Archive for March 25th, 2009

ALLERGIC REACTIONS: VERTIGO. MISCELLANEOUS HEALTH PROBLEMS

Vertigo

Vertigo is not quite the same as dizziness. With vertigo, you feel as though your head or the room is spinning; when you’re dizzy, you feel unsteady, but with no spinning sensation. (You can, however, have vertigo and dizziness at the same time.) Vertigo is sometimes also accompanied by blockage in the ear, buzzing noises, nausea and vomiting. A disease of the cochlea, the hearing mechanism in the middle ear, can cause vertigo. So can a disturbance in the balance-regulating portion of, the ear known as the vestibular system. Nerve damage in the inner ear is another possible cause. But there’s another cause that doctors rarely consider. Allergy.

‘Vertigo can affect children or adults who have an inner ear allergy which affects their sense of balance,’ says Dr Doris J. Rapp, in her book Allergies and Your Family. This type of allergy can be triggered by foods, drugs, chemicals or particles like dust, pollen and moulds.

Albert Rowe, Jr, an allergist in San Francisco, tells of a sixty-year-old woman who had disturbing attacks of vertigo for twenty years, along with episodes of colitis. An elimination diet designed to control her food allergies and cure her colitis also put an end to her vertigo.

Dr Rowe also tells of a man who frequently experienced falling sensations, along with migraine headaches. Tests showed he had no central nervous system defect or other neurological problem to otherwise explain the vertigo and headaches. By avoiding some fruits, vegetables and nuts – to which he was allergic – the man rid himself of both problems.

Other doctors tell similar stories of people who overcome vertigo by avoiding such common allergens as chocolate, milk, wheat, corn or orris root (a common fragrance). If you have allergy-induced vertigo, relief will depend on finding out what bothers you and avoiding those triggers.

Miscellaneous health problems

Various allergy doctors have also noticed that the following miscellaneous symptoms are sometimes caused or aggravated by allergies:

Eyes: blurred vision, sensitivity to light, weeping

Respiratory: hacking cough, laryngitis

Gastrointestinal: burping, dry mouth, metallic taste in mouth, rectal itching, thirst

Urinary: frequent, urgent or painful urination

Muscular: backaches

Emotional/Mental: floating sensations, forgetfulness, mood changes

General: chills, tingling, weakness

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ALLERGIC REACTIONS: ITCHING

Allergic people tend to have itchy skin more than non-allergic people. But that’s not too surprising; the skin is the largest organ in the body, so it’s logical that it suffers a fair amount of allergic discomfort.

As with other allergic reactions, the chemical histamine is primarily at fault. Allergens prompt the release of histamine from skin cells; it irritates nearby nerve endings; they send a message to the brain that there’s a problem; and the brain wires back the sensations that you feel – the discomfort, the compulsion to scratch, the itch.

Most allergic itching is caused by drugs, insect stings or bites, or contact with allergens such as makeup, poison ivy or nickel jewellery. It’s not very often that food and inhalant allergies trigger a case of itching, although you can react to pollen that gets on your skin or from handling foods to which you’re allergic.

Itching, of course, has many other causes besides allergens: rough clothing, dry skin, air conditioning or cold weather, and a number of diseases. Rule out these other possibilities before you investigate allergy.

If you’re fairly certain that an allergen is the problem, you can soothe the itch by applying cool, wet compresses and avoiding the allergen.

When itching accompanies hives, eczema or hay fever, controlling those allergies will probably put an end to the itching.

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ALLERGIC REACTIONS: DIZZY SPELLS

A woman from Denver whom I met on a plane told me that she had had dizzy spells off and on for a couple of years. She’d be walking down the street, for example, when suddenly her head would start to spin. She’d begun to worry that she might have a brain tumour. But a thorough neurological exam, including a brain scan, failed to detect one.

An allergist eventually discovered that the woman was allergic to yeasts and moulds in foods – cheese, wine, mushrooms and so forth – and that they were the cause of her dizzy spells.

The woman told me that she still eats an occasional piece of cheese or drinks some wine at parties, but not very often and not very much. The biggest relief, she said, comes from knowing that she doesn’t have a brain tumour or some other life-threatening illness.

Dizzy spells can be pretty scary. So when a controllable cause is uncovered, doctor and patient alike are relieved. Allergy, however, is rarely suspected. And allergic causes are rare – but they exist. Dizziness from allergy to foods or inhalants results when they cause fluid retention in the inner ear that throws equilibrium off balance. You feel faint, or have the sense that you’re going to fall.

The allergen can be anything from an easy-to-avoid food to a hard-to-avoid chemical. Marshall Mandell, an allergist in Norwalk, Connecticut, tells of a ten-year-old girl who became quite dizzy when leaving the kitchen to walk to school every morning. (The kitchen had a gas stove.) She also became dizzy and nauseous in school every time freshly printed papers were passed around in class or when she was in the same room with a mimeograph machine. When Dr Mandell tested her for allergy to ethanol (a petroleum product in gas and copying fluid) and other environmental substances, the girl became very ill.

