Halloween: A scary time for those with asthma and allergies.

Most parents of kids with food allergies are well aware of the potential dangers of trick-or-treat candy and have strategies in place to avoid Halloween horrors. However, teaching your kids to just say no to Snickers bars may not be enough.   According to experts from the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) there are many more unexpected allergy and asthma triggers that can pose a threat to trick-or-treaters, including dusty costumes, fog machines and makeup. “When people think of Halloween-associated allergies, they focus on candy and often overlook many other potential triggers,” said Dr. Myron Zitt, former ACAAI president in a news release. “By planning ahead, you can ensure not only safe treats, but also safe costumes, makeup, accessories and decorations.” The ACAAI advises parents to be on the lookout for six potential triggers they may not be expecting, including:

  • Gelatin  – Although it’s a less common trigger, research published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology shows gummy bears and other candies may contain this potential allergen. Parents can have their child tested for specific allergies and develop a food allergy treatment plan. They may also want to have some non-candy treats, such as stickers or small toys, on hand to swap for candy.
  • NickelCostume details and accessories, such as belts, tiaras and swords may contain nickel — one of the most common causes of allergic contact dermatitis, which can make skin itchy.
  • Dust mitesOld costumes packed away in attics or closets may be filled with dust mites, which trigger asthma and allergies. Parents should either buy or make new costumes or wash old ones before kids put them on.
  • Makeup Some types of face and body makeup may include preservatives that may cause allergic reactions. Buying higher quality theater makeup can help avoid this trigger. Also be sure to test the makeup on a small patch of skin before applying it over a larger area of skin at least a few days before Halloween.
  • FogReal fog or fog machines can trigger asthma in some people.
  • PumpkinsAllergies to pumpkins are rare, but they can develop suddenly — especially when they are moldy or dusty. As a result, pumpkins purchased at a busy grocery store are less likely to trigger an allergy.

You have been warned!!!  Please stay safe out there this Halloween.

Do DIY “spit kits” stress you out?

One of the fastest growing health care trends in “individualized medicine” is home genetic testing. The over-the-counter mail-in kits, with price tags as high as $2,500, use a saliva specimen to identify small variations in the human genome  associated with heightened risk for diseases such as diabetes and prostate cancer.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has raised concerns about whether the tests are clinically beneficial and has advocated they be conducted under medical supervision, but few studies, to date, have investigated the emotional effects that direct-to-consumer genetic screens have on patients.

Now that’s all changed.  A group of Mayo Clinic physicians and bioethicists have analyzed whether these genetic tests cause patients to experience excessive worry about developing diseases. “We looked for evidence of increased concern about disease based solely on genetic risk, and then whether the concern resulted in changes in health habits,” said co-author Clayton Cowl, M.D.

The randomized study found patients’ worry tended to be modestly elevated one week after the genetic testing, and that people worried more about unfamiliar diseases, for instance the thyroid condition Graves’ disease than those commonly known, such as diabetes.

One year later, however, patients who had undergone testing were no more stressed than those who hadn’t. One surprising result was that men whose genetic risk for prostate cancer was found to be lower than that of the general population, and who also had normal laboratory and physical screening results for the disease, were significantly less stressed about the disease than the control group.

The researchers concluded that the tests may be useful if they prompt patients to make health-conscious changes, such as losing weight or being vigilant about cancer screening.

However, some doctors are concerned that patients who learn they have less-than-average genetic risk for a disease might skip steps to promote good health. Others just think it’s a bad idea – period.  “Genetic testing is a complex, difficult and emotionally laden medical process which requires extensive counseling, contextualization and interpretation,” says Dr. Michael Grodin, professor of bioethics, human rights, family medicine and psychiatry at Boston University.

It’s also worth noting that the current study only assessed the emotional effects of do-it-yourself genetic testing. Nobody yet knows whether a calculation of genetic risk accurately predicts disease.

Have you bought one of these kits?  How did you feel while you waited for the results. SRxA’s Word on Health would love to know.

Tick-tock, tick-tock…we’ll explain your biological clock!

If, like me, you’re one of those people who wake up at exactly the same time every morning without ever setting an alarm clock you’ve no doubt had people ask how you do it? Well, now you can tell them!

According to researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies it’s all in our genes.  Recently they identified a gene responsible for starting our biological clock every morning.

The biological clock ramps up our metabolism early each day, initiating important physiological functions that tell our bodies that it’s time to rise and shine. Discovery of this new gene and the mechanism by which it starts the clock everyday may help explain the genetic underpinnings of sleeplessness, aging, and chronic illnesses such as cancer and diabetes.  Better still, it could eventually lead to new therapies for these illnesses.

The body is essentially a collection of clocks,” says Satchidananda Panda, an associate professor in Salk’s Regulatory Biology Laboratory, who led the research along with Luciano DiTacchio, a post-doctoral research associate. “We roughly knew what mechanism told the clock to wind down at night, but we didn’t know what activated us again in the morning. Now that we’ve found it, we can explore more deeply how our biological clocks malfunction as we get older and develop chronic illness.”

In a report just published in Science, the Salk researchers and their collaborators at McGill University and Albert Einstein College of Medicine describe how the gene encodes a protein that serves as an activation switch in the biochemical circuit that maintains our circadian rhythm. The discovery fills in a missing link in the molecular mechanisms that control our daily wake-sleep cycle.

It turns out that the molecular bugle call for cells and organs to get back to work each morning is an enzyme known as JARID1a.

Now that scientists understand why we wake each day, they can explore the role of JARID1a in sleep disorders and chronic diseases, possibly using it as a target for new drugs.

SRxA’s Word on Health looks forward to these developments and to a good night’s sleep!