How to Tackle Winter Allergies

Since the New Year, have you been sneezing more than usual? Noticing (more) obvious dark circles under your eyes? Coughing and having a runny nose? Feeling abnormally itchy? If these feelings persist for more than a week, then you’re likely one of the many people who suffers from winter allergies.

These allergies are more apparent because of how much time we spend indoors when the temperature drops. Times have been tough this winter for people with severe allergies: for me, not only is my eczema acting up – made apparent by cracks in my hands and feet as well as itchiness on the backs of my legs – but also my sensitivity to dust has skyrocketed.

While I’m a total proponent of skin tests to recognize allergies, I first recommend that people with typical winter allergy symptoms try an antihistamine or decongestant. It’s remarkable how much better you can feel after trying a Claritin D® or Sudafed®. If you’re hesitant to ingest anything just yet, I highly recommend at least one of the following: 1) purchase a humidifier, 2) throw out “old” curtains or carpeting, 3) invest in allergy-proof bedding, 4) take shorter showers and avoid steaming hot water. The first three actions can control or lower the amount of dust or mold in your home. The latter can help keep your skin from becoming dry. I have also bought hydrocortisone, to quickly remedy any itchiness, and swear by Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Wash, which is less harsh soap for sensitive skin.

There’s no need to live with feeling sick when you’re not actually sick, so consider taking action – you owe it to yourself this year!

Advertisements

What About Non-food Products?

In one of my earliest posts, I wrote about a time when I ate salsa that unfortunately contained peanut butter as a main ingredient. So we know that nuts can be easily masked in food but what about in non-food products? The amount of household and outdoor items that include peanuts or peanut oil/shells is actually shocking given the fact that some people use these products every day. Such items include:

  • detergent
  • stuffing in furniture or toys
  • lotion for hand or body
  • pet food
  • lawn fertilizer
  • cosmetics

Since you can never be too careful, consider washing your hands (without peanut-infused soap) when interacting with others, especially kids; this can not only prevent illnesses but also help avoid mishaps when interacting with others who have highly sensitive allergies. Ideally, you should double-check ingredients — even if you think an item is “totally safe” — and look beyond what the eye can see because often things are hidden. It’s also worth considering that other allergens exist in common products, such as wheat in store-bought Playdough. Now that you’ve read the above possibilities, it’s your responsibility to pass along the message to others.

coco, hazel & ella – what NUTty gals

There are two sweet nuts that have led to a lot of confusion in the nut world: coconut and hazelnut, the latter of which is a main ingredient in Nutella(R). I get a lot of questions about whether or not I can eat coconut, but I never face mini-interrogations when in the same vicinity as hazelnuts — or more specifically Nutella.

Coconut, as defined by the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, is actually a fruit, rather than a nut. In the past ten years, there has be a ton of hype around the FDA’s classification of coconut as a tree nut. By literal form, yes: a coconut is a seed that grows from a tree, but I tend to side with the fact that it should be taken off the do-not-eat list for people with nut allergies. People with coconut allergies are actually (typically) allergic to the meat of the fruit, so this has nothing to do with nuts or nut allergies. Coconut has never caused an allergic reaction for me or anyone I know; in fact, most people who have peanut and tree nut allergies are able to eat coconut.

Seemingly as delicious as coconut, Nutella is another “nut” that comes in spread form or even as an ice cream flavor. Whenever around Nutella, I wonder why no one asks me if it will cause a reaction. In camp, my friend used to eat Nutella by the tub and I was so disappointed that I could never try it. In high school, my friend fed me a spoon of Nutella gelato, which led to nausea, an itchy mouth, and lots of attitude from my end as I was baffled over why she did not realize this would cause a problem. To avoid such childhood sadness and anger, I presume, Nutella’s manufacturer (Ferrero) removed peanut oils and all hydrogenated oils from all of its products, so Nutella is now free of peanuts! However, the products main ingredient is still hazelnut.

While Nutella is off-limits, I love to drink hazelnut-flavored coffee. Whether it’s hot from a nearby bodega or chilled from the local Starbucks, hazelnut is a common, delicious flavor of coffee. Questioning how it was possible that I could consume any form of hazelnut, I turned to Google search. One professional at Starbucks admitted that its drinks made with hazelnut syrup do not contain the hazelnut antigen; the syrup basically only contains sugar, water, and natural and artificial flavors. Ultimately, I gathered that most hazelnut drinks would not cause a problem for people with allergies similar to mine, but if you’re questioning a product then you should ask. Always ask, even to the point of offending others. Just because a nut has a cute name does not mean it will be safe to consume. It’s not worth it to enjoy the taste of something for a few seconds with the follow-up of mouth discomfort, stomach pains, or worse.

Mixed Feelings Over Recall

I’ve loved Haagen Dazs since I was a little girl. The chocolate bar with chocolate drizzle just speaks to me, so I was surprised to find out that they just recalled over 10,000 packs of chocolate peanut butter ice cream. Anyone on the east coast should be wary of the product as it was mislabeled, saying the flavor is just chocolate chip without noting peanuts as an ingredient.

