Category Archives: UNCATEGORIZED

Is It the Common Cold or Allergies

young woman having a coldAs we are in the Fall season and approaching Winter, many individuals may experience a clear runny nose, post-nasal drip, sneezing, sore throat, nasal congestion, sinus pressure, headache, coughing, and/or fatigue.  The question to many becomes, “Do I have a common cold or do I have Fall/Winter allergies? It is a common question to an even more common complaint. How does someone know if they are having allergies rather than the common cold?  Well, if someone does not have a history of allergic rhinitis (i.e., hay fever) and they develop the above-mentioned symptoms, they probably are not experiencing allergies, unless these symptoms persist for several weeks or more.  If the symptoms persist, one should consult a board certified allergist like the ones at Black & Kletz Allergy.  The allergy specialist can help identify if one has allergies vs. are the symptoms a result of a lingering cold or a secondary bacterial infection (e.g., sinus infection, upper respiratory infection, pneumonia)?

The common cold is caused by a variety of viruses (e.g., rhinovirus, human coronavirus, influenza viruses, parainfluenza virus, human respiratory syncytial virus (i.e., RSV), enteroviruses other than rhinovirus, and adenoviruses).  There are over 200 viruses associated with the common cold, although rhinovirus accounts for most of them. In addition, approximately 25% of colds are caused by unknown factors, which are presumed to be due to unidentifiable viruses.

Of particular importance to infants and young children is the human respiratory syncytial virus which can be fairly severe in these age groups and cause life-threatening illness in approximately 1-2% of infants and young children who get the virus.  RSV may also cause serious symptoms in individuals whose immune systems are compromised, as well as in individuals with chronic heart or lung disease. Most of the time, RSV has a mild self-limited course in children and adults resulting in a cold-like illness.  In fact, almost all children get RSV by the age of 2. It is only this 1-2% of infants and young children, some individuals whose immune systems are compromised, and some people with chronic heart or lung disease who go on to develop more serious symptoms which may include pneumonia (i.e., infection of the lungs), and/or bronchiolitis [i.e., inflammation of the bronchioles (small breathing tubes in the lungs].  Infants and young children with this more severe course often require intravenous antibiotics and fluids, oxygen, and sometimes need to be placed on a ventilator for a short period of time in order to help them through the respiratory distress that can accompany this virus. In addition, infants and young children that develop complications from RSV may be more likely to develop asthma in the future.

While discussing the common cold, there is a common myth to debunk regarding the development of the common cold and environmental factors.  It is a myth that being out in the cold weather will cause a cold. The traditional theory is that a cold can be “caught” by the prolonged exposure to cold weather, which is probably how the disease got its name.   It is much more likely that in the Fall and Winter months, when it happens to be cold outside, some of the viruses that cause the common cold occur more frequently during this time period.  If these viruses are more prevalent during this time period, it stands to reason that we are exposed to more of these viruses at this time and therefore are more likely to “catch” a cold in these colder months.  One other factor to consider is that once a few individuals develop colds, since it is easily transmissible, more and more people who are in close contact will then develop colds. This process becomes exponentially larger and before you know it, “almost everybody” has a cold.

What about someone who does have a history of allergies?  If they develop the classic symptoms of a cold in the Fall or Winter as mentioned in the first paragraph, is it their allergies or a common cold?  The same basic formula applies to them. If the symptoms are present for a week or two, one is to assume it is a common cold. However, if the symptoms last several weeks or more, then one is to assume that their allergies are playing a role.  The allergens that typically cause allergic rhinitis symptoms in the Fall and Winter include dust mites, molds, pets, cockroaches, and other animals such as rodents. Allergy testing can be done via skin or blood testing. If an environmental allergy is identified, it is important to try to prevent exposure to the allergens.  If that does not relieve the symptoms, then there are host of medications that can be utilized in order to help mitigate one’s allergy symptoms.

If you are suffering from a prolonged “cold” and/or are not sure if your symptoms may be due to allergies and you would like to be seen at one of Black & Kletz Allergy’s 3 convenient locations in Washington, DC, McLean, VA (Tysons Corner, VA), or Manassas, VA, please call us to make an appointment.  Alternatively, you can click Request an Appointment and we will get back to you within 24 hours by the next business day.  We offer parking at each office location and we are Metro accessible at our Washington, DC and McLean, VA locations.  We also offer a free shuttle that runs between our McLean, VA office and the Spring Hill metro station on the silver line.  Black & Kletz Allergy provides a friendly and caring environment for you to get the top quality allergy, asthma, and immunology treatment that we have been providing the community for more than 50 years.

