Allergen Glossary

Allergen – A substance that induces a specific immunological response that may lead to allergic disease.

Allergist – A physician specializing in treating allergies.

Allergy – Symptoms induced by exposure to an allergen to which previous sensitization has occurred.

Antibody – An antibody is a protein (also called an immunoglobulin) that is manufactured by lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell) to neutralize an antigen or foreign protein. Bacteria, viruses and other microorganisms commonly contain many antigens, as do pollens, dust mites, molds, foods, and other substances.

Asthma – A respiratory disease, often caused by exposure to allergens, marked by wheezing, chest tightness, and sometimes coughing.

Cockroach – Any of various oval, flat-bodied insects common as household pests. The two most common indoor species of cockroach in North America are the German cockroach (Blatella germanica) and the American cockroach (Periplaneta americana).

Dander – The tiny particles of skin and dried sweat and saliva that are shed by animals such as cats and dogs. These are a major cause of allergies.

Dust mites – Tiny creatures related to spiders and ticks. They are found in house dust. House dust mites, due to their very small size, are not visible to the eye, and live for approximately 3 to 4 months. The two most commonly occurring dust mites are the American house dust mite, (Dermatophagoides farinae) and the European house dust mite, (Dermatophagoides pteronyssinus).

ELISA – ELISA is the abbreviation for “Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay” which is a highly sensitive technique for detecting and measuring antigens (allergens) in a solution. The solution is run over a surface to which immobilized antibodies specific to the antigen being measured have been attached. If the antigen is present, it will bind to the antibody layer, and then its presence is verified and visualized with an application of antibodies that have been tagged in some way.

Mold – Any of various fungi that produce visible growth on organic material.

Moldy – Covered with or containing mold.

Protein – Any of a group of complex organic compounds that are composed of amino acids.

Rhinitis – Rhinitis is an inflammation of the mucous membrane that lines the nose, often due to an allergy to pollen, dust or other airborne substances. Seasonal allergic rhinitis also is known as “hay fever,” a disorder that causes sneezing, itching, a runny nose and nasal congestion.

Sensitization – Become responsive to external conditions or stimulation. In the case of allergens, sensitization involves the production of specific antibodies.

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Sick Building Syndrome

Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) is a term commonly used for non-specific symptoms that are temporally related to occupancy of a particular building. When building-related symptoms are characteristic of a specific clinical entity, they are called Building Related Illness (BRI). These illnesses are varied, and include Legionnaires’ disease, building related hypersensitivity pneumonitis, building-related asthma, and others.

SBS symptoms include mucous membrane irritation (cough, scratchy throat, stuffy sinuses, and itchy eyes), headache, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and other non-specific symptoms. The causes of SBS vary with the building and its occupants. SBS was once called “Tight Building Syndrome” and was considered to be a result of excess tightening of buildings in response to energy use concerns. However, many buildings with an excess of symptoms among the occupants are well ventilated. Still, increase in ventilation rates is often the “cure” for the problem.

Some people consider that SBS is caused not by the physical environment, but, rather, by psychosocial factors. Gender, lack of control, poor management, too much work, too little work, perceived housekeeping quality, and many other social factors have been blamed for the symptoms. In some cases, psychosocial factors may be the major cause of complaints. However, clearly, in some cases, environmental factors are at fault. For example, paper dust, and photocopier use have both been related to increases in complaints in a dose-dependent way. An excess of volatile organic compounds have been blamed for SBS symptoms. However, one study attributed this effect to the perception of odors at VOC concentrations far below those that would be likely to have an effect. These authors discuss the possibility that reactive chemistry might produce irritants that might be responsible for some symptoms.

