AchooAllergy.com Blog
Posted by kevvyg on Thursday, March 28, 2013
Easter - The Hunt for a Good EggWith Good Friday and Easter just around the corner, most of us are finishing the final preparations for either dinner, Easter egg hunt or some type of family activity. In my household, my parents would put together Easter baskets then hide them at night so in the morning we would wake up early and begin the hunt!

Fortunately for us boys, the Easter Bunny knew just what we liked. So he would go easy on the jelly beans and heavy on the Cadbury eggs for me while doing the exact opposite for one of my younger siblings. Sweets and candy weren't the only things that came with our Easter baskets. In every basket was a stuffed animal. Mostly rabbits, but often ducks or turtles, from small to large, there was always one in each basket. Another favorite was a pail with a small plastic shovel and rake (which is great for filling with rocks, making sandcastles or mudpies with later). Other times there might be a pack of toy cars, plastic army men or even oversized chalk (that my dad LOVED to see us use on the sidewalk in front of the house!). There was also, always, an outfit - usually a pair of shorts and a shirt. These types of things can serve two purposes. First, they certainly last much longer than a chocolate bunny, but for children affected by food allergies, they can keep the baskets fun without the focus on candy.

As we grew up and began families of our own we also started having an annual Easter Egg hunt. While there always were at least a dozen or two colored eggs, most of what was hidden were plastic eggs, and though no one in the family has food allergies, some of the things my mother did were a bit forward thinking in that regard.

Starting from just a couple dozen and expanding to nearly three hundred, mom would purchase hollow plastic eggs in a variety of sizes and colors. Some would hold candy, like a small packet of jelly beans, individually wrapped chocolates or packets of sweet tarts (a favorite of mine). She would also fill many with a variety of other things, that while not the intention, were very food allergy friendly.

Running around a massive three acre yard we would find colorful plastic eggs with stickers, rubber bouncy balls, or money. The ones with money were what we called the "jackpot eggs". Filled with anywhere from fifty cents to a whopping two bucks, the older we got, the more these eggs became priceless to us. Another fun idea is to put tickets in the eggs. Number the tickets to match with a corresponding, larger, prize that will prolong the anticipation. They could be redeemable or things like a larger stuffed animal, an inexpensive pair of earrings, an iTunes gift card or even events like a couple hours of bowling or roller skating.

Is is a real egg or plastic?Though we didn't do this, before the event, you can have the children help you decorate the eggs. In reality you can get as extravagant as you want, from using simple stickers to going as far as hot gluing beads or other decorations on each egg. Ribbon or paints can also be used. For real eggs, you can fall back on the trusty Paas coloring kit or even use packets of Kool-Aid to dye the eggs. (Oh, and PLEASE make sure you boil them first! You or your child will only make this mistake, once.) Again though, for children with food allergies, the plastic, or even a purely decorative wooden egg, is likely your best bet to avoid and potential problems.

If you put on your own Easter egg hunt, here's a few tips, coming from years of experience. There are easy hiding spots as well as more difficult ones, so cater to your age ranges. By placing as much or more emphasis on things OTHER than food and candy, you can subtly make the event more inclusive for all kids. Lastly, don't let things get too big. Even with six to twelve kids searching, three hundred eggs is... a bit much. If you don't keep track of exactly how many you had to start with, you might have another annual experience that we had, finding them with the lawn mower a few weeks later.

There is nothing quite like hearing the audible change in the sound of the mower as you buzz through a plastic egg, or watch the contents spew out of the mower into a thousand little slivers (particularly when it is a George Washington that was obliterated). Nearly as bad, if not worse, when you hit one of the real, boiled eggs, after it had been sitting in the yard for three weeks.

For many people, Easter is much like other holidays in that a big part of it is gathering with family or friends. While things like food allergies shouldn't be completely ignored, they do not have to dampen the fun. There are a variety of easy ways to be more inclusive and to ensure all the children and adults involved have an enjoyable time!

Author: Kevin Gilmore

Posted by kevvyg on Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Controlling Your Indoor Air Quality Can Be Key to Controlling Your AsthmaI have to say, I always enjoy reading or hearing stories like the one a friend of mine passed me yesterday (thank you Cordelia!). A very similar story was part of the broadcast on NPR this morning as well. The focus of both was controlling asthma, but to me the more interesting part was how it was being done - environmental control.

At AchooAllergy.com, we have been advocating environmental control, as a way to reduce allergic and asthmatic reactions, for over a decade. So, it is always heartening to see doctors, insurers and others recognizing the importance of this preventative style approach to asthma and allergies and actually creating programs to bring these ideas into the homes of people who need it the most.

Environmental control is multifaceted, and something that is often done in stages. Because it can be time intensive and not the most inexpensive process in the world, we have always stressed that people start with the bedroom and work out towards the rest of the home. You spend more time in your bedroom than any other single room in your home, so if there is one place to be a sanctuary, a place where you can provide relief from allergens, it should be there.