Mast Cell Disorders

master cell imageA mast cell is a component of the immune system that is involved in the allergic response.  Mast cells contain histamine and other chemical mediators. These chemicals are released into the bloodstream and then into the surrounding tissues during an allergic reaction.

In a disorder called “mastocytosis,” individuals harbor excessive numbers of mast cells in the bone marrow and other organs.  It is important to note that this condition may occur both in children and adults. Individuals with mastocytosis frequently experience generalized itching, flushing, skin rashes, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, shortness of breath, dizziness, and/or passing out (i.e., syncope). 

Children are more likely to have symptoms limited to the skin whereas the majority of adults have systemic symptoms which usually involve multiple organ systems.  These symptoms are similar to that of anaphylaxis. In addition, these individuals are more sensitive to various triggers such as temperature changes, certain medications, spicy foods, alcohol, bee stings, etc.  Occasionally they suffer anaphylaxis spontaneously without exposure to any obvious trigger(s).

The first step in the diagnosis of this condition is a comprehensive history taking note of the specific symptoms, as well as their onset, progression, and severity.  Physical examination sometimes reveals freckle-like skin lesions called “urticaria pigmentosa” which typically appear over one’s thighs, abdomen, etc. These spot-like skin lesions can lead to hives (i.e., urticaria) upon stroking the skin (also known as Darier’s sign), as well as after exposure to temperature changes (e.g., taking hot showers).  This occurs as a result of the compression of mast cells.

The most helpful diagnostic laboratory test is a serum tryptase level, which is usually elevated in systemic mastocytosis.  Urine examination also can be useful in detecting higher levels of metabolites of various chemical mediators of allergic reactions.  Confirmation of the diagnosis usually requires a skin biopsy, bone-marrow examination, evaluation of organ functions, and occasionally genetic studies.

The usual course of treatment of this condition is avoidance of exposure to the known triggers of mast cell activation in order to prevent acute symptoms. There are several medications that are utilized in order to treat this condition.  Antihistamines block the effects of histamine, which is one of the most common mediators of allergic reactions. As a result, antihistamines [e.g., Claritin (loratadine), Allegra (fexofenadine), Zyrtec (cetirizine)] are the most commonly used medications to treat mast cell disorders.  A medication called cromolyn is helpful to alleviate the gastrointestinal symptoms (i.e., abdominal cramping, nausea, vomiting) that may occur with mast cell disorders including. Aspirin, ketotifen and leukotriene modifiers [e.g., Singulair (montelukast), Accolate (zafirlukast), Zyflo (zileuton)] are also sometimes employed in the treatment of mast cell disease.

It is important to note that individuals with mast cell disorders are also at risk for fractures due to osteopenia and/or osteoporosis, and bone health needs special attention.  More aggressive forms of systemic mastocytosis may require interferon, immune modulators, and/or chemotherapeutic agents.

All patients with established mast cell disorders need to have ready access to epinephrine auto-injectors (e.g., EpiPen, Auvi-Q, Adrenaclick) at all times to be used at the onset of symptoms suggestive of anaphylaxis.  Once used, it is important for the individual to go to the closest emergency room. It is also important for patients with mast cell disorders to make surgeons and anesthesiologists aware of their mast cell disorder in case a surgical procedure is needed, as surgery can also be a trigger systemic symptoms.

The board certified allergists at Black & Kletz Allergy have 3 convenient office locations in the Washington, DC, Northern Virginia, and Maryland metropolitan area and are very experienced in the diagnosis and treatment of mast cell disorders.  Black & Kletz Allergy treat both adults and children and have offices in Washington, DC, McLean, VA (Tysons Corner, VA), and Manassas, VA.  We offer on-site parking at each location and the Washington, DC and McLean, VA offices are Metro accessible.  There is a free shuttle that runs between the McLean, VA office and the Spring Hill metro station on the silver line.  Please call our office to make an appointment or alternatively, you can click Request an Appointment and we will respond within 24 hours by the next business day.  Black & Kletz Allergy has been serving the Washington, DC metropolitan area for more than 50 years and we pride ourselves in providing excellent allergy and asthma care in a professional and pleasant setting.

 

Dust Allergies

Dust is a very common allergen which can cause havoc among sensitized individuals.  Most people are not aware that the cause of dust allergies are dust mites. Dust mites are microscopic animals belonging to the class Arachnida.  Arachnids are arthropods which are invertebrate animals that have an exoskeleton (i.e., external skeleton), a segmented body, along with paired jointed appendages.  In addition to mites, some other examples of arachnids include spiders, ticks, and scorpions.  Dust mites, which are also known as house dust mites, are between 0.2 to 0.3 mm. in length and are translucent, making them almost invisible to the naked eye.

