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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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Are Indoor and Outdoor Allergens Making Your Asthma Worse?

I’ve met a lot of people both in and out of the doctor’s office who suffer from asthma, and many of them have the same problem:  they’re too focused on treating the symptoms of their asthma and not enough on its causes. Yes, it’s wise to heed the advice of those who recommend that people with asthma carry inhalers for emergencies, but I also subscribe to the adage that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” If more asthmatics understood the underlying causes of their disease, they’d have an easier time managing their symptoms.

asthma before and after

That’s why I was pleased to see a study on asthma management in a recent issue of the Journal of Asthma, a respected medical publication. The study, which has a long title and is very technical, explores the relationship between exposure to indoor and outdoor allergens and asthma. The basic idea is that most people with asthma are also sensitized to one or more airborne allergens, or “aeroallergens.”

This type of asthma is commonly called “allergy induced asthma,” and people who have it are at risk of more than just a

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May 09 / 2014
Author Becky Rosenberger
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Could Flights Be More “Allergy Friendly”?

One thing we always try to stress on our blog is the difference between allergy symptoms and allergy causes. When you’re in the midst of a terrible bout of hay fever, this distinction may seem trivial; but in reality, it’s a critical part of allergy treatment. All too often, people experience symptoms that could be caused by allergy – from coughing and sneezing to digestion problems – and jump to the conclusion that an allergy is the cause of their problems. But because allergies require a very specific type of treatment that’s distinct from other respiratory or digestive issues, any misdiagnosis can make managing symptoms very difficult.

800px-Airplane_(PSF)We thought of this when we read about the “World’s First ‘Allergy-Friendly’ Flights” on ABC News’ website the other day. The article highlights a new “allergy friendly” designation that Swiss Airlines has received from the European Centre for Allergy Research Foundation (ECARF). The airline was awarded this designation because it’s now offering lactose- and gluten-free in-flight foods, synthetic material pillows and pollen-filtering air conditioning on its flights. In addition, the airline will stop using “decorative flowers and air fresheners ‘that might cause

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May 07 / 2014
Author Wendy Harman
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Asthma and Allergy Care on Wheels

When most people think about asthma and allergy care, they think of going to a clinic or emergency room. Now, thanks to the Breathmobile, asthma and allergy treatment comes to you. Breathmobiles are large mobile clinics that travel through major cities offering asthma and allergy treatment. In collaboration with the American Breathmobile Association California Regional, the Breathmobile program is run by the American Breathmobile Association (ABMA), a charitable organization dedicated to providing children, young adults and seniors with asthma and allergy care.

While it may be difficult to imagine receiving asthma or allergy treatment in a vehicle, the Breathmobile is a fully equipped mobile asthma and allergy clinic that visits schools where children are more likely to be uninsured. The service doesn’t require a referral and there is no charge for diagnosis or treatment. Patients are treated regardless of whether or not they have insurance. The services offered by each Breathmobile include an asthma and allergy evaluation by a medical specialist; ongoing medical treatment for asthma and allergies; education and training on the management of asthma and allergies; referral to county and community resources; and assistance to families in obtaining health insurance.

In 1995, a collaboration between

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April 28 / 2014
Author Becky Rosenberger
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Peanuts During Pregnancy – to Eat or not to Eat?

It’s well-known that controlled exposure to allergens can help people build resistance – in fact, the entire science of allergen immunotherapy (allergy drops or shots) is built around this concept. In a surprising new development, though, a study published by JAMA Pediatrics suggests that this effect may work on unborn children as well.

The study, which was recently covered by the New York Times, found that children born to non-allergic mothers with higher peanut/tree nut consumption during pregnancy had a lower risk of developing a peanut/tree nut allergy. Though the Times article doesn’t go into why this happens, we thought it would be fun to talk about some of the science behind allergy and offer up an idea of the cause of this phenomenon.

The basic mechanism behind allergy is rather simple: when an allergic person breathes or eats one of their allergens, their immune system mistakenly identifies it as an invader and goes on the attack. Allergen immunotherapy works by introducing small, controlled amounts of an allergen to the allergic person, which can potentially “teach” the immune system that the allergen isn’t actually dangerous. In turn, this

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March 10 / 2014
Author Wendy Harman
Category Food, Food Allergies
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The Peanut: A Common Self-Diagnosis Scapegoat

Not all restaurants are like Chick-fil-A, which is why self-diagnosis is such a hard thing. We’re not endorsing the restaurant here, but they are helping us make an important point: when it comes to your health, research, research, research – and then check with your doctor.

Let’s illustrate this with a simple scenario. You’ve just dined at Chick-fil-A, and as you work off your lunch while mall shopping, your lips start to tingle and your tongue itches. Your friend says: “hmm, you must be allergic to something you had for lunch, maybe that chicken sandwich.” Suddenly, you remember that the restaurant clearly stated on the menu that the sandwich was cooked in peanut oil. While you’ve never been diagnosed with a peanut allergy, that explanation seems as good as any.

799px-Arachis_hypogaea_004You may indeed be allergic to peanuts (among other things), but it’s unlikely the frying oil is the culprit. Oops, you just made an ill-informed self-diagnosis. How do we know? Chick-fil-A makes that easy by providing the following on its ingredients page:

“Our peanut oil is a high-temperature, heat-processed, fully refined peanut oil (refined, bleached and deodorized). This means the proteins in

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February 18 / 2014
Author Becky Rosenberger
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