Posted by kevvyg on Tuesday, November 25, 2014
Alcohol and Food AllergiesAs the season of family get togethers and office parties draws nearer, now is a great time to go over a few things regarding foods allergies and two things that commonly appear at these types of gatherings - alcohol and nuts. For people with food allergies, gatherings and meals can often be a hassle, and the frequency of holiday gatherings can greatly increase this. Nut allergies tend to be some of the most problematic, and with nuts in everything from Thanksgiving stuffing and pies to cookies and alcohol, some anxiety isn't without merit. Even though bowls of nuts sitting on a bar are largely a thing of the past, they can still make appearances at dinner parties. For adults though, what alcohols pose the most problems and which are safe?

This question can be a very difficult one to answer. Alcohol, though consumed like juice, food, or soda (though your liver hopes not with the same frequency!), isn't governed by the same regulations or even the same agency as these others. While foods and most beverages fall under the domain of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), alcohol falls under the guidance and regulations of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, a subdivision of the Department of Treasury. This INCLUDES labeling rules and regulations. I TOTALLY Begged My Graphic Designer for a Graphic of 'Mega-Jumbo-Can-O-Caffeinated-Monkey-Juice' But THIS Is What I Got So while your mega-jumbo-can-o-caffeinated-monkey-juice will most certainly have a label listing the nutritional value and all the ingredients, alcohol is almost always devoid of the former (and often the latter as well). Though it is often easier to determine how many calories are in your alcoholic beverage of choice, finding the actual ingredients that make up that drink is another story entirely.

Many producers do list ingredients on their website or have at least become savvy enough to list some of the common allergens that are NOT in their products, particularly nuts or nut derivatives. Beyond visiting websites and doing your own investigative research, many people are left with only anecdotal evidence as to whether a type of drink can cause a reaction or not.

Distilled spirits (think whiskey, rum, etc.) have a list of standard requirements when it comes to labeling. These include
  • Name
  • Alcohol Content
  • Address of Distiller
  • Country of Origin
  • Net Contents (a metric measurement of volume)
  • Coloring Agents (colored with caramel, annatto, etc.)
  • Wood Treatment ("beechwood aged" ring a bell?)
  • Other Ingredients like Dyes, (Yellow #5), Saccharin, or Sulfites
  • Specific Type of Commodity (redistilled, blended, compounded, etc.)
  • Statement of Age
  • Distillation/Production Location
  • A Health Warning
Seems like a lot, right? Notice what's missing? Nutrition information and ingredients.

Nut Allergy & AlcoholAs of right now, major food allergens can voluntarily be listed for wines, distilled spirits, and malt beverages, but again, this is only voluntary. There has been a proposal to make this mandatory, and since 2006, nothing has been finalized... eight years later.

And, even if you do find a list of ingredients, this still may not cover a statement regarding the processing. Though some can tell you that there are no nuts in their products, many can't ensure their products were produced in a facility that is also nut-free. This touches on another problem, cross-contamination.

Any Type of Alcohol Can Potentially Contain Allergens and Finding What's In the Drink Is No Easy TaskBartenders and those mixing drinks work in fast paced environments and worrying about cross contaminating a drink is likely not high on the priority list when there are half a dozen orders rolling in at a time. A good general tip is to skip the garnish. One garnish in particular that can be troublesome for those with nut allergies is maraschino cherries. These are often processed or flavored with almond extract. If you know a favorite mix or type of drink that is safe for you and you order it with no garnish, you can dramatically reduce any risk. At that point ingredients should be coming straight from the bottle to your glass.

For reference purposes, here's a quick list of some common alcoholic beverages that contain nuts or nut extracts. Keep in mind, things can and do change, so contacting the producer is still your best bet.
  • Amaretto
  • Creme de noyaux
  • Creme de noix
  • Frangelico
  • Galliano
  • Kahana Royale
  • Nocello
  • Beefeater
  • Bombay Sapphire
  • Harp Lager
  • Phillips Dirty Squirrel
  • Southern Comfort
  • Eblana
  • Nocino

This list is by no means comprehensive, and there are MANY varieties of wines, beers, champagnes and other types of alcohol I excluded because they to be rather obvious choices to avoid (many had things like "Nut", "Cashew", or "Almond" in the actual name).