Dust mites survive by eating the dead skin of humans and pets as it flakes off their bodies.  They also eat some varieties of mold. They live throughout the world except at high altitudes (i.e., above 5,000 feet).  Dust mites are generally found in bedding (e.g., pillows, mattresses, box springs, blankets), upholstered furniture, carpeting, drapes, and curtains.  They tend to thrive in humid conditions where the relative humidity is above 50%. The allergenic components of dust mites are the exoskeleton and their fecal deposits.  Since the exoskeleton and fecal deposits are relatively heavy in nature, they are not suspended for long in the air. Thus, they are generally found on the floor and other surfaces.  The dust that you see in the air is not usually composed of dust mite allergens unless the floor or surface is disturbed. If this occurs, the dust mite allergens only remain in the air for a couple of hours or less.  The two major species of dust mites that are highly allergenic and tend to affect sensitized individuals in the U.S. are Dermatophagoides farinae (i.e., American house dust mite) and Dermatophagoides pteronyssinus (i.e., European house dust mite).  

Individuals who are allergic to dust mites may exhibit signs and symptoms of allergic rhinitis (i.e., hay fever), allergic conjunctivitis, and/or asthma.  These symptoms may include sneezing, runny nose, nasal congestion, postnasal drip, itchy nose, itchy eyes, watery eyes, redness of the eyes, puffy eyes, sore throat, snoring, fatigue, sinus headaches, wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and/or shortness of breath.

The diagnosis of dust mite allergy requires a thorough history and physical examination by a board certified allergist like the ones at Black & Kletz Allergy.  Testing to dust mites can be done via skin or blood testing.  The severity of the dust mite allergy can also be assessed. Once diagnosed, the allergist will recommend several preventative measures that should be implemented by the allergy sufferer.

 

Some of these preventative measures may include:  

1.)  Covering the pillows, mattress, and box spring with allergy-proof encasings

2.)  Washing the bedroom sheets in hot water (greater than or equal to 130 °F) 

3.)  Vacuuming carpeting at least once a week

4.)  Keeping the relative humidity less than or equal to 45%

5.)  Reducing or eliminating stuffed animals and other dust-gathering toys

6.)  Replace bedroom wall-to-wall carpeting to hardwood or vinyl flooring

7.)  Use a HEPA filter in the HVAC system and replace the filter every 3 months

 

The treatment of dust mite allergies may include the use of oral antihistamines, decongestants, leukotriene antagonists, nasal corticosteroids, nasal antihistamines, nasal anticholinergic medications, allergy eye drops, inhaled corticosteroids, inhaled bronchodilators, allergy immunotherapy (i.e., allergy shots, allergy injections, allergy hyposensitization), and/or biologicals (e.g., for the treatment of moderate to severe asthma).

The board certified allergists at Black & Kletz Allergy have been diagnosing and treating dust mite allergies for many decades in the Washington, DC, Northern Virginia, and Maryland metropolitan areaWe have office locations in Washington, DC, McLean, VA (Tysons Corner, VA), and Manassas, VA.  Our Washington, DC and McLean, VA offices are Metro accessible and there is a free shuttle that runs between the McLean, VA office and the Spring Hill metro station on the silver line.  The allergists at Black & Kletz Allergy are extremely knowledgeable about the most current treatment options for patients with allergic rhinitis, allergic conjunctivitis, and asthma and can promptly answer any of your questions.  To schedule an appointment, please call any of our offices or you may click Request an Appointment and we will respond within 24 hours by the next business day.  We have been servicing the greater Washington, DC area for more than 50 years and we look forward to providing you with excellent state of the art allergy and asthma care in a friendly and pleasant environment.

 

Trick-or-Treat Allergies on Halloween

Every year, several children are taken to emergency departments on Halloween day for the management of severe allergic reactions.  What is meant to be a fun-filled activity can turn out to be a harrowing experience for some families. A few general precautions made by families can prevent most allergic emergencies in children and are as follows: 

