In The News: Charleston Allergy

Safe Spring Cleaning

Recently, we have all become part of a whole new world brought on by the COVID-19 virus. As we are isolated and quarantined to our homes to reduce exposure, we are finding ourselves cleaning…and cleaning out…and cleaning some more! A spring cleaning would seem like a great way to occupy our time and help our family’s underlying allergies and asthma; however, many of us have allergies and asthma, which can frequently be triggered by indoor household exposure. Not to worry, you can still give your space a good cleaning, just be careful with your choice of cleaning products. Our goal is to keep you safe and healthy!

Dr. Harper once had a patient who was hospitalized because they were cleaning floor tiles with diluted bleach. Unbeknownst to the patient, her supervisor had sprayed ammonia ahead of her cleaning efforts. The mixture of diluted bleach and ammonia produced chlorine gas, which was used as chemical warfare in WWI.

Certain household cleaning products that are readily available can trigger significant respiratory problems, even in individuals without prior lung disease. A recent study in the American Review of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine indicates that women who are employed as household cleaners have an accelerated loss of lung function, particularly if they are using spray cleaners.

Allergy sufferers should make household chores part of their allergy management plan. Cleaning reduces the number of allergens in homes which can ultimately help alleviate your allergy and asthma symptoms. Indoor allergen avoidance would include reducing dust-collecting clutter, regularly vacuuming with a HEPA filter vacuum, regularly washing blankets and throw rugs, washing all bed linens in hot water once a week, keeping counter surfaces clean and dry, and not leaving food out. 

Individuals who have asthma have increased airway twitchiness which can be triggered by irritant and noxious odors including cigarette smoke, chlorine, fragrances and ammonia. If one has asthma or allergies, care should be taken to choose cleaning products which are milder and do not trigger worsening of your symptoms. 

 Certain potent cleaning products can be mucosal irritants and can cause a worsening of respiratory symptoms in patients with allergies and asthma. The best way to avoid irritation from cleaning products is to have someone else in the household do the cleaning when the allergy sufferer is away from home. This could be a perfect time for your spouse to clean while you enjoy a walk!

There are particular home cleaning products which should be avoided by individuals with allergies and asthma. These products include formaldehyde, ammonia, sodium lauryl sulfate, D-limonene and sodium hypochlorite (bleach). Unfortunately, these chemicals can be found in a wide variety of available cleaning products including furniture polish, disinfectants, mold removers, dish detergents, hand soaps, laundry detergents, fabric softeners, all-purpose cleaners and drain/oven/grill cleaners. “Green” cleaning products can be milder and better for those with allergies, but labels should be read carefully. Interestingly, simple baking soda and vinegar in varying concentrations can clean just about anything in your home!

The best cleaning tools for allergen reduction include a vacuum cleaner, particularly with a double bag system or HEPA filter system. Additionally, a fabric allergen sanitizer vacuum can eliminate 99.9% of dust mites and bacteria from fabric surfaces. Washable microfiber cleaning cloths are safe and effective. Likewise, disposable dust wipes, protective mask and gloves and unscented and dye-free laundry products are safe and work well.

There are many, many cleaning products advertised on the internet, although the safety and effectiveness of these products can be questionable. How do you choose a safe cleaning product? The Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America (AAFA) has developed a certification program to document specific advertised products as being safe from false, exaggerated, or misleading claims. These products can be found on the AAFA website.    

If one is inclined to be a “do-it-yourselfer,” safe gentle homemade cleaners can be prepared without an advance chemical degree or access to industrial-strength petrochemicals. The following is a list of a safe products which can be easily prepared.

  1. All-purpose cleaner: Mix 2 cups of vinegar and 2 cups of water to create an all-purpose cleaner and disinfectant. Do not use this cleaner on marble. It can be used on both kitchen and bathroom surfaces.
  2. Scouring cleaner: Mix ¾ cup of baking soda and ¼ cup of water to create a paste for cleaning sinks, tubs, toilet, ceramic, aluminum, chrome, and stainless steel. This same paste can be used to polish silverware. Alternatively, mix ¼ cup of baking soda, 1 tablespoon of liquid detergent and enough white vinegar to make a creamy texture. You can also add a squeeze of lemon into the paste for a fresh and clean smell.
  3. Drain cleaner: Pour ¼ cup of baking soda in one cup of vinegar down drains.      The combination of the two will create a fizzy cleaner that will scour inside of your drain pipes. Rinse with hot water.
  4. Dishwasher cleaner: Pour ½ cup of vinegar into the reservoir of your dishwasher and run an empty cycle to disinfect and cleaning the interior of your dishwasher.
  5. Mold and mildew cleaner: Spray vinegar on shower walls and curtains to clean and prevent mold and mildew. Wait 15 minutes, rinse and let dry thoroughly.
  6. Window cleaner: Mix together one cup of water, one cup of rubbing alcohol and 1 tablespoon of vinegar. This cleanser works great at cleaning glass without leaving streaks or residue.
  7. Garbage disposal cleaner: Grind peels from oranges, lemons and limes in the garbage disposal with a handful of ice. The ice will sharpen the disposal blades while the citrus peels cleans and freshen the air.

So, while we’re all at home right now twiddling our thumbs for the next clean out project, make sure you are using the best cleaning product for your allergy and asthma needs. If you can’t find what you need, hopefully this list of DIY cleaners is helpful. But if you have suspected or confirmed COVID-19, please see the CDC’s cleaning instructions.