Be Safe This Holiday Season - Cheers!In general, I advise people to stick with what they know. For people with severe nut allergies being adventurous around the holidays can likely lead to some not-so-festive memories. Check producers websites whenever possible, and if you don't see the information you need listed, call or email them. Most producers would much prefer you contact them and err on the side of safety when consuming their products. Lastly, make sure you keep your auto injector (and a backup!) handy at all times.

Unfortunately, all we've covered today is nuts. If you are one of the rare people who has a wheat or gluten allergy, that's a whole other ball of wax. Be safe and enjoy the holidays responsibly!

Author: K. Gilmore

Posted by kevvyg on Friday, November 01, 2013
Pets and Dealing with Pet DanderPets are amazing friends to have in life. These trusted companions can increase serotonin and dopamine levels (the "feel good" neurotransmitters), provide more structure in your daily routine and make you smile more! These are a few of the reasons why there are efforts to pair not only the elderly but also those dealing with severe illness with pets.

For those with pet dander allergies, the relationship with dogs and cats can be bittersweet. Despite the benefits pets can offer, their dander can trigger sneezing, congestion, watery eyes, skin reactions and even asthma attacks. But to better understand this, let’s get microscopic and explore what triggers these allergic reactions. The American Lung Association explains pet dander as a composition of "tiny, even microscopic, flecks of skin shed by cats, dogs, rodents, birds and other animals with fur or feathers." Proteins found in saliva and excretions from cats, dogs and other pets can also cause allergic reactions.

Unfortunately, cats are the largest culprit for protein allergy reactions due to a Fel d I protein they carry. Not only is cat dander some of the smallest, but it's also "sticky," meaning it's difficult to remove. Curiously, female cats produce more Fel d I protein than males, but it's not quite clear why this is. Research from the University of Cambridge has found similarities in Fel d I protein and Der p 2, the dust mite allergen, both of which can promote airway hypersensitivity reactions for asthmatics.

Give Me Up?  I Am Not AmusedSo you've been diagnosed with allergies to dander or you have asthma, now what? Most people aren't willing to give up their pets, and given the strong bonds that people can and do form with their furry friends, this is understandable. There are a few things that you can do to try to limit your exposure to dander and hopefully keep your allergies or asthma in check.
  • Limit where they can roam. Keep your pet out of the bedroom and off of the furniture. Bedrooms can be the single worst place for your pet to be if you're dealing with pet allergies or asthma.
  • Clean as much as you can. This means not only surfaces, but also the air in your home and even your pet itself.
  • Keep up with any medication. Don't skip things like your preventative asthma medication or a doctor prescribed treatment.
The first tip is something you have to dedicate yourself to. Keep doors closed or buy a gate to block certain parts of the house, and for the last tip, consult with your doctor or board certified allergist. In terms of cleaning, there are a variety of household products dedicated for tidying up pet friendly homes and a combination of these can often make a big difference in how you feel.

Bathing your pet regularly with an anti-allergen pet shampoo is a good first step, but too many baths can dry your pet's skin and cause itching and scratching. So between baths Allerpet is a handy solution to pet dander. Allerpet/C gently cleanses your cat's hair of saliva and dander, and can make all the difference for those with allergies.

FURminator Removes Loose Hair and UndercoatCats and dogs all have hair, and pet hair can be the primary vehicle of spreading dander throughout your home. The FURminator deshedding tool is a specially designed shed-less tool for cat and dog owners. FURminator's unique blade is designed to remove loose hair like no other. Dog groomers love this pet brush because it removes undercoat and loose hair from dogs and cats, while leaving the shiny top coat intact and healthy.

Most pets spend at least some time outdoors, and just as their hair can carry dander, it can also pick up outdoor allergens and bring these unwanted guests into your home. This is where Pet Wipes can help. These wipes make it easy to remove dander, pollen, dirt and saliva off your pets. There are couple sizes available, but each pet wipe is stronger and thicker than most others sold today, and one wipe can generally clean your entire dog or cat.