  1. Many families understand how to read labels on foods and avoid those that contain ingredients that their children are sensitized to. However, most “fun-sized” candies handed out while trick-or-treating either do not have any labeling at all or they may contain different ingredients than regular sized packages.
  2. Preventing children with food allergies to trick-or-treat without adult supervision as well as avoiding candies without proper labeling can prevent a life-threatening reaction.  It is a good practice for severely allergic individuals to carry epinephrine self-injectable devices (e.g., EpiPen, Auvi-Q, Adrenaclick) while trick or treating.
  3. Children with food allergies should be taught to politely refuse homemade foods such as cookies and cupcakes that may be unsafe for them.
  4. Ragweed and mold spores are the most common environmental aeroallergens in the Fall in many geographical areas in late October.  In addition, exposure to cats and dogs are not uncommon while trick or treating. Exposure to these allergens may trigger allergic rhinitis (i.e., hay fever) and/or severe respiratory allergic reactions.  The use of allergy and/or asthma medications before heading out may be protective.  Showering, washing one’s hair, and changing into fresh new clothes after trick or treating will reduce airborne allergen exposure.
  5. Cold air is a known irritant and prolonged exposure to cold air may aggravate asthma in susceptible children.  Frequent indoor breaks and covering the nose and mouth while outdoors can minimize this risk. Children with a history of asthma should also take their rescue inhalers [e.g., albuterol (Proventil, ProAir, Ventolin), levalbuterol (Xopenex)] with them while trick-or-treating.
  6. Haunted houses with smoke machines may pose a danger to children and adults with severe asthma.  Exposure to smoke of any kind can cause an acute asthma exacerbation. Preparation and avoidance are necessary in order to prevent severe asthma attacks.
  7. Halloween costumes containing strong chemicals may be irritating to children with sensitive skin and as a result a flare-up of their eczema (i.e., atopic dermatitis) may occur.  Latex-containing masks as part of the costume may be especially deleterious to children with a history of latex allergy.  Children with a sensitivity to metals such as nickel may be exposed to nickel buttons and buckles in costumes which may lead to itching and skin rashes

 

To help insure that a food allergic child can participate in Halloween and have as much fun as the next child, although nothing is guaranteed, there is a program run by the Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) organization called the “Teal Pumpkin Project”.  This FARE-sponsored international program has been in place since 2014.  It began in Tennessee by the mother of a severely food allergic child.  The Teal Pumpkin Project’s purpose is to raise awareness of the severity of food allergies and show support to families who have food allergic children.  This is done by painting a pumpkin the color teal and then placing it on one’s front porch to signify that “non-food” treats are available at that location on Halloween night.  The color teal is used because it represents food allergy awareness.  Typically, “non-food” treats may include toys, crayons, stickers, rings, bracelets, necklaces, glow sticks, hair accessories, coins, finger puppets, balls, bookmarks, spider rings, vampire fangs, whistles, etc.

It important to point out that the Teal Pumpkin Project is not exclusionary and it still promotes the option of distributing normal trick-or-treat candy to children without food allergies.  It recommends that the “non-food” items be kept in a different bowl than the traditional candy bowl.  FARE provides a “Teal Pumpkin Project Participation Map” on its website so that participating houses can be easily assessed by the parents of food allergic children.

 

Being cognizant of the hidden dangers of trick-or-treating and proactive in preventing allergen exposures can greatly reduce parents’ anxiety as well as help children fully enjoy the Halloween experience.  The board certified allergists at Black & Kletz Allergy have had over 5 decades of experience in diagnosing and managing food and environmental allergies, asthma, and eczema in the Washington, DC, Northern Virginia, and Maryland metropolitan area.  Both food and environmental allergies can be diagnosed by a thorough history and physical examination along with prick skin testing and/or blood testing.  We would be happy to see you in one of our 3 convenient locations with offices in Washington, DC, McLean, VA (Tysons Corner, VA), and Manassas, VA.   There is on-site parking at each location and both the Washington, DC and McLean, VA offices are Metro accessible.  There is a free shuttle that runs between our McLean, VA office and the Spring Hill metro station on the silver line.  To schedule an appointment, please call our office or alternatively, you may click Request an Appointment and we will respond within 24 hours on the next business day.  Black & Kletz Allergy is proud to provide quality allergy, asthma, and immunology care in a relaxed compassionate environment.

The Diagnosis and Treatment of Hives

Hives (i.e., urticaria) is a type of skin rash that usually presents with red, raised, and itchy bumps, usually similar in appearance to mosquito bites. Other colloquial terms for hives include welts or wheals. They may occur anywhere on the body and appear in various shapes and sizes. They usually blanch with pressure. In some instances, they may look like small red dots or even be flush with the skin. The borders of each hive may be sharply demarcated or they may blend in with the surrounding skin. If the hives are deep enough in the skin layer, the result may be swelling of that area commonly referred to as angioedema.