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Flu, coronavirus & allergies: Do you know the different symptoms?

Coronavirus (COVID-19) has very similar symptoms to the flu, like fever and cough. But, patients with the flu often experience additional symptoms like a runny nose, nasal congestion, sore throat, headaches, muscle/body aches and fatigue (overall tiredness). With allergies, on the other hand, you will NOT have a fever. But, allergies can cause a runny nose, nasal congestion, sinus pressure, sneezing, post-nasal drip, itchy/watery eyes and worsening cough/wheeze for those with asthma.

Symptoms of Coronavirus

The primary symptoms of Coronavirus include fever (100.4 or higher), cough and shortness of breath. Patients usually begin experiencing fever and cough first, then several days later develop an acute or rapid onset of shortness of breath and difficulty breathing. There has been very little wheezing, nasal congestion, runny nose or sinus pressure reported. Symptoms occur within 2-14 days after exposure to this virus. Coronavirus can be transmitted within six feet of infected patients through their cough or sneeze. Patients who are at particularly high risk for severe Coronavirus symptoms are the elderly population and those with a weakened immune system.

How to avoid the Coronavirus

Ways to help decrease the spread of Coronavirus include good hand hygiene, avoiding those who are sick, wearing masks and gloves while in a large crowd, refraining from handshakes and hugs and limiting travel as much as possible. Good hand hygiene includes washing hands for at least 20 seconds with warm soap and water or using waterless alcohol-based hand sanitizer. 

Most patients have fairly mild symptoms and only need a lot of rest, fluids and over the counter medications. But, those who develop more concerning symptoms like shortness of breath and difficulty breathing require treatment. 

Here’s a comprehensive look at the symptoms you need to look for:

If you are experiencing fever and cough or shortness of breath, please either call our clinic or utilize the Roper or MUSC Coronavirus telehealth screening resources.

For revolving information on the Coronavirus/COVID-19, please follow the CDC here

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Girl touching arm

What is causing hives?

Hives (or urticaria) are often described as red, raised, itchy bumps or “welts” that move around and can occur anywhere on the body. Typically, individual bumps do not last for long periods of time, and once they go away, they usually leave behind normal skin with no bruising or scarring. 

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Winter Allergies Have You Down?

Winter allergy symptoms are the same symptoms that patients experience during other parts of the year. People often experience nasal congestion or stuffy nose, runny nose, itchy nose, sinus pressure, sneezing, postnasal drainage down the back of their throats, and itchy or watery eyes. Although there are not many grasses, trees, or weeds pollinating during the winter, there are plenty of other airborne allergens that can cause symptoms during the winter months. These primarily include indoor allergens that are present throughout the year, such as pet dander, dust mites, cockroach, and mouse. No matter how clean we all keep our homes and workspaces, environmental allergens are still present and can result in allergy symptoms.

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Sesame: The New Peanut Allergy?

The United States has seen a rapid rise in the development of sesame allergy over the last 20 years.  Some experts consider sesame allergy to have “increased more than any other food allergy over the past 10 – 20 years” in the United States.  Increasing prevalence of sesame allergy has led to suggestions that our government issue regulations that require food labels to note the presence of sesame. Currently U.S. federal law does not require sesame contents in food packaging to be declared by food manufacturers.  These manufacturers are currently required to list the eight most common food allergens including milk, eggs, peanut, wheat, soy, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish.  

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First Peanut Allergy Drug On Cusp of Approval

AR101 is an investigational biologic oral immunotherapy produced by Aimmune therapeutics.  If that sounds like a mouthful, it is, so let’s break down what that really means. AR101 will be a commercially available “drug” with a proposed trade name of Palforzia. As such, it requires approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It is currently considered “investigational” because it has not been approved by the FDA and is still under investigation. The term “biologic” refers to a product that is isolated from natural sources and not chemically manufactured. As explained by the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, “oral immunotherapy (OIT) refers to feeding an allergenic individual an increasing amount of allergen with the goal of increasing the threshold that triggers a reaction.”  In the case of AR101, the product is designed for peanut allergic patients and the treatment goal is to reduce the frequency and severity of allergic reactions due to accidental peanut exposure. 

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Top 9 Asthma Triggers

Asthma is an inflammatory condition of the airways in your lungs. It effects 8-10% of the population – that’s 24 million Americans! Asthma usually begins in childhood but can occur in adulthood and is the #1 cause of missed school and work. Asthma is triggered by a variety of exposures detailed below.

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5 Hidden Allergies To Watch Out For

Sometimes allergies can be fairly obvious and occur in response to common exposures, for instance, when pollen covers your car in the springtime, and you can’t stop sneezing!  Other times it can be hard to recognize what is causing an allergic reaction. The cause may be something that you would never relate your symptoms to. We will discuss a few of these less recognized allergies below. 

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Pesky Summer Bug Bites: 101

Summer is here and the time is right for…tiny critters that sting and bite. While it is certainly nice to be able to go outside and enjoy the nice warm weather, this is the time of year when people suffer from reactions to insect bites and stings.  Some bug bites are painful, some spread disease, and some are uncomfortable but harmless. There are some misconceptions out there, so we’ll discuss specifically what you need to know regarding bothersome bug bites – which ones can cause life-threatening allergic reactions and which ones are just pesky pests. 

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