Both stories touched on things we have written about and advocated for years.
  • Using a HEPA vacuum cleaner
  • Installing allergy bedding covers on your mattress and pillow
  • Avoiding harsh cleaners like bleach or ammonia based cleaning products as well as "deodorizers" that pollute the indoor air even more
  • And, removing carpet, to name a few
These measures all work to do one main thing - reduce allergens and improve the indoor environment. In addition to this, programs like the Community Asthma Initiative actually help people by going into the home, educating, coaching and providing the information and products to go about making these changes. Most importantly, they also measure their results, and in a time when budgets are being literally pushed to their breaking points, the ability to quantify the good that comes from these measures is critical in obtaining the funding to continue and expand this type of program.

Partners in Allergy & Asthma EducationOn a similar note, over the last year, we have had the benefit of working with a partner who has recognized the benefit of allergy bedding in helping to reduce dust and dust mites in the home. With them we have been able to provide mattress covers, pillow covers, pillows, and other dust mite bedding to hundreds of people who, without this program, would not likely be able to afford it. Sadly these partnerships remain more of a rarity than the norm, and one of the biggest problems remains education - education of those affected as well as education of those who can help and those who can provide funding for these types of programs. Too few people in both of these groups understand the long term benefit that environmental control can offer.

The educational side is where other partners, like the Allergy & Asthma Network Mothers of Asthmatics, is critical. As a non-profit on the front lines of asthma education and advocacy, the AANMA works to not only help to educate those affected by allergies and asthma, but they also act as a voice to raise awareness on these issues at the state and national government levels.

Allergy shots remain one of the closest things to a cure for allergies, and while medication can tamp down many of the reactions that those affected with asthma have, it's really only when the these things are combined with environmental control measures in the home that the most benefit is seen. It is my sincere hope that as research continues, partnerships, like the ones we have, and programs like the Community Asthma Initiative can continue to coalesce and provide health benefits to those who need it most.

For the full article from Pediatrics Journal.
For more information about the Community Asthma Initiative program or to read/listen to the NPR story.

Author: Kevin Gilmore

Posted by kevvyg on Monday, March 18, 2013
It is human nature for many of us to go through "buyer's remorse" after a purchase. For some, even a small purchase can cause a bit of guilt after the fact (especially for me if that purchase is chocolately and of the high calorie variety). No matter what we purchase, afterwards, we want to feel like we made the right decision. J.D. Power is the leading researcher when it comes to purchasing and consumer sentiment after a purchase. It's their business to check and report on those things, satisfaction and remorse.

We all see the ads, particularly when it comes to automobiles, about J.D. Power and Associates customer satisfaction surveys, but they also rate a wide variety of products from home appliances to airlines. Most recently, they released customer satisfaction results for canister vacuum cleaners and a benchmark study (their first) for uprights.

Using a variety of criteria, they ranked upright and canister vacuum cleaners across six factors, including, performance, ease of use, styling, price, warranty and features. The survey not only gives you some idea of what factors are most important after the purchase, but also sheds some light on satisfaction and indirectly, it can give you some idea about buyer's remorse when it comes to purchasing a vacuum cleaner.

To read the article or to see the report results.

Author: Kevin Gilmore

Posted by kevvyg on Friday, March 08, 2013
White Rice vs. Golden Rice (Genetically Modified NOT Curried)This morning while I was getting ready for work, I had the NPR news app running on my iPad. I like to listen to it since it's short enough but broad enough that it at least gives me quick roundup of some of the headlines of the day. One of the stories that caught my attention was one about the use of a yellow rice. This yellow rice, "golden rice," is not a natural food. It has been genetically modified to contain high amounts of beta-carotene, hence the color. On its face, this sounds like a good idea. In areas across Asia and Africa, millions of people do not get enough vitamin A in their diet, and beta-carotene is a primary source of this nutrient. What I wondered was how a food like this plays into the food allergy conversation.

Yesterday I came across a very in-depth article in the NYT about a large food allergy study/experiment on children who were highly allergic to multiple foods. Through oral immunotherapy a doctor was able to raise the tolerance of children to multiple food allergens to the point where they could again safely interact and grow up more like normal children. Some of the cases were extremely severe, to the point where even crumbs or traces of food allergens would send some of these children into anaphylactic shock - a nightmare scenario for any parent. Foods like wheat, dairy, nuts, and the usual suspects were actors in this play, but what struck me was the unspoken reality that accompanies the rise in food allergies - no one knows exactly why. So with such a big question mark, I wondered how does this relate to the "golden rice"?

There are many theories about the causes of allergies, and while the most popular, the "hygiene theory" does seem to hold some water when it comes to respiratory allergies like rhinitis, hay fever, and sinusitis, it meets a serious challenge when you try to apply it to food allergies. Studies have shown that children raised on farms or environments that are a little more germ-friendly than the typical suburban American household do show lower instances of allergies and asthma. However, in even these places, respiratory allergies are still increasing, and food allergies are rising at a much higher rate.

So why? Why is the food that has sustained the human race for centuries now threatening the lives of so many of our youth? Dr. Nadeau from the NYT piece leans away from the hygiene theory and more towards the chemicals and toxins that saturate modern life. The idea is that environmental factors damage genes or transform them at a very fast rate. These genes are then passed down, which could explain why children of parents with allergies are much more likely to have allergies.