So you tackled the source of the allergens, what about your home? For floors, surfaces and even furniture, a quality vacuum cleaner can make a big difference. With an Active Clean filter, 12 stage filtration, and an array of cleaning attachments, the Miele Cat & Dog vac provides all the tools needed to keep your home clean and free of dander no matter what four-legged friend you have indoors. As with the Cat & Dog upright, the included STB 101 turbobrush comes included in the box and works well on carpeted and upholstered surfaces. With an encased motor and silence insulation, these vacuums are nearly quiet enough let your sleeping dog lie.

Pet Air Purifier - Austin Pet MachineDander is light enough to easily become airborne, so how can you remove allergens from the air in your home? Designed specifically for pet owners, the Austin Air Pet Machine air purifier traps the allergens produced by pets, specifically pet dander. The Austin Air Pet Machine has a filter that traps these microscopic particles as well as a special blend of carbon that reduces the unpleasant pet odors that linger in the air. With 4 stage filtration, five color options, and an effective coverage area of 750 sq. ft., the Pet Machine fits well into nearly any size of room.

Best of luck with your beloved pets! If your allergies are excruciating, even after trying all methods of taming pet dander, you might unfortunately have to consider removing them from your humble abode. If it comes to that, please find them a home where they will be just as loved or even more.

Author: Rachel P.

Posted by kevvyg on Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Loads and Loads of Pine Pollen... Messy!Pollen, pollen everywhere! It's like Christmas, except instead of snow, it's yellow pollen, and instead of receiving gifts, all you get is sneezing, congestion, a runny nose, allergic rhinitis or sinusitis. Though pollen levels are traditionally very high during the springtime, nature sometimes tries to do its part to help mitigate the mucousy misery that it spreads. Nature's idea of helping with pollen? Rain.

While wet, warm conditions are very conducive for the production of pollen, it tends to be drier days that see some of the highest pollen counts. This is because dry, low humidity days are better "pollen travel days". When not encumbered by moisture, pollens are freer to float about in the air and coat, well, everything. Ever notice the air feels "heavier" or "thicker" when it's humid out? There is some merit to this as humidity does make microparticles, like pollen, heavier and more likely to precipitate out of the air rather than continue floating along, tickling the noses of people across a very wide area.

Often rains spell relief for many folks since the humidity levels rises and grounds pollen faster than one of those new Boeing Dreamliners with a faulty battery (too soon?). Rain not only inhibits the spread of pollen, it also washes it away. Areas of the country, like Atlanta, that experience high levels of pine pollen often get that yellow, powdery coat over everything. While these larger, visible particles can sometimes be less responsible for allergic reactions than their smaller cousins, this pollen nonetheless is a good indicator to all that allergy season is in full swing.

So whether you're a farmer in many parts of our drought stricken country or just a seasonal allergy sufferer, spring rains bring welcome relief. Check out a few of the pictures I shot recently. No, it's not a chemical spill. That's pollen!

Rain Giveth and the Rain Washeth Away!

You can't always wait on the rains to give you a break during week long stretches of high pollen counts, but you can help to reduce the pollen you breathe by wearing an allergy mask, rinsing your sinuses and using OTC allergy medications when symptoms flare up. Or, there is always a rain dance.

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 Wednesday, March 14, 2012
With nearly 80 degree weather here in Atlanta and everything in bloom, it seems like an excellent time to make sure you are set for this year's spring allergy season. One of the simpliest measures people take to protect themselves is wear an allergy mask.

Masks come in a variety of styles and sizes, and being such a personal item, it can be difficult to find the one that balances all your needs: filtration, breathability, aethestics, and price. Here at Achoo, we focus on filtration and breathability first, then comfort and price.

