LOS ANGELES (July 29, 1998) -- El Niño has brought more than rainy weather toSouthern California this year. According to two specialists at Cedars-SinaiMedical Center, allergy and asthma sufferers can expect more frequent and moresevere attacks this year. Moreover, because of a related weather condition knownas La Niña, the projection for next year is also for increased and more severeattacks. La Niña is a weather pattern of hot, dry winds which follows El Niño.While El Niño's wet weather causes a proliferation of plant growth and pollens,these dry and float to the desert floor as the rains decrease. However, as theLa Niña pattern moves into place, the hot, dry winds kick up the pollens onceagain, renewing allergy and asthma attacks.
"This year, conditions in Southern California are worse for allergy and asthmasufferers because of the high levels of humidity that have resulted inexcessive pollens, molds, ticks and mites," says Zab Mohsenifar, M.D., Chair ofthe Pulmonary and Critical Care Department at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.Robert Eitches, M.D., an attending physician in the medical center's departmentsof internal medicine and pediatrics, agrees. The very rainy weather hasresulted in increased mold growth, both indoors and outdoors, and has alsoresulted in rapid plant growth which leads to elevated pollen counts. Inaddition, when the weather is bad, people tend to stay indoors more, and theclose proximity often results in viral infections which can lead to asthmaattacks.
If that weren't enough, the high humidity has also provided an ideal environmentfor cockroaches and microscopic dust mites -- the leading cause of asthma. According to a recent survey, asthma rates are highest in the inner cities,especially among African-Americans and Hispanic Americans, and especially amongyoungsters who may be allergic to the proteins found in the saliva, droppingsand remains of cockroaches. Asthmatic children who are allergic to cockroachesare four times more likely to go to the hospital and twice as likely to go toemergency rooms than other asthmatics, according to a study reported in the NewEngland Journal of Medicine.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to protect yourself and your familyfrom asthma and allergy attacks:
- Avoid using a humidifier, but do use a room air filter. When possible, openthe doors and windows, so your home can air out. Sunlight kills dust mites andmolds, so let it in.
- Encase or cover pillows and mattresses in plastic casings -- available atbedding supply stores.
- Wash all bedding in hot water -- at least 130 degrees fahrenheit.
- Remove stuffed toys and upholstered furniture from bedrooms, and considerremoving carpeting from floors. Instead, opt for hardwood, vinyl or leatherfurnishings.
- If you discovered leaks in your roof during the rainy weather, be sure tohave them repaired, and inspect interior walls in the damaged area for moldgrowth. Also be sure to repair leaky faucets promptly.You can kill mold bycleaning with lysol or with a diluted bleach solution. Air the area well.
- If you have a closet or other dark area in which you find mold, considerleaving a light on in that room as light also kills mold.
- Help prevent roaches by minimizing what attracts them most - food andmoisture.
- Use baits to kill roaches.
- Be sure to clean up any remaining roach allergens by regularly cleaning anysurfaces they may have contacted. Wipe down cupboards and countertops.
- Eliminate excessive foliage (especially Ivy) in landscaping as it attractsrodents which can also lead to increased asthma or allergy episodes.
- After hiking,be sure to check children for any signs of allergic reaction(e.g. hives or skin reaction due to Poison Oak). People who are very allergic toPoison Oak can develop not only skin problems, but also respiratory problems.
While simple steps like these can help head off many attacks, other peoplerequire testing to identify the specific causes of allergic reaction. And it'simportant to be tested early, as early detection and treatment can reduce theseverity and frequency of attacks, as well as related problems such as ear andsinus infections.
"Each year 5,000 people die from asthma,and the number of Americans with thedisease has increased to 15 million -- up 75 percent since 1980," says Dr.Mohsenifar. "Early detection and treatment of allergies helps prevent long-termchanges and damage to the lungs and respiratory system." In testing patients'for specific allergies, the first step is to take a detailed medical history.Then a panel of "sensitivity" tests is completed. Using disposable plastic"scratcher pads," that have been exposed to specific agents, light scratches aremade in the skin's surface. After 20 minutes, the scratches are examined to seewhich, if any, show signs of redness or swelling, indicating an allergicreaction. For some people the reaction might be to pet dander, while to othersit may be to the pollen of specific trees such as olive, walnut or ash. Contraryto popular belief, flower pollens are very rarely problematic to allergysufferers. The real culprits are the pollens of fruit trees, weeds and grasses.
Once the specific allergies have been identified, many treatment options areavailable: antihistamines, cortisone sprays, and cromolyn mast cell stabilizerscan help reduce the discomfort of itchy, burning eyes, sneezing and wheezing.For those who do not find relief with other medications, allergy injections canhelp teach the immune system not to be allergic. These injections are usuallygiven once a week for six months. If the patient is improving, the injectionsare reduced to once a month for two to three years.
The above story is based on materials provided by Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.
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