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Allergy Detectives: The Tryptase Case

Diagnosing a disease can be a lot like doing detective work. Doctors start with the “scene of the crime” – the symptoms the patient presented at the time they were brought in – and work backwards to determine the cause. Just like crimes in detective mysteries, the machinations behind symptoms are often much more complex than anyone suspected at the outset. This is true with some types of allergies, too. What is on the surface may seem like a simple two-step process (encounter allergen, develop symptoms) caMagnifying Glass Imagen actually be a multilayered interaction of different environmental factors and disorders.

Take bee venom allergies, for example. An allergic person gets stung by a bee and quickly develops an allergic reaction. Seems like simple cause and effect, right? While that is true in many cases, a small number of people with bee venom allergies also have a difficult-to-detect underlying condition, systemic mastocytosis (SM).

SM is a genetic disease that causes the body to produce too many mast cells, which are the cells in
one’s body that produce histamine and several other mediators that, when released, may cause allergic symptoms.  Because mast cells release these mediators when

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August 28 / 2014
Author Becky Rosenberger
Category Allergy Testing
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Nickel Allergies – Should Parents Be Concerned?

There’s been a lot of talk recently about nickel allergies, mostly driven by reports that an 11-year-old boy had his nickel allergy triggered by the metal alloy that makes up the back of the first-generation iPad. So how dangerous are nickel allergies, and how worried should parents be?

Fortunately, the answer is “not very”.  Though certainly unpleasant, it is extremely unlikely that a nickel allergy would ever cause a life-threatening reaction. The reason is that, even though the initial symptoms may appear similar, a nickel allergy doesn’t cause the same type of reaction as a food or venom allergy can. To understand why, it’s important to know that allergies can be divided into two broad categNickel_chunkories: “IgE-mediated” and “non-IgE-mediated.”

“IgE,” short for immunoglobulin E, is a powerful and important antibody that helps the immune system fight off invaders. Potentially life-threatening food allergies – such as peanut, milk and shellfish – are usually what’s called “IgE-mediated” allergies, because their symptoms are caused by the immune system’s release of histamines and other chemicals when the patient’s IgE recognizes the allergen to which they are sensitized. IgE-mediated allergies can cause very severe reactions, and IgE-mediated

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August 19 / 2014
Author Becky Rosenberger
Category Allergy Testing
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Allergies Getting Worse in the UK – But that’s Not the Whole Story

HSCIC logoIf it seems that your allergies just get worse and worse every year, a new study from the United Kingdom’s Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) suggests you might be onto something. According to the study data, hospitals operated by the UK National Health Service (NHS) saw a nearly eight percent increase in admissions for allergies in the past 12 months, of which 62 percent were classified as emergencies. The year before, only 56 percent of allergy hospital visits were emergencies, which means that allergy in the UK is becoming both more common and possibly more dangerous.

This confirms the findings of several other studies, which all indicate that the prevalence of allergies (food, perennial and seasonal) has been on the rise around the world for more than a decade. While many theories exist to explain this phenomenon, no one is totally sure what’s behind this increase.

What alarms us most about the data isn’t the rise in allergy prevalence – we’ve known that – it’s that emergency admissions are rising with it. There’s so much more in the media and online about better allergy diagnosis and

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July 08 / 2014
Author Becky Rosenberger
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“It’s Best to Test” With Haydn’s Wish

Haydns wishWe’re always on the lookout for organizations that are doing new and inventive things to raise awareness about food allergies – so when we heard that the UK-based non-profit Haydn’s Wish had a new campaign called “It’s Best to Test” going on, we reached out to them right away! The organization’s founder, Emma Wileman, was kind enough to sit down with us for an interview. Check out our conversation below!

Is It Allergy?: Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with us, Emma. To start, could you tell us a little bit about how Haydn’s Wish got started?

Emma Wileman: Absolutely. I started Haydn’s Wish after my son Haydn passed away from an unexpected reaction to peanut. We never knew that Haydn was allergic to peanuts; he had shown sporadic allergy-related symptoms before, but he had never experienced anaphylaxis. Our mission is to prevent tragedies like this from happening to other families by educating our communities and our doctors about food allergy.

IIA: Thanks for sharing that story – it must be very difficult to talk about the loss of your son.

EW: It is, but the goal of Haydn’s

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June 16 / 2014
Author Becky Rosenberger
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Changing the Allergy Narrative: No Wimps Allowed

Norwegian skier Aksel Lund Svindal is no wimp.  Standing at more than six feet tall, Svindal is an imposing figure who won three medals at the 2010 Vancouver Games.  He was a favorite before Sochi, but instead allergies derailed him, something competitors couldn’t do during the last winter Olympics.

Svindal’s bout with allergies, while unfortunate, is an important reminder that allergies are serious and should be taken seriously.  Through open discussions about world-class athletes, actors and other role models, perhaps we can continue to chip away at stereotypes that often lead to shame, isolation or, in some cases, even bullying.800px-Bully_Free_Zone

We’ve highlighted the issue of allergy and bullying on this blog in the past, including a post by Dr. Maeve O’Connor, a board certified allergist/immunologist, and one about teen star Kenton Duty, who discusses his experiences with food allergies, bullying and his current advocacy work.

Beyond the experts and stars who advocate against bullying, we applaud the work of organizations such as the Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE).  FARE’s “True Stories” campaign helps by spreading awareness of food allergy bullying and letting victims of bullying know that they’re not

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June 03 / 2014
Author Becky Rosenberger
Category Food Allergies
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Talking Food Allergy with Carol Greenwald, Senior Executive Producer of PBS Kids’ Arthur

As any allergy parent knows, there are thousands of websites out there dedicated to teaching adults how to cope with their child’s food allergy. Conspicuously absent, however, are resources that approach allergy from a kid’s perspective. While kid-focused materials may not seem as important as advice for adults, they actually play a critical role in helping a child navigate the fear, uncertainty and anxiety that come with a food allergy diagnosis.

To help fill this gap in allergy education, the people behind the PBS Kids show Arthur launched their new Arthur Family Health website earlier this year. Designed to help children understand wellness issues – including food allergy – the site highlights episodes from the show’s 18-year run that feature a character dealing with a common health problem.

To learn more about how the show helps kids understand food allergy, we sat down with Carol Greenwald, Senior Executive Producer of Children’s Programs at WGBH Boston, to talk about “Binky Goes Nuts,” an episode of

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May 22 / 2014
Author Becky Rosenberger
Category Interviews
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