Sniffing Out Leukemia?

3 doctorsOK Ladies – here’s a question for you.   If you suffer from seasonal allergic rhinitis who do you go and see?

(a)  An allergist

(b)  An oncologist

(c)  A hematologist

If you answered (a) you’re probably feeling pretty confident right now.  After all the more common term for seasonal allergic rhinitis is hayfever and that’s something best managed by an allergist.  Right?

Not so fast! Maybe (b) or (c) would have been better choices.  You see, a team of scientists looking into the interplay of the immune system and cancer have just found a link between a history of airborne allergies – in particular those to plants, grass and trees – with risk of blood cancers in women.

Notably, the study did not find the same association in men, which suggests a possible gender-specific role in chronic stimulation of the immune system that may lead to the development of hematologic cancers.

The findings were published online last week ahead of the December print issue of the American Journal of Hematology.

allergic rhinitisTo the best of our knowledge, ours is the first study to suggest important gender differences in the association between allergies and hematologic malignancies,” says Mazyar Shadman, MD, from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

According to Shadman, who led the research, the immune system’s potential role in the cause of cancer is a focus of intense scientific interest. “If your immune system is over-reactive, then you have problems; if it’s under-reactive, you’re going to have problems. Increasing evidence indicates that dysregulation of the immune system, such as you find in allergic and autoimmune disorders, can affect survival of cells in developing tumors.”

The study included a large sample of men and women aged 50-76 years old from western Washington from the VITamins And Lifestyle (VITAL) cohort study. Participants answered a 24-page questionnaire that focused on: (i) health history and cancer risk factors, (ii) medication and supplement use, and (iii) diet. Participants provided information on age, race/ethnicity, education, smoking, diet (fruit and vegetable intake), and other lifestyle characteristics, self-rated health, medical history, and family history of leukemia or lymphoma.

History of asthma and allergies was also taken, including allergies to plants, grasses or trees; mold or dust; cats, dogs or other animals; insect bites or stings; foods; and medications.  Of the 79,300 VITAL participants who filled out the questionnaires, more than 66,000 individuals were selected after eliminating those who had a prior history of malignancies other than non-melanoma skin cancers and missing information on baseline cancer history.

Participants were then followed for eight years until they either withdrew from the study, moved away, had a cancer diagnosis other than hematologic malignancy or non-melanoma skin cancer, or died.

seer_logoIncidence of hematologic malignancies and other cancers was identified via the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) cancer registry of western Washington.

Of the participants, 681 developed a hematologic malignancy during the follow-up period. These participants were more likely to have two or more first-degree relatives with a family history of leukemia or lymphoma, to be less active and rank their health status as low.

A history of allergies to airborne antigens was associated with a higher risk of hematologic malignancies. The most statistically significant association was seen with allergies to plants, grass and trees.

cat allergyThere was also an increased risk of plasma-cell neoplasms for participants who reported a history of allergies to cats, dogs or other animals. Plasma-cell neoplasms are conditions, both cancerous and noncancerous, in which the body makes too many plasma cells.

When stratified by gender, the incidence of blood cancers in response to these allergens was increased in women but not in men. The reason for this is as yet unknown.

However, Shadman and colleagues warn, “Given the limited number of cases within each sub-type of hematologic cancer, the risk estimates need to be interpreted with caution … and the possibility of chance finding due to multiple testing should be recognized.”

Even so, if you’re a women with allergies, you may want to keep a close eye on your blood work.

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Planting an Ugly Face on Allergies

allergic rhinitisAs allergy season continues for much of the nation, a largely unknown adage rings true: the uglier a flower or weed, the more allergy-inducing its pollen tends to be.

Ragweed, mugwort and pigweed have more than just their unattractive names and unappealing appearance in common, they’re also some of the worst offenders to allergy sufferers.