Hives are quite common as they affect 20% to 25% of the population at some point in their lives. Hives generally, as a rule, are intermittent and usually last less than 24 hours in duration. They may occur very frequently (i.e., multiple times per day) or they may occur very rarely (i.e., one isolated episode). If an episode of hives resolves within 6 weeks, it is known as “acute urticaria.” If the episode lasts more than 6 weeks in duration, it is known as “chronic urticaria.”
You may be asking yourself, what are the causes of hives, since they are so common. Many times, the cause is fairly obvious in such cases where the hives develop shortly after eating a certain food, or immediately after a bee sting. They may occur during the course of or shortly after completing a course of antibiotics. Other medications may be the causative agent in others affected with hives. Aspirin and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID’s) are the most common classes of medications that cause hives besides antibiotics. Some of the most commonly prescribed NSAID’s include ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn, Anaprox), salsalate (Disalcid), indomethacin (Indocin), etodolac (Lodine), diclofenac (Voltaren, Arthrotec, Cataflam), ketorolac (Toradol), piroxicam (Feldene), meloxicam (Mobic), Oxaprozin (Daypro), nabumetone (Relafen), tolmetin (Tolectin), fenoprofen (Asaid), sulindac (Clinoril), and celecoxib (Celebrex). It is important to note that any medication or food can cause hives in any individual, despite the fact that they may have ingested the food or medication in the past without reactions. An assortment of other conditions such as infections (viral, bacterial, fungal, or parasitic), inflammatory conditions, autoimmune disorders (when the immune system fights an individual’s own tissues and organs instead of defending them against outside intruders), and rarely even cancers can play a role in causing hives.  If the hives persist longer than 24 hours and/or they leave residual marks on the skin, it may indicate inflammation of the small blood vessels, a condition known as “vasculitis.” Other factors that may cause or exacerbate hives may include exercise, cold, heat, vibration, pressure, sun exposure, and/or water, to name a few.

If you suffer from hives, it is important to see a board certified allergist such as the allergists at Black & Kletz Allergy. Our allergy specialists see numerous cases of hives and/or swelling episodes each week. We have over 5 decades of experience in the Washington, DC, Northern Virginia, and Maryland metropolitan area in diagnosing and treating hives. We see patients of all ages ranging from newborns to the elderly. At your first consultation with our allergists, a comprehensive history and physical examination will be performed. Depending upon your history and examination, diagnostic tests may include bloodwork, allergy skin testing, urinalysis, X-rays, and/or a skin biopsy.
Since histamine is the principal chemical that is responsible for the development of hives, most of the cases are responsive to medications that block the action of histamine on the skin. In some individuals, avoidance of a particular food or medication is all that is needed. For others, there are a variety of treatment options, some of which include antihistamines, leukotriene antagonists, histamine-2 blockers, corticosteroids, immune modulators, and “biologicals” [e.g., omalizumab (Xolair) injections] or various combinations of the aforementioned medications.

Black &Kletz Allergy has 3 convenient locations in the Washington, DC metro area.  We have offices in Washington, DC, McLean, VA (Tysons Corner, VA), and Manassas, VA which all offer on-site parking.  The Washington, DC and McLean, VA locations are Metro accessible and there is a free shuttle that runs between the McLean, VA office and the Spring Hill metro station on the silver line.  Please call us to make an appointment or you can click Request an Appointment and we will reply within 24 hours by the next business day.  The allergy specialists of Black & Kletz Allergy are eager to help you with your hives, swelling episodes, allergic rhinitis (i.e., hay fever), asthma, sinus conditions, and immunology needs.  We are dedicated to providing excellent care to you as we have been doing in the Washington, DC metro area for more than 50 years.

Allergies Associated with Acid Reflux Medications

Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) are a group of medications commonly used to treat symptoms caused by excessive stomach acid.  The most common PPIs available in the U.S. are Nexium (i.e., esomeprazole), Protonix (i.e., pantoprazole), Prilosec (i.e., omeprazole), Prevacid (i.e., lansoprazole), Aciphex (i.e., rabeprazole), and Dexilant (i.e., dexlansoprazole).  These medications act by reducing the amount of acid secretion produced by the parietal cells in the lining of the stomach. In addition to lifestyle and dietary modifications, they are usually the first line medications prescribed to treat common conditions such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE), erosive esophagitis, Zollinger-Ellison syndrome, and peptic ulcers (duodenal or stomach ulcers).  GERD is commonly referred to as “heartburn” by the general public.  These PPIs are also used in combination with corticosteroids, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and/or some antibiotics to protect the stomach.