One big complaint about allergy masks is the look of them, but would you be willing to sacrifice some filtration for style? You may be familiar with some of the masks below, but browse our Andy Warhol-esque selection below and see which you would prefer. Allergy Mask Styles
  • a. Vogmask (Microfiber) - Non-woven microfiber, 3-ply, that offers basic particle filtration, roughly equivalent to the Silk Mask.
  • b. Vogmask (Organic Cotton) - Organic cotton, 2-ply, that offers slightly less filtration and the Vogmask microfiber.
  • c. ICanBreathe Organic Cotton - This organic cotton face mask uses no latex, dyes, perfumes or plastics. The filtration is similar to the Silk Mask.
  • d.Respro Techno - With the European equivalent of N95 filtration and activated carbon, the Techno filters chemicals, smoke and particles.
  • e.Respro Aero/Allergy - Like the Techno, the Aero offers N95 equivalent filtration of particles with optional smoke/chemical filtration.
  • f. ICanBreathe Silk - Very popular, the Silk is lightweight, easily stored and blocks medium to larger particles, like dust and many pollens, less than N95 filtration.
The Vogmasks are new masks that incorporates a lot more style into the design. The filtration varies, and both are washable and reusable. So for around $20 in price, would you sacrifice some particle filtration for a more stylish mask? Which mask would you choose? We'd love to hear your comments below.

Posted by Shifrah on Friday, January 06, 2012
The death of a first-grader in Richmond, Virginia highlights the possible unpreparedness of schools to deal with allergy emergencies.

Ammaria Johnson had a peanut allergy. While out at recess, she broke out in hives and began complaining of shortness of breath. Though she was taken to the school clinic, they had nothing they could give her and called 911. Sadly, she didn't make it.

Head of the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network Maria Acebal says of the incident, "When consequences can be life-threatening, then you've got to have schools prepared for an allergic reaction. It's very straightforward. There is no magic to this. It's just proper education, how to recognize it, and how to treat it."

Since 8 percent of American schoolchildren have food allergies, it seems imperative that schools have on-hand the life-saving equipment and medication to treat a food allergy attack. But as Shawn Smith, spokesman for the Chesterfield County school district points out, although there are extensive guidelines for treating students with severe allergies, the parents of the allergic children must provide prescribed medication to the schools, along with a form authorizing the school to administer it if an emergency arises.

In the absence of these, the nurse attempts to make contact with the family in time to obtain and give medication – an outcome that seems unlikely given the speed with which allergic anaphylaxis can cause death.

To me, this whole situation seems like a tragic, bureaucratic gap in addressing the severe consequences of an allergy attack. Yes, health officials must know how to recognize an allergy attack, but it seems like we have to find a way to allow schools to carry and administer epinephrine when an allergic attack is evident and death is imminent.

Posted by Shifrah on Friday, October 28, 2011
Today in our regular perusal of allergy-related news, we came across Five Surprising Health Hazards on

In summary, the hazards highlighted were:

  • Licorice can lead to heart attacks. The FDA recently came out with a warning that too much black licorice could lead to heart trouble in adults, especially older ones. These heart problems include arrhythmias, and are due to the glycyrrhizin in black licorice, which can cause the body's potassium levels to fall.

  • Sugar substitutes can cause diarrhea. Sorbitol can lead to diarrhea and other gastrointestinal issues. Look for it especially in "dietetic" type candies.

  • Eye injuries from thrown eggs. Shells from tossed-around eggs can cause blood in the front of the eye, scratches to the cornea, and retinal swelling. Eye injuries reported around Halloween time confirm that this danger is real, not an imagined paranoia.

  • Lead contamination. Halloween-themed toys, from candy buckets to fake teeth, that are contaminated with lead can cause to children to ingest unsafe amounts of lead.

  • Glow stick "poisoning." Increased incidents of children ingesting the liquid found in glow sticks occur around Halloween. Though the liquid is minimally toxic, poison control facilities should be contacted if this occurs.

Another truly frightening Halloween risk is to those who have food allergies. We wonder if this danger didn't make this list because it's a "known" risk or because, as we fear, lack of awareness of the dangers of food allergies is still the norm. What do you think?

For more on Halloween and allergies, see:
Halloween Asthma Triggers
Food Allergies and Halloween: Staying Safe
Helping Food Allergic Kids Feel "Normal"

Posted by Shifrah on Friday, September 09, 2011
Turns out that those who think every allergy season is the worst one ever may actually be right, as explained in's Why your allergies are bugging you.

The reason for worsening allergy seasons is two-fold: There's more pollen and it's sticking around for longer. As Estelle Levetin, Ph.D., chairwoman of the aerobiology committee for the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology puts it: "Pollen levels are increasing, pollen seasons are getting longer, and more people are developing allergies."

