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Month: July 2014

Allergies and Asthma in the Washington, DC Area

A very common question that has been raised by many patients and especially parents of children with environmental and food allergies is:  Why are we experiencing more and more allergies and asthma in the DC area now compared to a generation ago?

While it is possible that we are now able to detect and recognize allergic disorders more effectively than before, there is data to support the view that the actual incidence (the number of newly diagnosed cases) and the prevalence (the number of cases existing in the population) is increasing for the past several years.  While the exact cause for this phenomenon is yet to be determined, there are some theories that try to explain the reasons behind it.

1. Genetics/Epigenetics:

Children born to parents who already have allergies are at higher risk for developing allergies.  If one parent has allergies, the risk for the child is doubled and if both the parents have allergies, the risk is tripled.  This increased likelihood to develop allergic disease because of their genes is called atopy.  The genes can be “turned on and off” by some factors in our environment that we are exposed to.  The role of viral infections in turning the allergic genes on and off is a subject of intense ongoing research.

2. Hygiene Hypothesis:

Several studies in Scandinavian countries revealed that children who grew up on farms exposed to farm animals have lower incidence of allergic diseases compared to children who grew up in cities in a “cleaner” environment.  This indicates that the immune system needs to be exposed to micro-organisms like viruses and bacteria while at a developing stage in infancy, in order to respond appropriately later in life.  Compared to our parents and grandparents, most of us are now living in a more “sterile“ environment due to better hygiene, immunizations, and antibiotics.  While these helped us defeat many life-threatening infections, the inadequate exposure of our immune system to micro-organisms early-on may have resulted in a tendency to fight harmless substances like mites, pollen, and foods resulting in allergic diseases.

3. Diet:

We are now eating more processed foods and fewer vegetables and fruits than our forefathers did.  Our diets also contain less omega-3 fatty acids and anti-oxidants.  Vitamin D plays an important role in the modulation of immune function, and more and more people are currently being diagnosed as having a deficiency of Vitamin D, probably due to inadequate exposure to sunlight.  The precise role of these factors in increased incidence of allergic disorders is being studied worldwide, though no conclusions have yet been reached.
Although no conclusions have been reached regarding the cause of why the incidence and prevalence of allergies and asthma in Manassas, VA and the DC area have increased over recent years, it is clear that these conditions are very problematic for allergy sufferers.  We, at Black and Kletz Allergy, strive to help alleviate your allergy and asthma symptoms in McLean, Virginia and the Washington, DC area, so that you can enjoy a high quality of life.

Summertime Sickness: Sinus Infection vs. the Common Cold

As the tree and grass pollen season is winding down in the Washington DC area, “summer colds” are playing a bigger role in symptoms that include stuffy nose, runny nose, eye irritation, sore throat, and cough in many people.

Also read: Sinus Infection vs. Cold: Symptoms & Treatment Options

The common cold is caused by a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract passages.  Different strains of viruses are responsible for these infections in different seasons.   Whereas rhinoviruses cause most of the colds in the winter, enteroviruses are more prevalent in summer.

The symptoms usually begin as sneezing spells followed by nasal congestion, runny nose, and a redness and burning sensation of the eyes.  More serious eye problems, may be better handled by a Washington DC ophthalmologist. They are usually followed by a sore throat, occasional dry cough, and fatigue.  Many individuals also experience headaches and a mild fever. The illness may last for 5 to 7 days and usually resolves by itself.

Though, no medication is needed to eradicate the infection, the symptoms can be relieved and the person can be made to feel more comfortable by taking some of the following steps:

  1. Irrigating the nasal cavity with a saline spray and over-the-counter (OTC) oral decongestants to unclog the nostrils and help breathe easier.  (Note that  individuals with high blood pressure, heart problems, prostate conditions, and other various diseases should not use decongestants)
  2. Though the OTC nasal decongestant sprays can give quicker relief, if they are used more than 3 days continuously, they can cause “rebound” congestion when their effect wears off.   This can lead to a habituation and dependency and is called “rhinitis medicamentosa.”   Therefore, never use an OTC nasal decongestant such as Afrin (oxymetazoline) or Neosynephrine (phenylephrine) more than 3 days.
  3. OTC pain medications like acetaminophen and ibuprofen to relieve headache, achiness, and/or fever.
  4. Gargling with warm salt water and using throat lozenges to soothe the throat irritation.
  5. Get rest and drink plenty of oral fluids while the immune system is fighting the virus.

However, in some instances the upper respiratory infections can also progress to involve the linings inside the sinuses.  (Sinuses are air-filled cavities within the facial bones and are present behind the forehead, around the eyes, and behind the cheek bones).  This complication can not only prolong the duration of the illness, but can also result in additional symptoms such as fever, facial pain/tenderness, persistent thick and discolored nasal secretions, post-nasal drip, and/or frequent productive coughing, which are symptoms consistent with a sinus infection.  People with a history of asthma may also experience aggravation of their breathing problems and the more frequent need for their rescue medications.

If the symptoms are persisting in spite of the OTC medications and comfort measures (especially if the symptoms last more than 1 week), it is time to consult your Manassas, VA sinus problem doctor for evaluation and treatment. Black & Kletz Allergy’s Washington, DC specialists will help you beat your summer allergies for good.