These medications are considered relatively safe and some are also available over the counter.  Even though they are available over the counter, there are side effects, particularly if used long-term.  Some of the more common side effects may include headaches, rashes, fever, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, lightheadedness, and change in or unpleasant taste.  Long-term use has been linked to osteoporosis (i.e., thinning of the bones) which may lead to bone fractures. Other more severe side effects may include acute interstitial nephritis (i.e., kidney failure), lupus, pneumonia, low magnesium levels, muscle spasms, heart palpitations, and clostridium difficile-associated diarrhea, to name a few.

In addition to the side effects of PPIs, there have been a few recent publications that have reported their association with possible allergic reactions.

In an article published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice, the authors reported serious allergic reactions in five patients receiving PPIs.  These patients developed allergic reactions within 30 to 60 minutes of taking the medications orally.  One patient developed a more rapid reaction after receiving the drug intravenously.

All patients were subsequently evaluated for sensitivity to PPIs using skin prick testing and intradermal skin testing techniques.  All patients showed positive reactions indicating an immediate allergic sensitivity that was mediated by the IgE antibody. 

When patients develop life-threatening anaphylactic reactions, foods and insect stings are usually thought to be the causative agents as medications other than penicillins cause anaphylaxis very rarely.  However, this report highlights the need for a high index of suspicion for medications such as PPIs being the culprits in causes of anaphylaxis.

A more recent publication in the journal Nature Communications, the authors reported an increase in allergic symptoms in patients receiving PPIs on a regular basis.  The data revealed that people taking PPIs for any reason had a two-to-three times higher chance of receiving prescriptions for medications used to treat allergies at a later date.

Stomach acid is needed for proper digestion of ingested food.  It contains various enzymes which help break down the complex proteins in the food before they are further processed.  It also protects the digestive system from infections caused by bacteria and other harmful substances. 

Reducing the acid production by PPIs can impede the proper digestion of proteins.  PPIs also alter the microbiome of the stomach. Consequently harmful proteins and other substances can get absorbed into the bloodstream unchallenged. This has the potential to weaken the natural defense mechanisms and can either cause or aggravate allergic sensitization to certain foods and environmental triggers.

The authors of this publication caution people not to use acid suppressor medications any longer than absolutely necessary.

The board certified allergists at Black & Kletz Allergy have 3 convenient locations in the Washington, DC, Northern Virginia, and Maryland metropolitan region and have been providing allergy and asthma care to this area for more than 5 decades.  Our offices are located in Washington, DC, McLean, VA (Tysons Corner, VA), and Manassas, VA. All of our offices offer on-site parking.  For further convenience, our Washington, DC and McLean, VA offices are Metro accessible.  In addition, our McLean, VA office location offers a complementary shuttle that runs between this office and the Spring Hill metro station on the silver line.  For an appointment, please call one of our offices.  Alternatively, you can click Request an Appointment and we will respond within 24 hours by the next business day.  If you suffer from allergies or asthma, it is our mission to help alleviate your unwanted symptoms, so that you can enjoy a better quality of life.

Black & Kletz Allergy is dedicated to providing the highest quality allergy and asthma care in a compassionate, relaxed, and professional environment. 

Air Pollution and Allergies

Air PollutionAir pollution is a major problem in many parts of the world particularly in major cities in the U.S. including Washington, DC. Air pollution occurs when excessive amounts of gases and/or particles reach harmful levels. It can occur both outdoors as well as indoors. When it is indoors in the workplace, it is often referred to as “sick building syndrome.” Sick building causes are frequently due to failings in the air conditioning, heating, and/or ventilation systems. Other reasons have been attributed to pollutants produced by volatile organic compounds (VOC’s), molds, outgassing of some types of building materials, ozone, lack of adequate filtration or fresh air, and/or chemicals used within a building.

Outdoor air pollution is caused by a multitude of gases, chemicals, and particulates. Carbon dioxide is a known gas which is usually a result of burning fossil fuels such as gasoline, natural gas, and coal. The carbon dioxide in the air causes heat to be trapped in the earth’s atmosphere which is known as the “greenhouse effect.” Many scientists feel that this greenhouse effect can lead to global warming. Another greenhouse gas is methane, which may come from gas emitted by livestock, landfills, and the natural gas industry. Chlorofluorocarbons (CFC’s) are another type of greenhouse gas. They were used in aerosol propellants and refrigerants until the 1980’s when they were banned because of they contributed to the breaking down of the Earth’s ozone layer. Other causes of outdoor pollution include sulfur dioxide and particulates. It should be noted that sulfur dioxide is a component of smog and is the primary cause of acid rain. Smog is a visible form of air pollution and is composed of sulfur oxides (e.g., sulfur dioxide), ozone, nitrogen oxides, smoke and other particulates. Smog is usually thought of to be a summer phenomenon. During the summer when the temperatures are warmer and there is more sunlight present, a photochemical reaction of sunlight, nitrogen oxides, and volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) occurs which produces ground-level ozone that is visible. It looks like smoke and in fact, the word “smog” is a combination of the two words “smoke” and “fog.”