Of those allergic to pollen-producing plants, 75 percent are allergic to ragweed which can produce up to 1 billion pollen grains per plant throughout a pollen season.

mugwort0003_midThe relationship between allergy-causing pollens and their flowers is something like a beauty pageant,” says Robert Valet, M.D., an allergist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Asthma, Sinus and Allergy Program. “A general rule of thumb is that flowers that smell or look pretty attract insect pollenators, so they are not generally important allergens, because their pollen is not airborne. However, those that are very ugly or plain are meant to disperse pollen in the wind, which is the route most important for allergy.”

Allergy season is divided into spring, summer and fall and for most of the country runs from March to October.

Early spring is typically tree season, with common tree allergens including oak, maple, walnut, pecan and hickory. While many people are concerned about fragrant and flowering trees like the Bradford pear and crabapple they rely on insects instead of the wind to carry their pollen and do not typically trigger allergies.

Amaranthus_retroflexus_020207_1In late spring and early summer, grasses start to pick up their pollen production.  And in late summer and fall, weeds such as ragweed, lamb’s quarter, pigweed, English plantain and mugwort make their presence known.

The pollen count may change from day to day, due to an event like rain – which decreases the pollen in the air temporarily – but once allergy season is underway, anything between a moderate and very high pollen count will aggravate allergy sufferers,” Valet said.

For people with known pollen allergies, simple solutions can include taking an antihistamine before going outside and showering once back inside, and choosing the air conditioner over an open window for cooling homes. If these measures do not relieve the symptoms, Valent suggests going to see an allergist for testing and treatment.

In the meantime, it wouldn’t hurt to stay away from ugly plants.

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Nightmare on Allergy Street?

With Halloween rapidly approaching, do you have more than ghosts and ghouls and things that groan in the night to worry about?  If you suffer from seasonal allergies then your answer is almost certainly yes.

Seasonal allergies occur when outdoor allergens such as mold spores, tree, grass and weed pollen are inhaled and cause an allergic reaction.

This year allergy sufferers were subjected to the “perfect storm” of a mild winter, including an unseasonably warm February, and an early spring caused trees to pollinate earlier than normal.

This has been a very strange year for allergies,” says Dr. David Chudwin, an allergist from Crystal Lake, IL. “It’s been the strangest year in the 30 years that I’ve been practicing.”

The early spring was followed by a hot dry summer that kept pollen counts high, day after day.  Then in late summer and early autumn, record-breaking mold counts resulted in county wide air-quality alerts that resulted in even mild allergy sufferers dreading the outdoors.  Although mold is typically associated with dampness, mold spores also are associated with dying vegetation.

Many molds grow on rotting logs and fallen leaves, in compost piles and on grasses and grains. Unlike pollens, molds do not die with the first killing frost. And mold counts can change quickly, depending on the weather. Certain spore types reach peak levels in dry, breezy weather. Some need high humidity, fog or dew to release spores. This group is abundant at night and during rainy periods.

To makes things worse, retreating indoors may not be the answer. For, those bothered by indoor, as well as outdoor, allergens, the season of suffering is just beginning.  As we start to run furnaces and our pets elect to curl up in front of the fire, dust and dander levels start to rise.

According to most of the country’s leading expert on allergies, more Americans than ever are sneezing, sniffling and itching. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, estimates 450 million Americans suffer from allergies.

As previously reported by SRxA’s Word on Health, our squeaky clean lifestyle is probably to blame for the rising numbers.  According to the hygiene hypothesis – Children that lead too clean a life are not exposed to enough germs to properly adjust their immune system.

People who are less prone to allergies include children from large families, children who live on farms, children in underdeveloped countries,” Chudwin said.

If you don’t fall into any of these categories, we suggest a trip to your local allergist, who can help prepare you for sneeze-free trick-or-treating and the other joys of fall and winter.

Who’s to blame for your allergies?

Are you one of the 35 million Americans who suffer from seasonal allergies? If so you’re probably not cheering the official end of winter.  But before you start blaming Persephone – goddess of Spring, for your symptoms you may want to look a little closer to home.

