​SCA Speaker Demystifies Allergies

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer
A fascinating presentation on allergies and asthma followed a brief business meeting at the Nov. 1 Sewanee Civic Association (SCA) dinner.
SCA Vice President Brandon Barry announced a community workday at 1–3 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 10, to spread mulch at Elliott Park. The new Parks Committee and the SCA are coordinating the resurfacing/freshening of the Elliott Park (off of University Avenue). The SCA spearheaded the Elliott Park renovation three years ago. Volunteers should bring “shovels, rakes, a strong back and good will.”
The Sewanee Community Chest has committed to raising $110,000 this year, and to date has raised $16,000. The Community Chest supports programs and organizations that make the quality of life richer in Sewanee and the surrounding vicinity. These 25 programs and organizations provide for food, books, child care, animal welfare and so much more in the community. To contribute, mail a check to P.O. Box 99, Sewanee, TN 37375 or donate online by visiting www.sewaneecivic.org.
Featured speaker Dr. Russell Walker from the Chattanooga area Allergy Asthma Group of Galen provided insight into the causes, treatment, and myths about allergies.
Defining food allergy as a “repeatedly” occurring adverse immune system response to a specific food, Walker stressed that whether a reaction occurs can depend on whether the food is cooked or raw, how much the person eats, and recent exercise. Likewise, symptoms vary from a rash in the mouth to full body itching and respiratory impairment. Gastronomic symptoms and inflammation of the esophagus can be allergy caused or wholly unrelated.
Food poisoning and lactose intolerance are not allergic reactions and the smell of a food cannot trigger an allergic reaction, Walker said debunking two myths.
Although 20-25 percent of adults believe they have food allergies, only 2 to 3 percent actually do, Walker insisted, and only 6 percent of children have food allergies. Physicians use to recommend not feeding peanuts to children until the age of three, Walker said, a practice now believed to have caused the increase in peanut allergy. Physicians have now learned the longer introducing a food is delayed, the more likely the child will develop an allergy to it. Similarly, children raised in highly sterile environments were more likely to develop food allergies than children raised in rural environments with high exposure to animals.
Walker recommended avoidance of trigger foods and epinephrine for treating severe symptoms. Children often outgrow food allergies, Walker noted. He expressed skepticism about blood test diagnosis of allergies for typically showing overly sensitive positive reactions. He reported seeing children nearly anorectic due to the list of foods they weren’t allowed to eat.
Walker praised the benefits of organic food and honey, but said neither had allergy preventing properties. Proteins trigger allergic reactions, he said, and organic and non-organic foods have the same proteins. As to honey, a person won’t be desensitized to pollen by eating honey, because bees make honey from nectar, not pollen.
Citing the high level of seasonal tree pollen in the area, Walker said a pollen count over 110 was considered high, and here the pollen count can reach 10,000. But even given the potentially high exposure, among adults reporting rhinitis, or runny nose symptoms, only half had allergies.
For people with pollen allergies, Walker advocated allergy shots as a “natural treatment” introducing the allergy sufferer to the trigger allergen a small amount at a time. Children treated early were 50 percent less likely to develop asthma, Walker said.
As with other symptoms, asthma—breathing difficulty due to narrowing of the airways passages—can be either an allergic response or a non-allergic response triggered by exercise, dust, smoke, or stress. Is sneezing an allergic reaction? “Maybe,” Walker said, “but it’s often just a defense mechanism to blow out stuff the nose doesn’t want up there.”
At the Dec. 6 SCA meeting, financial advisor Michael Forster will talk about financial planning as a road to improving quality of life.