Similar to how allergy sufferers monitor the pollen count, individuals interested in monitoring air pollution can follow the air quality index (AQI). The higher the AQI number, the greater the level of air pollution, and thus the greater the health concern. The AQI ranges from 0 to 500 whereby levels between 151 and 500 are “unhealthy.” An AQI number between 0 and 100 is considered to be acceptable by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). An AQI value between 101 and 150 may be unhealthy for sensitive (e.g., allergy sufferers, asthmatics, people with other lung diseases and/or heart disease, the elderly, children) individuals. An AQI value of over 300 is hazardous to one’s health. The EPA has assigned a color with each designated specific range of the AQI. The level of health concern, AQI values and colors (e.g., green, yellow, orange, red, purple, maroon), and their meaning are as follows:

Air Quality Index
(AQI) Values
Levels of Health Concern Colors
When the AQI is in this range: ..air quality conditions are: …as symbolized by this color:
0 to 50 Good Green
51 to 100 Moderate Yellow
101 to 150 Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups Orange
151 to 200 Unhealthy Red
201 to 300 Very Unhealthy Purple
301 to 500 Hazardous Maroon

Note: Values above 500 are considered Beyond the AQI. Follow recommendations for the Hazardous category. Additional information on reducing exposure to extremely high levels of particle pollution is available here.

Individuals with allergies and asthma are generally more susceptible to the side effects of air pollution. In many cases the particulates, gases, and chemicals can trigger asthma and/or incite nasal and eyes symptoms consistent with allergic rhinitis and allergic conjunctivitis. Others are affected by air pollution as a direct irritant-type nonallergic reaction. The most common symptoms caused by air pollution may include irritated eyes, burning of the eyes, red eyes, watery eyes, runny nose, burning of the nose, sore throat, fatigue, headaches, coughing chest tightness, chest pain, and/or shortness of breath.

There are some preventive measures as well as recommended treatments that should be undertaken when the AQI values rise. In consultation with one of our board certified allergists at Black & Kletz Allergy, we discuss these issues as well as others in order to prevent untoward and unnecessary reactions to all types of pollution.

The allergists at Black & Kletz Allergy have been diagnosing and treating allergies, asthma, sinus conditions, and immunological disorders for more than 50 years. We have been a proponent of a clean environment for a long time and Dr. Kletz has done volunteer work for the American Lung Association. Black & Kletz Allergy has 3 convenient locations in the Washington, DC metro area with offices in Washington, DC, McLean, VA (Tysons Corner, VA), and Manassas, VA. We offer on-site parking at each location and the Washington, DC and McLean offices are Metro accessible. There is a free shuttle that runs between our McLean, VA office and the Spring Hill metro station on the silver line. Please call us today to make an appointment at the office of your choice. Alternatively, you can click Request an Appointment and we will respond within 24 hours by the next business day. The allergists at Black & Kletz Allergy pride themselves in the delivery of the highest quality allergy care in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. In addition, we strive to provide excellent customer service in a friendly and affable environment.

Reactions to Food Additives

More and more natural and artificial chemicals are being added to our food as preservatives, flavor enhancers, and coloring agents.  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lists close to 4,000 substances as food additives.

Despite widespread use of these chemicals in food, adverse reactions are fortunately uncommon.  Most cases are described in the literature as single case reports or reports of a small cluster of patients.

Preservatives:

Sulfites:  These chemicals in the gaseous form can cause lung irritation and may trigger asthma in sensitive asthmatics.  They are commonly found in liquid form in processed cold drinks and fruit juice concentrates in order to extend their shelf lives.  Sulfites are also added to most wines and sprayed onto cut foods in order to keep them fresh and prevent discoloration or browning. They are used to preserve smoked and processed meats, dried fruit (e.g., apricots), and salads.  In its solid form, sulfites can cause hives when ingested.

Benzoic acid (i.e., benzoate) and Parabens:  Benzoates and parabens have antibacterial and anti-fungal properties in order to help with the prevention of food spoilage.  These agents are added to pharmaceutical and food products such as drinks (e.g., sugar-free cola). They occur naturally in prunes, cinnamon, tea, and berries.  These substances may cause urticaria (i.e., hives), asthma and angioedema (i.e., swelling) in sensitive individuals.

