Archive for June, 2014

The Great Outdoors And Summer Allergies

Many of my patients and their children are ready to beat the heat of the city and head towards parks and other open spaces this summer. But even in these temperate climates, a variety of allergies are caused by flora and fauna.

An interesting article in Consumer Reports describes what to watch out for outdoor when hiking or camping in the great outdoors.

When traveling in heavily tree-laden areas, like parks and forests, watch out for poisonous plants. Poison ivy, oak and sumac are the most common cause of an itchy, skin rashes in these wooden areas. To relieve symptoms, take cool showers or apply cool compresses, If symptoms persist, contact a doctor about the use of a prescription corticosteroid.

A variety of bugs are common occurrence in the outdoors during the summer. A particular concern is the tick that triggers Lyme disease and the mosquito that triggers West Nile virus. The areas that tick predominate are in the Northeast or upper Midwest, while the mosquito predominates in hot climates and areas of high rainfall. The tick bite triggers a bull’s-eye rash and expands over a few days. Symptoms include fever, fatigue, headaches and aching muscles or joints. The mosquitoe bite triggers symptoms that include an unexplained fever, headache, muscle pain, or weakness and vomiting.

To prevent symptoms of both types of bugs, you should apply an insect repellant before going outdoors as well as wear protective clothing such as long pants, long-sleeved shirts, socks and closed toe shoes when walking in insect-prone areas. At the onset of long-lasting symptoms for both insects, immediately contact a physician.

Another insect to watch out for are bees. I’ve seen a number of bee stings on patients in my waiting room. The sting triggers a widespread rash of itchy, red skin bumps that could trigger a serious allergic reaction. As Consumer Reports states “when stung, try to scrape away the stinger with a straight-edge object, such as a credit card. While over the counter remedies include cold compresses and steroid creams can help ease most bites, along with oral antihistamines, if you’ve had a severe reaction to insect stings, ask your doctor to prescribe an epinephrine injection kit.”

Finally, be aware of fungal infections. Again, Consumer Reports states “such infections as brownish-red rash on your feet–otherwise known as athlete’s foot, groin (jock itch), armpits, and under the breasts in women. If left untreated, a lot of times they will go away on their own.” If you bothered by symptoms “wash the affected area daily with soap and water, then dry well. Apply Lotrimin AF creme or miconazole powder or spray for at least two weeks. If symptoms worsen, see your doctor.”

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Dirty Kids, Allergies And The Amish

Many of my female patients who have kids feel that dirt is the ultimate “evil” that their little ones can bring home. Those mothers are real “germaphobes.” They think dirt and kids don’t mix and are obsessed with their children’s cleanliness.

Yet according to various studies, a little dirt may be a good thing for kids.

In an interesting 2012 study, Dr. Mark Holbreich, an allergist with Allergy and Asthma Consultants found that children growing up in the Amish culture in Switzerland have significantly less asthma and allergies than Swiss children who didn’t grow upon a farm.

In an article on the website Health Day, the results of this study stated “Amish children had about the half the prevalence of asthma compared to their non-farm-dwelling counterparts (about 5 percent vs 11 percent). Swiss farm children had a rate of asthma of nearly 7 percent. The rate of allergic sensitization followed similar patterns. Non-farm children had the highest rates, at about 44 percent, compared with 25 percent in the Swiss farm children and just above 7 percent among the Amish children.”

Dr. Hobreich said in the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI) annual meeting that the study ” supports the hygiene hypothesis …that early life farm exposures are protective against developing allergies and asthma.” He went on to say that “our next goal is figuring out of the farm life factors that are protecting the children we studied…Early exposure to farm animals and drinking milk directly from the farm, which is neither pasteurized nor homogenized, may be key factors.”

Coming on the heels of the Amish study, prior research indicates that exposure to ordinary dirt activates the neurons that produce serotonin–a key chemical in many bodily functions, as well as being a natural anit-depressant. Also, dirt is a boom to the immune system. Early exposure to naturally occurring microbes can help building stronger, more disease-resistant children.

Parents should encourage their children to spend more times outdoors and expose them to soil rich environments. Creating an outdoor garden for your child to tend, or even taking them in the woods for hikes or nature collection–such as studying insects or plants– can create an allergy-resistant and happier child.

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