Allergy Myth Information

When I began this website, I had in mind that I would use it to share perspectives and ‘pet peeves’. I have been more with the former versus the later. Now for a change of pace. One of my big pet peeves is myth information. That term is significantly different from mis-information. The use of ‘mis’ would be referring to bad, badly, wrong, wrongly, failure, or lack of information. Myth is more akin to a story that may deal with supernatural beings, ancestors, or even heroes. It could also be a real or fictional story that appeals to the consciousness of a people by embodying cultural ideals. I like the last part of the Webster’s definition- a fiction or half-truth.

A recent article ‘Allergy Agony Persists’ appeared in the Indianapolis Star this past week. Now I know that these articles are written after telephone interviews by the reporters. The subject interviewed is only given a general topic. The requests for the interviews have a sense of urgency and the specific questions are never known ahead of time. It would seem to me that knowing those questions would help in checking answers and resources, however that is not how it usually works. So this article has a few things that may be consistent with what I would call, Allergy Myth Information.

There were a number of statements in the report that concerned me. There was the strong sense that what we experienced weather-wise in June and July will bring a horrific fall. Summer begins June 20th and the Fall just started. Actually we welcomed the Fall season just two days prior to the appearance of the article.

Now what is the most dreaded outdoor seasonal allergen? Answer; ragweed. When does ragweed flourish? Answer- it shows up in August with August 15 as the ceremonial ragweed day. That would be about two-thirds of the way into summer. Ragweed would then still be a summer phenomenon.

Back in time, the nasal malady was known as Hay Fever due to its occurrence during the haying season- August-October. Hay fever is truly a misnomer- the problem is not due to hay and does not cause a fever. Concurrent at this time in the outdoor world are a whole host of weeds, with ragweed predominating and we can also find mold spores on the pollen counters.

The outdoor allergen season ends after not one but two killing frosts. In Westfield, Indiana we had a nice frost on the second day of Fall (Sunday) and as I walked out to retrieve the Indy Star with this allergy article in it, there was our second frost. That really deflated any prediction regarding how bad the fall will be this year. In this situation, two frosts and you are out!

There are a number of statements made in the article that are of concern, what follows are the statements (perpetuated myths perhaps) and my rebuttals;

As much as 20% of people suffer from allergies to ragweed- Rebuttal- About 15% of the American population has nasal allergy (range 10-20%). Of those 15% of the American population with nasal allergy, 75% are sensitive to ragweed. That sounds a bit different.

Pollen counts- now Dr. Frank Wu has done those for the ‘pollen network’ up until the last few years (not reported since 10/21/2009). To my understanding, there is no pollen counting station in Indianapolis. Pollen counts must have been derived from other cities with network pollen counting stations; Bloomington, Fort Wayne, and South Bend (according to the weather channel link). Pollen can travel 50 miles in significant amounts. These places are at least 100 miles away. The point being is that they may not accurately reflect what is going on here. The question would be, which of these  pollen counting cities was used to be representative of central Indiana- where do the reports come from that are being used or quoted? They tell us that the pollen is out there, but for quantity of pollen it may not accurately reflect our area.

Children with asthma can be particularly susceptible. Rebuttal- this is an area in which to tread very lightly. One must be very careful regarding connections. It takes three seasons of exposure prior to sensitization to pollen especially in our area with limited pollen seasons separated by cold weather. Asthma is a condition that can be triggered by allergens, but also by viruses, and irritants. Viruses are the most common trigger for an acute event. The ragweed season is simultaneous with the start of school. Once the children are back together, inside, and sharing their viruses, we see increased asthma activity. Ragweed may be a contributor, but there are other things at work as well. The CDC has prevalence and surveillance data regarding asthma – the 2010 report for Indiana-has 8.8% with current asthma for children (7.4-10.5%). When looking at race/ethnicity lifetime asthma prevalence- 23.5% in African-American children.  The discovery of 130 inhalers in 615 children in an Indianapolis Public School would be a prevalence of 21.1%- which is a  pretty good match with what has been reported. That school is reflective of the bigger problem of pediatric asthma. Note, the numreous flares of asthma may not all be related to fall allergy.

 Why do some people develop allergy? Rebuttal- ‘A child born of atopic parents presents at first no distinguishable abnormality. He merely inherits a predisposition to become hypersensitive to foreign substances (atopens). If atopy in his forebearers is remote, he may never develop symptoms. To which of the many atopens he becomes sensitive is less doubtless determined to a large degree by the extent of contact.’ (Taken from Synopsis of Allergy, by Harry Alexander, Mosby, 1947.) I do not think we are any closer than the connection of genes and environment- after 65 years.

Tips to ease suffering- in the sidebar a picture of a weed is presented. Rebuttal- that picture looks like goldenrod. Goldenrod pollen is too big to cause significant allergy. It was at one time thought to be a major issue. I recall my father groaning about acres of goldenrod causing his nasal maladies. Goldenrod has not been on the allergist’s most wanted list for some time. It is not relevant. It is not my usual source for reference material, but Wikipedia has a few interesting quips about goldenrod. I especially like the one that states that it is unfairly blamed for causing hay fever in humans. Ragweed and Goldenrod bloom at the same time, their colors are similar as are their habitats.

Up to 20 percent of people who suffer from allergies related to the weed. This is on the front page. I think a verb is missing. I was left hanging there.

The article was well intended and interesting, but may have been more of an epitaph than a predictor of an allergy season. Two of more frosts and there goes that anticipated terrible season.

Reviewer’s comments

Ragweed is an impressive plant. The giant ragweed species can be 7 or more feet tall. If you are under a bunch of them and they are shaken, you will emerge with a bright yellow pollen coating and with significant sneezing if you are sensitive. The short ragweed species tends to have the more active antigens in its pollen. These weed thrive on overturned, disturbed soil. You can see them by the sides of the road.

Ragweed is from the genus Ambrosia-food of the gods. I wonder what the connection was with the name of the plant and the misery is was to cause. It is not found in the upper north- beyond Saulte Ste. Marie, Michigan. Europe was said have been introduced to the plant from pollens on the boots of soldiers. The microscopic pollen is a multi-spiked ball. It even looks evil.

With all the heat and lack of rain, there was the anticipation that the Fall of 2012 would be replete with ragweed. It was not the ragweed equivalent of that 1960’s B-movie that my dad took me to see, ‘Day of the Trifids’. Jack Frost may have thwarted ragweed’s plans for this year.

Parts of this report perpetuate myths; frosts, prevalence of ragweed-induced suffering amongst the chosen, goldenrod, pediatric asthma susceptibility, regional pollen counting, and the impact of prior seasons. It would be great to collect all the myths that we deal with in the specialty and see how they have withstood the test of time- are they still myths or is do we have a new understanding and the myth has been either refruted or has become fact.

FEL (9-27-2012)

September 27, 2012 · fleickly · No Comments
Tags: , , ,  · Posted in: Allergies, Interesting articles, Nasal Allergy