Antioxidants:  Synthetic phenolic antioxidants [e.g., BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene)] are typically added to processed foods such as dry cereals and potato flakes in order to prevent the fats and oils in these foods from turning rancid when exposed to air.  Unfortunately these antioxidants may trigger asthma, rhinitis, and urticarial in some sensitive individuals.

Flavor Enhancers:

Aspartame (e.g., NutraSweet, Equal), a low-calorie sweetener, can occasionally trigger itchy hives and swelling of the body.  It is also important to note that individuals with genetic condition phenylketonuria should avoid aspartame. Aspartame breaks down into an essential amino acid called phenyalanine which is toxic to individuals with phenylketonuria since these patients are unable to metabolize phenyalanine.

Colorings:

Azo dyes [e.g., tartrazine (i.e., yellow dye #5)] and Non-azo dyes (e.g., erythrocine) can trigger hives, asthma, and generalized allergic reactions.

Nitrates and Nitrites give meat a pink color to look more attractive.  These food colorings are typically found in bacon, salami, and frankfurters.

Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) may trigger the “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome” which causes individuals to experience headaches as well as burning and/or tightening of the chest, neck, and face.  MSG may be found in soups, pot noodles, and instant drinks, among other foods.

Naturally Occurring Substances:

Vasoactive amines: Natural histamine, serotonin, and tyramine occur in some ripe cheeses, fish, cured sausage, red wine, chocolate, and pickled vegetables and may induce cramping, flushing, headache, and palpitations in a dose-related manner.  Of note, there is a condition known as “scombroid poisoning” which occurs in individuals who eat spoiled fish. In this condition, there are abnormally high quantities of histamine in the fish due to improper storage or processing.  The typical fish affected may include tuna, mackerel, herring, sardine, anchovy, marlin, and bluefish. The symptoms may include flushing, headache, generalized itching, blurred vision, abdominal cramps, and/or diarrhea. Scombroid poisoning is often wrongly diagnosed as a fish allergy since similar symptoms may be associated with a true fish allergy.  One key factor to look for is to see if other individuals eating the same piece of fish exhibited symptoms. If so, it is more likely to be scombroid poisoning due to eating spoiled fish as opposed to a fish allergy.

Caffeine found in foods, medication, tea, coffee, and carbonated beverages induces dose-dependent agitation, palpitations, nausea, and/or tremors.

Salicylates (i.e., aspirin-like naturally occurring chemicals) may induce urticaria, asthma, and/or nasal polyp growth.  They are found in curry powder, paprika, oranges, apricots, ginger, honey, berries, fruit skins, tea, and almonds.  Salicylate sensitive individuals also tend to have adverse reactions to benzoates and tartrazine.

Diagnosis:

The precise mechanism how food additives cause reactions is not well understood in many instances.  The IgE antibody, which plays a crucial role in immediate-type (i.e., Type I) allergic reactions to food, is usually not involved in adverse reactions caused by food additives.

Skin prick tests and allergy blood tests are not helpful in identifying the food additive culprit in most cases.  Careful observation and maintaining food and symptom diaries are sometimes useful in narrowing down the offending additive. Oral challenges under close monitoring in controlled environments may be needed to arrive at a specific diagnosis.

Management:

Avoidance of the suspected food additive is the only certain way of preventing adverse effects.  One should be vigilant about reading food labels and asking restaurants about ingredients and cooking methods.

If there is a history of anaphylaxis, carrying an epinephrine auto-injector (e.g., EpiPen, Auvi-Q, Adrenaclick) is extremely helpful in emergency treatment.  It is important to emphasize that if a self-injectable epinephrine device is used, one should go immediately to the closest emergency room.

The board certified allergists at Black & Kletz Allergy have been diagnosing food additive sensitivitis, food allergies, and food intolerances routinely for many years on both adults and children.  Black &Kletz Allergy has 3 convenient locations in the Washington, DC, Northern Virginia, and Maryland metropolitan area.  We have offices in Washington, DC, McLean, VA (Tysons Corner, VA), and Manassas, VA which all offer on-site parking.  The Washington, DC and McLean, VA locations are Metro accessible and there is a free shuttle that runs between the McLean, VA office and the Spring Hill metro station on the silver line.  Please call us to make an appointment or you can click Request an Appointment and we will reply within 24 hours by the next business day.  The allergists of Black & Kletz Allergy are eager to help you with your allergy, asthma, sinus, and immunology needs.  We are dedicated to providing excellent care and service to you as we have been doing in the Washington, DC metro area for more than 5 decades.