Prevalence of Food Allergies In the United StatesThere is some evidence to support this theory - research pieces that show higher rates of allergies in children when allergic parents as well as others that demonstrate the development of food allergies in children who have immigrated with their parents and adopted a "western diet" (even when there is no parental history of allergies).

This brings me back to the "golden rice". I understand the potential of such a crop, but I also understand some of the dangers commonly levied against genetically modified foods. (FYI, a quick look through your pantry will likely reveal that about 30% of the processed foods you find have genetically modified substances in them.) Brushing these aside and focusing only on the allergy aspect, I keep coming back to a singular question. We do not know why many of the foods that we eat are threatening the lives of more and more children every year, so is it wise to push ahead by adding yet another variable into the mix? We have yet to figure out why the foods we currently eat are affecting food allergies and would most certainly have even less knowledge as to how these new foods could play into that mix.

When turn this question over in my head, I think of a chef who can't figure out why his dish turned out tasting so poorly, but instead of working his way back, eliminating ingredients and trying to find the culprit in the recipe, he simply adds more ingredients and hopes for the best.

To read the full NYT Oral Immunotherapy Story or the NPR story about "golden rice".

Author: K. Gilmore

Posted by kevvyg on Tuesday, March 05, 2013
Cross-Reactivity - Making Everything an Allergen!When it comes to allergies, rarely are they isolated or singular. Often there are groupings, like allergen punches in bunches, that can affect the body. Peanut allergy sufferers are often allergic to other types of tree nuts, or those allergic to ragweed pollen are also likely affected by dust mites. But more than being multi-allergenic, cross reactivity is also an issue for many allergy sufferers. Cross-reactivity is the body's immune system mistaking a similar protein or chemical as one it typically has a reaction to, and most people see this reaction with food.

So what are some common cross reactive allergens? Birch is one of the biggest culprits. A protein found in apple peels is very closely related to one found in birch, and this means the body can sometimes confuse the two. You may be diagnosed with an allergy to birch, but then, while eating a raw apple, you might experience tingling, swelling or itching around the mouth and lips. This type of symptom is most common for people with cross reactions to foods. Another example of this is with grass pollens and seemingly unrelated foods like kiwis, tomatoes, or peanuts. Sometimes referred to as "latex-fruit syndrome," a third common cross-reaction stems from a latex allergy and a sensitivity to certain fruits like bananas and kiwi.

Unfortunately, the problem with this can be felt year round. So while your spring allergy season may play hell on your birch pollen allergy, a reaction to eating fresh apples is likely to appear regardless of the season.

Challenges in identifying and categorizing these reactions can be difficult and cause false positive test results. Common allergen tests, like the skin prick test, can reveal a sensitivity to a particular allergen, potentially a cross reactive food, but then lead to a diagnosis of a full blown allergy to this food. Cross-reactivity does not mean that someone will have a reaction to ALL types of food that share a particular, similar protein. Because of this, eliminating an entire class of foods from the diet because of cross reactivity can sometimes be a bit unwarranted, though not uncommon.

One interesting away around this can be by cooking foods. While the cross reactions can be common when it comes to fresh food, cooked food often alters the proteins enough that the body no longer misidentifies them. This is not always the case (particularly with a cross-reaction to nuts), but this does explain why someone with a birch pollen allergy can feel a tingling in the lips and mouth when eating a fresh apple but experience no symptom at all when eating apple cobbler or drinking apple cider.

Without a doubt, cross reactivity complicates our understanding of allergies and the allergic response. Yet, solving the problem of allergies can't be solved until more is known, and cross reactivity is just another part of puzzle. If you think you may be cross-reactive, talk to your doctor or allergist. While the knowledge in this area is still rapidly expanding, he may be able to help further pinpoint the actual cause of the issue.

Author: K. Gilmore

Posted by kevvyg on Friday, March 01, 2013

Miele S8 Vacuum Cleaners

Well, it took a lot of stopping and starting and some changing dates on Miele's part, but the all the new Miele S8 canister vacuums are now available for purchase online.

Miele Cat & Dog Canister VacuumWhat makes each model unique? The UniQ is by far, the top of the line, the crème de la crème. It offers the most features and several upgrades that truly make it "unique". The Marin provides many of the same features but also gives you the choice in which carpet cleaning tool will best meet your needs. The Kona is a direct replacement for the Callisto. Versatile and well-rounded, the Kona offers a perfect balance of value and performance. Similar to the UniQ in one-of-a-kind features, the Alize has a built in spotlight, DynamicDrive casters and the AirTeQ floor tool to help set it apart. Lastly, the Calima provides quality filtration and the right tools for homes with mostly smooth floors.

The last in the new line, the Miele Cat & Dog, can be pre-ordered, but stock isn't expected to arrive for about another week. This canister vacuum separates itself by using the Active AirClean filter and including the STB 101 to help make this vacuum the best fit for pet owners.

See the full line of Miele vacuum cleaners.

Author: Kevin Gilmore

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