On one hand, I’m actually pretty fearful. This is scary for the everyday person with peanut allergies. The thoughtless, heavenly act of stuffing your face with ice cream just became something to over-analyze (beyond just asking for or looking into the ingredients and asking servers to clean their utensils). Even if you aren’t allergic to peanuts yourself, then presumably you can still understand to how serious a product recall is. Bringing me to my other hand: I’m impressed by how much Haagen Dazs is owning up to their mistakes. Even on their own site, this breaking news is the first thing you see. I have not yet heard of an incident related to this story, so I hope that remains true in the coming days/weeks. Luckily we live in a world where news spreads like rapid fire.

While I don’t have another hand, I also hope the company can bounce back from it… I will accept (peanut) free ice cream, if I must.

Kissing With Nut Allergies

During an electrifying night out with multiple instances of PDA along the streets of Manhattan, I reflected on a story about kissing that I was told during summer camp. As we campers departed Honesdale, PA after two months away from home, we shared stories of what happened on the last night. One girl noted that she almost got to first base with a boy she liked but couldn’t do anything because he had eaten a peanut candy bar from the canteen. She claimed that if they had waited three hours after he ate nuts (which apparently they didn’t have?) then she would have been fine – leading me to believe that it takes three hours for your mouth to clean itself of all food. Her conviction was so sound I didn’t question it for years, despite all of the horrid stories in the media about the “kiss of death.” Today I looked to debug her information.

A few years ago, Mount Sinai studied the post-eating saliva of ten people who just had a peanut butter sandwich. After five minutes, the peanut allergen was still recognized in seven of ten people; after one hour, only one person still withheld the allergen in their saliva, and he wasn’t allergen-free until 4.5 hours later. While I couldn’t find much more beyond this study, which seemed too small to rule out my initial thought, I now resolve to pass along one doctor’s advice: “if you can’t [avoid peanuts altogether], the next safety strategy is to wait several hours and eat several meals without peanuts before kissing your partner.” (WebMD) While her guidance is often easier said than done, be as careful as possible, especially during a long night of fun.

Peanut Allergies in the Media

Peanut Allergies in the Media

Here, for the first time, I will admit that my know-it-all stance on peanut allergies has been tested. PeanutAllergy.com’s Facebook Page continues to teach me facts, offer advice, ask me thought-provoking questions and keep things interesting. So regardless of if you have allergies, take some time to expand your knowledge:

  • almost half of annual ER visits are the result of peanut allergies (DailyRandomFacts.com reference)
  • peanut oil can be used to create dynamite
  • up to 20% of kids outgrow peanut allergies
  • nearly half of kids with food allergies have been bullied (CNN reference)
  • siblings of children who are allergic to peanuts are more likely to develop the allergy

Now, hopefully you’re inspired to go learn more.

The Dreaded Allergy Test

So you think you may have allergies, but how can you be sure?  All of which I describe below may not be the perfect solution for you, so be smart and make sure to contact a professional asthma and allergy specialist before tackling allergies on your own.

At ANY age you can develop or outgrow allergies.  Sounds crazy!  But as we grow older our immune systems may become oversensitive.  While doctors have not yet found an absolute cure for allergies, they can help you with preventative solutions, and no I do not just mean recommending pills that you can get over-the-counter.  Two common solutions are nasal sprays and allergy injections.  If you are eligible for the latter, this is the most effective (and the route I took as a child).  After approximately three years of shots occurring as often as once a week, the process helped my body build up antibodies/strengthen my immune system so my allergies would be less severe or be vanquished completely as I reached adulthood.

Next step: either a blood test or skin-scratch test are your best go-tos.  I have been told the blood test better displays food allergies, while the skin-scratch test is sufficient for testing environmental allergies.  However, I have been tested for both with the skin-scratch test.  Do not get tested again within three years of taking one of these tests.  To ensure complete accuracy, you must NOT take any preventative medicine, such as Benadryl or Allegra, within the week of your test.

The blood test is somewhat self explanatory as it is akin to getting blood drawn, but the skin-scratch test can be intimidating if it is your first time.  A drop of the allergen, which can be a microscopic amount of anything from peanuts to pollen, is placed on your forearm or on your back.  If the test is positive, aka you are definitely allergic, the drop will swell up and become itchy and red.  If the initial test is negative, the intradermal test will be performed, during which a small amount of the allergen is injected into your skin (seen left).  A positive reaction looks the same during each test.

These tests are quick and are mildly uncomfortable… I mean the biggest pro is that you might find out that something you were allergic to as a child may be something you can enjoy for the rest of your adult life! Another less common option when testing for food allergies when in the doctors office is to ingest a small amount of the food.  Thus if the worst case scenario occurs, as in you go into anaphylactic shock, your doctor will be there.

I have found success in these practices and highly recommend them to you!  Additionally, the Asthma & Allergy Center in PA can answer many questions you may have if you’re still curious: http://www.aactx.com/Faq/#45.