At Dr Mandell’s suggestion, the girl’s parents then replaced all gas appliances in the home with electric models and discarded any household cleaning materials that contained petroleum byproducts.

‘This environmental change was of considerable benefit,’ says Dr Mandell. ‘[The girl's] morning dizziness disappeared along with her fatigue’ (Dr Mandell’s 5-Day Allergy Relief System).

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ALLERGIC REACTIONS: ANOREXIA-BULIMIA SYNDROME

Anorexics are a strange breed of dieter. No matter how thin they become, they still feel fat. They literally starve themselves down to nothing, all the while insisting that they ‘should really lose a few more pounds’.

When anorexics do give in to hunger, they don’t just nibble. They binge compulsively (called bulimia), craving and eating up to several pounds of food. Then, to cancel out their guilty feelings of indulgence and to relieve the bloating the food produces, they force themselves to vomit or purge themselves with laxatives, diuretics and diet pills.

A frightening number of people between ten and thirty years of age, most of them women, have this distorted attitude towards food and body image known as anorexia-bulimia. It’s the flip side of obesity. And doctors don’t know for certain what causes it – or what to do about it. Because most psychiatrists blame anorexia-bulimia on deep feelings of anxiety, depression and poor self-image, counseling and antidepressant drugs are standard treatment. Sometimes those help, but sometimes they don’t. About 65 per cent of the women continue their self-destructive habits, and about half of them eventually die from malnutrition, infection or other kinds of physical breakdown. Anorexia-bulimia is far from a harmless weight loss scheme.

‘It’s a very tragic illness in that anorexics are usually highly intelligent, creative people,’ says Bernard Raxlen, a psychiatrist and director of the Graduate Center for Family Studies in Ridgefield, Connecticut.

Reforming an anorexic-bulimic is about as difficult as reforming an alcoholic, though.

‘The compulsive eating and purging is emotionally soothing,’ says Dr Raxlen. ‘It relieves not only hunger but distressing thoughts and emotions. Normal eating is not enough to dispel that tension, but binge eating is – even though it is accompanied by a constant fear of not being able to stop.’

The binge-and-purge cycle is the sort of addictive behavior that’s typical of unsuspected food allergy. Acting on that observation, Dr Raxlen and a colleague, Dr Leonard Galland, tested eight women with anorexia-bulimia for allergies and gastrointestinal problems, among other possible health problems. All the women showed serious abnormalities of some kind or another. Drs Raxlen and Galland then designed an experimental treatment programme that, in addition to psychological therapy, included:

– a Rotary Diet for food allergies;

– immunotherapy injections for foods, chemicals and other inhalants;

- a yeast-free diet with aggressive treatment of abdominal candidiasis (yeast infestation of

the small bowel); and

- digestive aids, including pancreative enzymes, betaine hydrochloride and Lactobacillus

acidophilus (a beneficial bacteria commonly found in yoghurt).

While the treatment did not produce dramatic results, three of the women seemed to do much better on the programme, says Dr Raxlen.

The binge-and-purge cycle of anorexia-bulimia may be a bizarre twist in the basic workings of food cravings and allergy. Hopefully, Dr Raxlen’s research will stimulate more doctors to investigate food allergy as a possible cause of distorted eating habits in people (usually women) with anorexia-bulimia.

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UNDERSTANDING ALLERGY: NUTRITION FOR ALLERGY CONTROL

Nutrition and allergy interact in a lot of ways. First, many allergic people may have trouble meeting all their nutritional requirements. Food allergies may force some to eliminate foods that customarily supply a large portion of their daily needs for particular vitamins or minerals. People who can’t drink milk or eat dairy products, for instance, may get too little calcium. People who are allergic to citrus fruits may not be getting enough vitamin Ñ. A few astute doctors and dietitians are also discovering that, because of the drain on the body created by allergies, people with allergic problems may have special needs for more of certain vitamins and minerals – and that those nutrients may even help to control allergy.

But the amounts of a vitamin or mineral that are needed to deal with allergic problems are often so high that a person needs to rely on supplements. People with food allergies, however, need to choose supplements as carefully as they choose their food, to avoid dyes or other ingredients that may trigger reactions.

At the time of writing, only a few people have taken a serious look at the interlocking aspects of nutrition and allergy. Those who have, however, say that proper nutrition – the right nutrients, in the right form and in large enough amounts — makes quite a difference in allergy control. Lyn Dart, a registered dietitian and supervisor of the nutrition department of the Environmental Health Center in Dallas, told us, ‘We’ve been working with nutrition for about two years. Without it, we weren’t as effective.’

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