Many of the everyday things you’re doing, from what you eat to how you clean your home may be interfering with relief from your stuffy nose, sneezing, sniffling or other symptoms.

People with spring allergies often don’t realize how many things can aggravate their allergy symptoms so they just muddle along and hope for an early end to the season,” says allergist Myron Zitt, M.D.“But there’s no reason to suffer. A few simple adjustments in habits and treatment can make springtime much more enjoyable.”

The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) advises people with spring allergies to be on the lookout for five things that can aggravate suffering.

1. Eating fruits and vegetables – Many people with seasonal allergies also suffer from pollen food allergy syndrome (also called oral allergy syndrome), a cross-reaction between the similar proteins in certain types of fruits, vegetables and the allergy-causing pollen. 1:5 people with grass allergies and as many as 70% of people with birch tree allergies suffer from the condition, which can make your lips tingle and swell and your mouth itch.

If you’re allergic to birch or alder trees, you might have a reaction to celery, cherries or apples. If you have grass allergies, tomatoes, potatoes or peaches may bother you. Usually the reaction is simply annoying and doesn’t last long. But up to 9% of people have reactions that affect a part of their body beyond their mouth and almost 2% can suffer a life-threatening anaphylactic reaction.

2. Using the wrong air filter – Using an air filter to keep your home pollen-free is a good idea, but be sure it’s the right kind. Studies show inexpensive central furnace/air conditioning filters and ionic electrostatic room cleaners aren’t helpful – and in fact the latter releases ions, which can be an irritant. Whole-house filtration systems do work, but change the filters regularly or you could be doing more harm than good.

3. Opening your windows – When your windows are open, the pollen can drift inside, settle into your carpet, furniture and car upholstery and continue to torture you. So keep your house and car windows shut during allergy season.

4. Procrastinating – You may think you can put off or even do without medication this spring, but the next thing you know you’re stuffed up, sneezing and downright miserable. Instead, get the jump on allergies by taking your medication before the season gets under way.

5. Self medicating – Perhaps you’re not sure exactly what’s making you feel awful so you switch from one medication to the next hoping for relief.

This spring, your best bet is to see an allergist, who can determine just what’s triggering your symptoms and suggest the most appropriate treatment.

Want a healthy baby? Buy a dog!

Calling all prospective parents. Want to reduce the risk that your child will be one of the 1:5 who develop allergies?  Seems you should get a dog or cat first and then opt for a natural delivery.

According to a groundbreaking study just published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, researchers from Henry Ford Hospital found that babies who are exposed to pets during pregnancy, and those who were delivered vaginally rather than by cesarean section, have lower levels of the antibody – IgE.

The production of IgE in response to innocuous substances is the hallmark of allergic disease. As more IgE is produced, total IgE levels increase. High total IgE levels are associated with an increased risk for asthma and allergies in children.

The study showed that the levels of IgE were 28% lower in babies exposed to indoor pets in the womb than those from pet free homes and 43% percent lower in infants who had both prenatal pet exposure and were delivered naturally.

The findings support the so-called “hygiene hypothesis”, which theorizes that early childhood exposure to infectious agents affects the immune system’s development and onset of allergies and asthma.

We believe having a broad, diverse exposure to a wide array of microbacteria at home and during the birthing process influences the development of a child’s immune system”, says Christine Cole Johnson, Ph.D., MPH, chair of Henry Ford’s Department of Public Health Sciences and senior author of the study.

She theorizes that indoor pet exposure has a protective effect against early allergy development and that babies born through the birth canal are exposed to a higher and more diverse burden of bacteria, further boosting the immune system’s protection against allergies.

SRxA’s Word on Health thinks it’s kind of ironic that pets are good for you before you’re born, yet are the second leading cause of allergies afterwards!  Let us know what you think.


