is aggravated by grass pollen may not spend a great deal of time on the lawn, but unlike pollens, chemicals affect indiscriminately.

On a related note, while visiting family for the 4th, something similar to this came up. I noticed a lot of tall weeds poking through my brother's brick walkway in front of his house. Upon asking him about it, he replied, "I was thinking about spraying them, but truthfully, the kids play on it so much, I just don't think I should."

Chemical treatments like Roundup, have been a staple on lawns and farms worldwide, but his caution may not be unfounded. Each year, new studies support the idea that overexposure to the chemicals used in weed killers may have serious consequences on human health.

If you do have professional lawn care done, insist upon them not using IGR's or similar insecticides. And in place of traditional fertilizers, which have long shown the ability to find their way into the water table, try manure or compost. Personally, having lived on a farm, I'm well aware of how bad manure can smell, but the effects on a field or garden can initially be far more beneficial than granular fertilizers. And my brother's solution to the weeds in the walkway? Three boys. That's six hands, all that can weed. I reminded him a weed eater might also be a good idea!

Author: Kevin Gilmore

Posted by kevvyg on Monday, July 09, 2012
No matter where you live, each summer usually brings out a wide variety of stinging insects. From honeybees and hornets to wasps and carpenter bees (we always called those ones bumblebees), there are a lot of stingers flying through the summer breeze. While visiting family last week, one of my nephews had the displeasure of being stung by a wasp, on his Not the Offending Wasp... Though He May Be Guilty of Stinging Someone Else lower lip. Though there were some questions over whether or not his reaction was allergic in nature, this sting highlights the difference between an allergic reaction and a more traditional reaction to a bee sting.

Most people who are stung by wasps experience a few common symptoms like swelling, itching, and pain. Wasps inject a small amount of venom when they sting, but the effects are generally very localized and usually shortlived. When stung, the best way to treat the it is by removing the stinger (if it's still present), then apply ice to reduce swelling. Administering a dose of diphenhydramine (active ingredient in Benadryl), a popular antihistamine, can reduce the body's reactions to the sting. For most of us, these simple measure generally mean we've completely forgotten about the sting within an hour or so.

So how do you know if you're having an allergic reaction? Generally allergic reactions will be typified by a set of more severe symptoms. These can include trouble breathing, hives, swelling of the face, lips, tongue and throat. While some swelling is common at the site of the sting, an allergic reaction can show extreme swelling and swelling in body parts that were not stung. If you are experiencing a severe reaction, the treatment outlined above is a good start, but in cases where anaphylactic shock is a reality, you need to seek medical attention immediately or use an epi-pen until full treatment can be obtained.

There's a reason why Ali said, 'Float like a butterfly, Sting like a bee'In the case of my nephew, we tried ice, but as the swelling continued, it was decided to take him to the doctor where they administered a shot of diphenhydramine, and the swelling subsided almost completely after a few hours.

Bee stings are almost unavoidable if you spend significant time outdoors, and even if you keep an eye out, bee nests and hives can often be hidden. This means, you may not know until you have been stung that you've disturbed their nest.

So what can you do to prepare? First, remove nests that you can see. Use your best judgement as to whether, a broom, bee spray or calling a professional is your best option. Secondly, keep Benadryl, or another type of over-the-counter medication with diphenhydramine, in the medicine cabinet or in a travel bag for when you're away from home. If you are severely allergic, you can always keep your epi-pen within reach with an anatote or another protective case that clips to any loop or hangs from a belt. Bee sting kits are also available (by prescription only). Lastly, you may want to consider skipping the fruity/fruit scented body sprays or personal care products as these can sometimes attract insects.

Though bee stings may be unavoidable while enjoying the summer outdoors, you can reduce the chances of letting an irritated bee ruin your day. And as for my nephew, within a couple hours, he was well enough to spend the evening eating barbecue and playing with sparklers as we celebrated the 4th.

Posted by kevvyg on Tuesday, July 03, 2012
With 4th of July celebrations starting tomorrow and likely running through the weekend, there are a few safety tips to keep in mind. Whether it's specific food concerns for allergy sufferers, keeping your pets in mind, maintaining a safe grille or just keeping your health in mind, there are a variety of things you can do to ensure a safe and happy holiday.
  • Fireworks - Fireworks are great to go and see with the family on a clear summer night. Check your local newspaper or news report for local time and dates for displays in your area. Setting off fireworks yourself is a common thing to do, and while local laws in most states prohibit this, if you were to theoretically set off fireworks, keep a few things in mind. Keep water handy. Keep them away from children and pets. In general, be careful. For the most part, fireworks, particular large fireworks are designed for use by professionals, but regardless of who is using them, keep in mind that they are dangerous. Please, treat them with the respect they deserve. Nothing ruins a 4th quicker than a run to the emergency room.
  • Grilling - Grilling and Firework Accidents = Loss of EyebrowsMuch like fireworks can cause an accidental fire, so too can grilles. Grills should be placed away from the house or any structure where fire is a concern. Be mindful of what is overhead as well (ie. low tree limbs). Grills are hot, and small children and pets don't always know this, so try to keep both away from the grill if possible. Lastly, keep some water on hand. It is not unheard of for a smoldering charcoal grill to actually cause a house fire hours after your get together has ended. Oh, and take it easy on the lighter fluid. No one looks good without eyebrows.
  • Food Safety - If you know family members or friends are going to show up to your event, make arrangements ahead of time to ensure allergies or dietary restrictions do not leave with nothing to eat. On a similar note, keep the meat thermometer handy and cook meats to their proper temperature, and keep all foods cold until you plan on serving or cooking them. Some food can be precooked to cut down on prep & cooking time prior to your cookout. Though they may seem trivial, just a few simple steps like these can help you and your guests avoid a late night rendezvous with a stomach pump.
  • Travel - Whether traveling by car, plain or even a train, be sure to allot yourself enough time to get to your destination should minor hiccups slow you down. While major events like an automobile accident can shut down an interstate for hours, plan ahead to avoid minor delays, like forgetting to pack something. Check with your local airport about security check wait times and if any flights are delayed. Then, plan accordingly. Allowing for extra time, whether driving or flying, is never a bad idea.
  • Pets - As a part of the family, don't forget about your pets during the revelry. If outdoors, ensure they have plenty of fresh water and shade. Temperatures have been at historic highs this summer, so ensure they can remain cool should not be forgotten. Keep them away from grills, campfires, citronella candles, and ultimately, it may be best to leave them at home instead of having them tag along to a local fireworks display. Most animals are not comfortable with the noise and crowds that come with fireworks.
  • Sun and Heat - These two things have been simply brutal for much of the country over the last two weeks. When outdoors, please use sunscreen and take advantage of shade. Make sure there is plenty of water to go around and a place where those who have had enough of the heat can go to cool off. Hats, sunglasses, and loose fitting clothes can all be helpful in reducing exposure to the sun.
  • Alcohol - For many it's part of any celebration or event, but don't overdo it. Not only can alcohol speed the process of dehydration, drinking and driving or boating is illegal and extremely dangerous. If you have to travel, be sure to choose a DD ahead of time, and as a good general rule, alcohol and fireworks are often NOT the winning combination.
Many of these tips are second nature, but it never hurts to mention these during big holidays or events. Stay safe, have fun, and I hope everyone has a great Independence Day!

Author: Kevin Gilmore

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