Mold contamination has clearly been related to cases of BRI. However, its relationship to SBS is less clear. A Swedish study documented that dampness in residential buildings was associated with SBS symptoms with symptoms increasing with the number of dampness indicators present. Whether or not mold growth was responsible for these symptoms remains unknown. An extremely interesting study exposed people to measured doses of airborne fungal spores from growth on building materials. In this study, symptoms were similar among the two fungi studied AND for the placebo tests, indicating no specific effect of the spores. Mycotoxins have not been measured in quantities sufficient to cause the normal SBS symptoms, and the data regarding the role of mycotoxins in indoor air remain equivocal.

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Dust Allergies & It’s Triggers

Dust allergies also make it difficult to breathe and may trigger asthma symptoms, such as wheezing, coughing, tightness in the chest and shortness of breath. Dust also just makes some people itchy. People with dust allergies often suffer the most inside their own homes or in other people’s homes. Oddly enough, their symptoms often worsen during or immediately after vacuuming, sweeping and dusting. The process of cleaning can stir up dust particles, making them easier to inhale.

Dust mites—sometimes called bed mites—are the most common cause of allergy from house dust. Dust mites live and multiply easily in warm, humid places. They prefer temperatures at or above 70 degrees Fahrenheit with humidity of 75 to 80 percent. They die when the humidity falls below 50 percent. They are not usually found in dry climates. Dust mite particles are often found in pillows, mattresses, carpeting and upholstered furniture. They float into the air when anyone vacuums, walks on a carpet or disturbs bedding and they settle once the disturbance is over. Dust mites are a common cause of asthma in children.

A house does not need to be visibly dirty to trigger a dust mite allergy reaction. The particles are too tiny to be seen and often cannot be removed using normal cleaning procedures. In fact, a vigorous cleaning can make an allergic person’s symptoms worse.

Cockroaches live in all types of buildings and neighborhoods. Some people develop allergy symptoms when they are around cockroaches. Tiny particles from the cockroach are a common component of household dust and may be the true cause of a dust allergy.

Mold is a fungus that makes spores that float in the air. When people with a mold allergy inhale the spores, they get allergy symptoms. There are many different kinds of mold—some kinds you can see, others you can’t. Molds live everywhere—on logs and on fallen leaves, and in moist places like bathrooms and kitchens. Tiny mold particles and spores are a common component of household dust and may be the true cause of a dust allergy.

Pollen comes from trees, grasses, flowers and weeds. People can be allergic to different types of pollen. For instance, some people are allergic to pollen from only beech trees; others are allergic to pollen from only certain kinds of grasses. Pollen is a common component of household dust and may be the true cause of a dust allergy.

Animal hair, fur and feathers. Pets can cause problems for allergic patients in several ways. Their dander (skin flakes), saliva and urine can cause an allergic reaction, especially when combined with household dust. In households with birds, feathers and bird droppings can also become embedded in household dust and cause problems for people who are allergic to them.

How Molds Affect Humans

After pollens, molds are the leading cause of outdoor airborne allergies, which can recur year-round. Some of the most common symptoms of those sensitive to molds include nasal stuffiness, eye irritation, wheezing, cold and flu-like symptoms, rashes, conjunctivitis, inability to concentrate, and fatigue. Mold exposure has also been associated with asthma onset. Symptoms usually disappear when the mold is removed. However, under certain conditions, exposure to mold can cause serious health problems. Some people with chronic illnesses, such as obstructive lung disease, for example, may develop mold infections in their lungs. Also, some people exposed to large amounts of mold at work, such as farmers working with moldy hay, may develop even more severe reactions, including fever and shortness of breath. Some molds are toxic, producing chemicals called “mycotoxins,” which in large doses may affect human health, usually by causing allergy-like symptoms such as watery eyes or eye irritation, runny nose and sneezing or nasal congestion, wheezing and difficulty breathing, aggravation of asthma, coughing, itching, or rashes.
Other health problems that have been linked to mold exposure involve the odors produced by mold “volatiles” during the degradation of substrates. These have been discovered to irritate mucous membranes, and they have been associated with a number of symptoms from headaches and nausea to fatigue in individuals exposed to them. For those suffering from multiple chemical sensitivities, the simple presence of these microbial volatile organic compounds (MVOCs) can trigger a reaction just as strong and serious as exposure to chemical VOCs. Fungi or microorganisms related to them may cause other health problems similar to allergy. Some kinds of Aspergillus especially may cause several different illnesses, including both infections and allergy. These fungi may lodge in the airways or a distant part of the lung and grow until they form a compact sphere known as a “fungus ball.” In people with lung damage or serious underlying illnesses, Aspergillus may grasp the opportunity to invade and actually infect the lungs or the whole body.