Pine Powder Puts an End to Sneezing

According to researchers at the University of Gothenburg, the end may be in sight for allergy sufferers.  Patients plagued by the misery of seasonal allergic rhinitis, better known as hay fever, can be cured, thanks to a powder derived from pine trees.

Cellulose nasal sprays like Nasaleze and Nasal Ease, have been on the market for years, but there wasn’t scientific evidence they worked – until now.

Now in this latest study, scientists found that the pine tree powder forms a barrier on the mucous membrane when puffed into the nose, filtering out allergens such as tree and flower pollen.

The cellulose powder has no adverse effects, and this fact makes it a particularly attractive treatment for children,” said study author Dr. Nils Aberg, Associate Professor in the Department of Pediatrics.

The double blind, placebo-controlled  study, was carried out during the birch pollen season and involved 53 children and adolescents aged 8 – 18 years with allergies to pollen. Participants puffed the pine-tree derived cellulose powder in the nose three times daily for four weeks. They also took a daily dose of an oral antihistamine.
Pollen levels were measured every day and were subsequently analyzed in relation to the symptoms reported by the children. Patients or their parents were reminded to report their symptom scores using daily SMS messages sent to their mobile phones.
Results showed a statistically significant reduction in total symptom scores from the nose.  Further data for the study, published in Pediatric Allergy and Immunology, came from past unpublished statistics of pollen levels collected for 31 years at the same location in Gothenburg, from 1979 to 2009.

Dr. Aberg added: “We showed that the nasal symptoms of the children were significantly reduced in those who used the cellulose powder. The best effect was obtained at low to moderate concentrations of pollen”.

Word on Health asked leading allergist, Dr. Bill Storms for his reaction to this study.  He told us, “It appears that the  waxy coat of the pine tree pollen might line the inside of the nose after sniffing it and  this might prevent other pollens from getting into the mucus membranes. However, I note that patients were asked to do this three times a day and I’m not sure how many will do this.  I also wonder if there are any long term effects of putting cellulose in the nose.”

As we’ve said so many times before, further studies are needed.

Synchrotron scientists suggest solution to sneezing sans sleepiness

As allergy sufferers we know all too well that although many over-the-counter antihistamines relieve symptoms, we’re are often too groggy to enjoy the respite. Now, thanks to some sleuth work by a team of international scientists, the way has been paved for antihistamines with fewer side-effects.

An international team of scientists has successfully cracked the  code for the complex 3-D structure of the human histamine H1 receptor protein. Using an X-ray beam 100 billion times stronger than normal,  at Diamond Light Source, the UK’s national synchrotron facility, researchers were able to get a 3D picture of the shape of H1 receptors.

Published this week in Nature, this discovery opens the door for the development of ‘third-generation’ antihistamines.

The H1 receptor protein is found in the cell membranes of various human tissues including airways, vascular and intestinal muscles, and the brain. It binds to histamine and has an important function in the immune system. However, in susceptible individuals it can cause allergic reactions such as hay fever, food allergies and pet allergies. Antihistamine drugs work because they prevent histamine attaching to H1 receptors.

Dr. Simone Weyand, postdoctoral scientist at Imperial College London, who conducted much of the experimental work at Diamond, said: “First-generation antihistamines are effective, but not very selective, and because of penetration across the blood-brain barrier, they can cause side-effects including sedation, dry mouth and arrhythmias.”

The team comprised of leading experts from The Scripps Research Institute in California, Kyoto University, Imperial College London and Diamond worked for 16 months on the project.

Professor So Iwata, Director of the Membrane Protein Laboratory at Diamond, said: “It took a considerable team effort but we were finally able to elucidate the molecular structure of the histamine H1 receptor protein and also see how it interacts with antihistamines. This detailed structural information is a great starting point for exploring exactly how histamine triggers allergic reactions and how drugs act to prevent this reaction.”

Word on Health’s allergy prone bloggers will be eagerly awaiting developments and will bring you news as it happens…assuming of course we can stay awake to do so!