This year's fall allergies are estimated to last up to 27 days longer than average in some parts of the country.

Here is a summary of the reasons behind these more potent and longer-lasting allergy seasons, which occur both in the spring and the fall:

  • "Spring allergies now start sooner and fall allergies end later, thanks to global warming," says Jeffrey G. Demain, M.D., director of the Allergy, Asthma & Immunology Center of Alaska.

  • Carbon-based fuels trap heat over the earth's surface, causing temperatures to rise. This heat prompts an early spring, and delays the first frost – making both seasons longer.

  • Increased temperature also heighten the allergenic property of each pollen grain. "There's more allergen now in each grain than there used to be," Demain says.

  • Higher temperatures also contribute to more prolific mold, another fall allergy trigger.

Posted by Shifrah on Friday, September 02, 2011
My family will be attending a conference in Jacksonville over this Labor Day weekend and staying at the Hyatt Regency there. While looking at the Hyatt website, I came across their offering of hypoallergenic rooms.

Keeping allergen exposure to a minimum while travelling is a problem many allergy sufferers face. Bringing items like portable air purifiers and even your own allergy bedding can help control allergies while staying in a hotel, but these options are not always convenient. An allergy-free room, maintained by the hotel you're staying in, seems like an excellent alternative.

So just what makes these rooms hypoallergenic? According to Hyatt, Respire by Hyatt rooms undergo "an additional six-step process to reduce airborne particles and minimize the presence of potential irritants." These six steps include a one-time shock treatment to minimize irritants, complete disinfection of the air handling unit with application of tea tree oil, hypoallergenic mattress and pillow covers, a medical grade air purifier, vacuuming with units that have "special filters that trap pollen and dust mites," deep cleaning and disinfection of room surfaces to remove allergy triggers, and every surface treated with an application to eliminate bacteria growth.

This all may sound great – and it might be – but we did have a few question marks. Mainly, we wondered about the use of tea tree oil as well as what is being used to disinfect and treat the room surfaces. Of course, minimizing allergens is a plus for allergy and asthma sufferers, but sometimes the "cure" can cause additional problems. For instance, using bleach to deal with mold could trigger respiratory reactions due to noxious fumes.

An article in, Jax Hotel Offers Allergy-Free Rooms: Hyatt Regency Uses Special Pillowcases, Air Filters, Vacuum Cleaners helps clarify this matter, however, by specifying that the cleaning products used are chemical- and fragrance-free.

But a statement by sales and marketing representative Casper van Eldik Thieme made us wonder about how consistent the effects of these allergy relief efforts are. He describes: "We do this every six months. We go through the whole process and make sure it's clean for the guests. When they are staying here, they know that this room is as fresh and as clean as it was six months ago." Knowing how important it is to maintain a clean environment weekly, even daily, we cringed at the mention of "six months."

The best way to know whether these rooms work is experience. Has anyone stayed in a hypoallergenic or allergy friendly hotel room?

Posted by Shifrah on Monday, August 29, 2011
A question posed in the Science section highlights the fact that those with food allergies must be on the alert at all times – even in situations that don't involve food.

The question is as follows:

"When I observe student teachers in a school auto shop, there is almost always an engine retrofitted to run on biofuels like used peanut oil. Is it safe for students with a severe peanut allergy to be around it or work on it?"

Fortunately, according to Dr. William Reisacher, ear, nose, and throat specialist and director of the Allergy Center at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell hospital, "The processing of the fuel minimizes or eliminates such a risk." Typical peanut oil used for cooking has all of the peanut protein – the allergenic part of the peanut – filtered out.

However, Dr. Reisacher warns that peanut allergic individuals must be wary of "products that are labeled as organic, cold-pressed, expelled or extruded" because they "may still have enough protein present to cause an allergic reaction in a person who is peanut-allergic."

Back to biofuel, Dr. Reisacher further adds that though passing through an internal combustion engine would most likely degrade any traces of peanut protein that might be present after processing, wearing a barrier mask or respirator would "add an extra layer of safety."

We'd of course recommend the extra layer of safety…

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