July 31, 1998 LOS ANGELES (July 29, 1998) -- El Niño has brought more than rainy weather to Southern California this year. According to two specialists at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, allergy and asthma sufferers can expect more frequent and more severe attacks this year. Moreover, because of a related weather condition known as La Niña, the projection for next year is also for increased and more severe attacks. 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 the La Niña pattern moves into place, the hot, dry winds kick up the pollens once again, renewing allergy and asthma attacks.
"This year, conditions in Southern California are worse for allergy and asthma sufferers because of the high levels of humidity that have resulted in excessive pollens, molds, ticks and mites," says Zab Mohsenifar, M.D., Chair of the Pulmonary and Critical Care Department at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Robert Eitches, M.D., an attending physician in the medical center's departments of internal medicine and pediatrics, agrees. The very rainy weather has resulted in increased mold growth, both indoors and outdoors, and has also resulted in rapid plant growth which leads to elevated pollen counts. In addition, when the weather is bad, people tend to stay indoors more, and the close proximity often results in viral infections which can lead to asthma attacks.
If that weren't enough, the high humidity has also provided an ideal environment for 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 among youngsters who may be allergic to the proteins found in the saliva, droppings and remains of cockroaches. Asthmatic children who are allergic to cockroaches are four times more likely to go to the hospital and twice as likely to go to emergency rooms than other asthmatics, according to a study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to protect yourself and your family from asthma and allergy attacks:
- Avoid using a humidifier, but do use a room air filter. When possible, open
the doors and windows, so your home can air out. Sunlight kills dust mites and
molds, so let it in.
- Encase or cover pillows and mattresses in plastic casings -- available at
bedding supply stores.
- Wash all bedding in hot water -- at least 130 degrees fahrenheit.
- Remove stuffed toys and upholstered furniture from bedrooms, and consider
removing carpeting from floors. Instead, opt for hardwood, vinyl or leather
- If you discovered leaks in your roof during the rainy weather, be sure to
have them repaired, and inspect interior walls in the damaged area for mold
growth. Also be sure to repair leaky faucets promptly.You can kill mold by
cleaning 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, consider
leaving a light on in that room as light also kills mold.
- Help prevent roaches by minimizing what attracts them most - food and
- Use baits to kill roaches.
- Be sure to clean up any remaining roach allergens by regularly cleaning any
surfaces they may have contacted. Wipe down cupboards and countertops.
- Eliminate excessive foliage (especially Ivy) in landscaping as it attracts
rodents 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 to
Poison Oak can develop not only skin problems, but also respiratory problems.
While simple steps like these can help head off many attacks, other people require testing to identify the specific causes of allergic reaction. And it's important to be tested early, as early detection and treatment can reduce the severity and frequency of attacks, as well as related problems such as ear and sinus infections.
"Each year 5,000 people die from asthma,and the number of Americans with the disease has increased to 15 million -- up 75 percent since 1980," says Dr. Mohsenifar. "Early detection and treatment of allergies helps prevent long-term changes 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 are made in the skin's surface. After 20 minutes, the scratches are examined to see which, if any, show signs of redness or swelling, indicating an allergic reaction. For some people the reaction might be to pet dander, while to others it may be to the pollen of specific trees such as olive, walnut or ash. Contrary to popular belief, flower pollens are very rarely problematic to allergy sufferers. The real culprits are the pollens of fruit trees, weeds and grasses.
Once the specific allergies have been identified, many treatment options are available: antihistamines, cortisone sprays, and cromolyn mast cell stabilizers can help reduce the discomfort of itchy, burning eyes, sneezing and wheezing. For those who do not find relief with other medications, allergy injections can help teach the immune system not to be allergic. These injections are usually given once a week for six months. If the patient is improving, the injections are reduced to once a month for two to three years.
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