- Allergies are increasing. It may be something simple as an annoying itching of skin or eyes, to a stuffed nose or tightening or sensitivity of the throat, to debilitating sneezing fits, all the way to life-threatening asthma attacks or shock from eating certain foods.
Between 15 and 20 percent of all Americans suffer from allergies. That includes 35 million people from allergic rhinitis, which is commonly excused as a runny nose. It occurs when you breathe in something you are allergic to, such as dust, dander, or pollen. Over 15 million people suffer from asthma and between six and eight percent of children suffer from food allergies. Children in particular can experience misery in small or large doses, and finding out the cause of the problem may be a challenge.
The kicker is that studies are showing that less than 50 percent of all doctors treat these diseases properly. The results are tragic for personal health and for the nation's health care bills, resulting in tens of thousands of medical emergencies, billions of dollars in costs, and a diminished quality of life for millions of children.
In their new book "Asthma, Allergies, Children: A Parent's Guide" Paul Ehrlich, M.D.
, Larry Chiaramonte, M.D.
, with Henry Ehrlich
, experienced pediatric allergy specialists tackle the myths and realities of allergies and asthma and offer up a new manifesto to help parents and children cope with the irritants and hazards of the world we live in. Their easy-to-understand and lively book takes the mystery out of the medicine and pathology, using stories and humor to educate and motivate people to take the right actions.
Using the military as an analogy, initially, the special forces parachute in and do reconnaissance in enemy territory, identifying command centers and strategic targets for attack. Then the infantry lands and there's aerial bombardment, where the enemy is destroyed, but the surrounding tissue is threatened with collateral damage. Finally, there's a third phase, with land mines and unexploded bombs left behind, and snipers and saboteurs remain underground while the civilian population struggles to recover.
The culprit is inflammation, the doctors say: "Inflammation is the most dangerous allergic response. Redness, swelling, pain, itching, or heat can all be important symptoms of an allergy. What happens if a cut goes untreated? An alarming infection can set in. Now imagine this happening in your child's sinuses. Just because you can't see the inflammation doesn't mean that your child is not suffering."
Inflammation in the lungs can cause asthma - a wheezing shortness of breath that can be minor or so severe as to cause permanent damage and even death.
Many physicians have a hard time identifying asthma; it is misdiagnosed 30 percent of the time. They are even reluctant to use the A-word, because it is alarming to parents. But denial is counterproductive and a wait-and-see attitude is a recipe for chronic inflammation and permanent damage to the lungs.
Parents can use the same checklist of symptoms used by physicians to help diagnose asthma in school-aged children:
Does your child:
• Make noisy or wheezy sounds when breathing?
• Have a hard time taking a deep breath?
• Have a hard time breathing in cold weather?
• Develop coughs that won't go away?
• Complain about chest tightness or pain after running?
• Wake up at night coughing?
• Have itchy, puffy or burning eyes or a runny, stuffy nose?
• Cough around pets?
In addition, one of the best diagnostic tools centers on a quick evaluation of the child's quality of life and boils down to three simple questions:
Do you sleep tight? Do you work right? Do you play with might?
Each of these questions reflects a key signal of illness and health in the asthmatic child.
All sorts of misnomers and common myths are clarified. Big cities, with a high concentration of pollutants in the air, are a canary in a mine for the rest of the country. But no region is safe; recent research shows that asthma is as prevalent in rural areas as in the cities.
Parents who are fearful of using steroids because athletes have given them a bad name. But this is an urban myth. In reality your child's medicine is a different thing entirely, an anti-inflammatory corticosteroid, derived from the adrenal cortex, not the anabolic steroids which turns 97-pound weaklings into the Incredible Hulk, which are derived from testosterone.
Food allergies, particularly, are misunderstood and misdiagnosed and frequently result in malnutrition.
The bottom line? The most important thing that parents can do is to see an allergy specialist. Get a referral or get an appointment, do whatever it takes. Seeing a specialist is to best way to make sure your child gets the best and most effective treatment.