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More allergies being triggered by the things we love

Updated: November 7, 2011 4:05PM



Tara Shafa, 15, of Davie, Fla., is an animal lover. She has lived with cats since she was 5. But in the past six months, what used to be mild allergy symptoms have gotten worse, causing sneezing, itchy, puffy eyes and hives.

Allergy tests have proven what her family suspected: She’s allergic to her three best friends.

Allergists speaking at a meeting in Boston of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology warned of the potential for some of life’s sweetest pleasures — a glass of wine, a beautifully scented room, the unconditional love of a pet — to set off fits of sneezing, coughing, hives and even serious asthma attacks.

An estimated 40 million to 50 million Americans suffer from asthma or other allergic diseases, and the incidence is increasing, the group says. Asthma rates alone have more than tripled in 25 years, now affecting more than 22 million people.

The reasons aren’t clear, but theories include air pollutants, dietary changes and changes in lifestyle. Genes also are a factor, and people who are genetically predisposed to allergies might be encountering more of the triggers, known as allergens, that can set off symptoms.

Air fresheners and scented candles — Sometimes, the allergy trigger is right under your nose, says Atlanta allergist Stanley Fineman, president-elect of the allergists group. “I’ve been seeing more and more adults who are having problems with air fresheners,” he says.

Candles and air fresheners can emit volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, such as formaldehyde, petroleum distillates, limonene and other substances that increase asthma risk in children and can trigger eye and respiratory irritation. Treatment might include medication or allergy shots, changes in home decor or other avoidance strategies, but it starts with being aware. “It’s helpful if we start thinking about that as another potential problem,” says Fineman.

Alcoholic beverages — Reactions to wine or other alcohol-containing drinks are rare, but symptoms can range from rash to severe asthma attacks, says allergist Sami Bahna, chief of Allergy and Immunology at Louisiana State University Medical School. Potential allergens that occur naturally in beer and wine include hops, barley, ethanol, grapes, tryptamine, tyramine, wheat and histamine, and there might be added ingredients such as egg whites or sulfites. In some cases, a mild allergy to a wine ingredient pairs up with a mild allergy to something in food, such as cheese, and the combination can cause an allergic reaction.

Pets — More than 90 percent of homes have “measurable dog and cat allergens,” even those that don’t have a resident pet, says Fort Lauderdale allergist Dana Wallace, president of the allergists group. Animal dander, particularly cat dander, is “light and airborne for a long time.” People track it from their homes into stores, schools and to homes of friends.

Gannett News Service



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