In some individuals, exposure to these fungi can also lead to asthma or to an illness known as “allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis.” This latter condition, which occurs occasionally in people with asthma, is characterized by wheezing, low-grade fever, and coughing up of brown-flecked masses or mucous plugs. Skin testing, blood tests, x-rays, and examination of the sputum for fungi can help establish the diagnosis. Corticosteroid drugs are usually effective in treating this reaction; immunotherapy (allergy shots) is not helpful. The occurrence of allergic aspergillosis suggests that other fungi might cause similar respiratory conditions. Inhalation of spores from fungus-like bacteria, called “actinomycetes,” and from mold can cause a lung disease called “hypersensitivity pneumonitis.” This condition is often associated with specific occupations. For example, farmer’s lung disease results from inhaling spores growing in moldy hay and grains in silos. Occasionally, “hypersensitivity pneumonitis” develops in people who live or work where an air conditioning or a humidifying unit that is contaminated with these spores emits them.

The symptoms of “hypersensitivity pneumonitis” may resemble those of a bacterial or viral infection such as the flu. Bouts of chills, fever, weakness, muscle pains, cough, and shortness of breath develop 4 to 8 hours after exposure to the offending organism. The symptoms gradually disappear when the source of exposure is removed and the area properly ventilated. If it is not removed, workers having to be in those contaminated areas must wear a protective mask with a filter capable of removing spores or change jobs. If “hypersensitivity pneumonitis” is allowed to progress, it can lead to serious heart and lung problems. Also, air with a high concentration of fungal spores of a number of different types of molds may contain toxins that, when breathed over a long period of time, may result in a kind of poisoning. Stachybotrys atra, a mold that is commonly found on wet cellulose products (for example, drywall) and is causing growing concern among physicians, is one of these molds. In one recent study, it was linked to lung bleeding in infants. This mold has also been linked to sudden infant death syndrome and to central nervous system symptoms such as personality changes, sleep disorders, and memory loss.

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Memory Loss & Mold – Part 3

The fungus Stachybotrys chartarum is the type species of the genus Stachybotrys. Certain strains of the species are known to produce trichothecene mycotoxins. It is a cellulolytic saprophyte with a worldwide distribution and frequently recovered in water-damaged buildings. Evidences of the detrimental effects on human health due to respiratory exposure to this fungus have been reported. Stachybotrys chartarum isolated from the lung of a child diagnosed with pulmonary hemosiderosis was reported in Texas for the first time in 1999. However, morphological and mycotoxin profile studies showed that this species is not well delineated.

The trichothecene mycotoxins produced by toxic black mold are neurotoxic. This means they can kill neurons in the brain and impair a person’s mental ability. They also cause nervous disorders such as tremors and can cause personality changes such as mood swings and irritability.

Symptoms:

  • Confusion
  • Brain fog
  • Shortened attention span
  • Difficulty concentrating and paying attention
  • Slowed reflexes
  • Disorientation
  • Dizziness
  • Memory loss and memory problems
  • Impaired learning ability
  • Hallucinations
  • Shock
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Aggression and other personality changes
  • Tingling
  • Trembling
  • Shaking
  • Seizure
  • Numbness

If mold growth exists in your home, proper mold remediation by a certified and licensed professional is needed.  The source of growth, either through water damage or humidity issues needs to be corrected to quell further growth.

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Late Flu Season & Pollen

Flu seasons can vary in their timing, severity, and duration from one season to another. This flu season started a little later than it has during the previous three flu seasons. The season also peaked later than usual and activity has remained elevated later also. While H3N2 viruses predominated early in the season, H1N1 viruses have been the most common in recent weeks and are now the predominant virus for this season. This is the virus that emerged in 2009 to cause a pandemic. In the past, H1N1 flu viruses have caused severe illness in some children & young-and middle-aged adults. While there have been reports of severe flu illnesses and deaths this season, overall this season has been milder than the previous three seasons and severity indicators have not been excessively high.

The mild winter temperatures throughout the U.S. may be the reason for the late flu season and the early allergy season. The above-average temperatures that have allowed more U.S. citizens to spend more time engaging in outdoor activities may have triggered a later-than-usual peak in flu cases. Vitamin D is able to boost a person’s immune system, helping to fight off illnesses such as the flu. While the above-average temperatures have been a blessing when it comes to the flu, allergy sufferers may not be feeling healthy at all.

The warm winter temperatures have allowed some flowers and trees to begin blooming and budding early. The early onset of the growth cycle has plants releasing pollen into the air earlier than usual. The pollen may even stick around longer if the spring is rainy. The rain will benefit the flowers and the blooms could be around longer than usual. This will release even more pollen into the air.

Natural Allergy Remedies – Part 3

A neti pot is a container designed to rinse debris or mucus from your nasal cavity. You might use a neti pot to treat symptoms of nasal allergies, sinus problems or colds. If you choose to make your own saltwater solution, it’s important to use bottled water that has been distilled or sterilized. Tap water is acceptable if it’s been passed through a filter with a pore size of 1 micron or smaller or if it’s been boiled for several minutes and then left to cool until it is lukewarm.

To use the neti pot, tilt your head sideways over the sink and place the spout of the neti pot in the upper nostril. Breathing through your open mouth, gently pour the saltwater solution into your upper nostril so that the liquid drains through the lower nostril. Repeat on the other side. Be sure to rinse the irrigation device after each use with similarly distilled, sterile, previously boiled and cooled, or filtered water and leave open to air dry.

Pros

Simulates the natural process of the body

  • A neti pot works in the same way as our bodies do. Our nasal passage has its own natural way of dealing with the foreign bodies that invade it. In the case of the respiratory system, tiny hairs called cilia and mucus line our nose and nasal passages. These act as traps, catching the dirt and dust and other particles to prevent them from entering the lungs. This dirt is then transferred to the back of the throat and is eventually destroyed by stomach acids. With the flushing action of the neti pot, the water solution helps to flush out the particles trapped in the cilia, when the mucus grows too thick or dry, then expels it from the passages.
  • There are no chemicals or unnatural ingredients used when flushing with a neti pot. Only filtered water and non-iodized salt touches your nasal passages. Medicines can serve their purpose, but daily intake of medicines can be bad for other parts of your body, like your liver. With water and salt, there are no side effects.

Soothe Irritation

  • Sometimes passages are inflamed, which is why they cause pain and irritation. A nasal flush can help soothe the inflamed passages, bringing relief from the pain.

Cons

May wash away the good elements

  • When the mucus in the nasal passages become too thick or dry, then they become ineffective, which is why a nasal flush can help them rehydrated. However, the action of running water through the nasal passages may also wash away the good elements in the mucus, such as the antibacterial and antifungal components.

Not for people with nosebleed

  • Sinus flushing may aggravate nosebleed, so if the person experiences frequent nosebleed, then he or she should not attempt a nasal flush.

Using a neti pot can be helpful for people who suffer from allergies, sinus infections and other problems relating to the nasal passages. Many people swear by its efficacy, and it can be a good alternative to medication. Of course, it’s not for everyone, and anyone who would want to try it should consult their doctor before going on any long-term nasal flushing therapy.

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