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Nothing to Sneeze At

Nothing to Sneeze At

If you're holding a tissue in your hand right now, chances are you're one of every five or six Americans with allergies or asthma. And chances are you're suffering from Florida's annual burst of oak tree pollen, which starts in mid-February and ends in mid-April.

In mid-May, Florida's high season for weed pollen kicks in, making allergy sufferers miserable until somewhere between November and January. There's never really any rest for Sunshine State allergy sufferers because the grass thrives here all year, says Dr. Richard Lockey, director of the Division of Allergy and Immunology at the University of South Florida College of Medicine in Tampa. "There's a common myth that you're going to be better in Florida if you move from, for example, Michigan, and that's just not true."

In fact, Florida's heat and humidity make it among the most allergenic environments in the world. It's a perfect breeding ground for indoor allergens, including mites and cockroaches, which Lockey calls "among the most important allergens known to mankind." Besides the dust mites found in any household or workplace, Lockey says, Florida has its own species of mite here, Bolmia Tropicalis.

And then there's mold. Although it isn't a problem for most of the population, those with allergies can feel it when mold in Florida's air increases from 1,000 to 300,000 particles per cubic meter in a single day, and USF is studying the effects.

Among USF's research is a clinical study on peanut allergies, one of the most deadly. Avoiding peanuts in an American diet is tricky, Lockey says, because so many foods are made with traces of the inexpensive ingredient.

The USF group is also working on a vaccine to protect children under age 3 from a life-threatening virus that causes severe bronchial problems and can lead to asthma. And in one of its most exciting developments, the USF team is investigating a way to stop progressive, long-term asthma with one treatment.

"We're doing pie-in-the-sky kind of stuff here," Lockey says. "In 15 or 20 years, I think we have a real chance of putting people into remission with allergic problems -- for instance, if you have hay fever in the spring, treating you once a year and totally wiping that response out for the whole season."

Affect more than 33 million Americans
Account for more than 8.4 million physician visits each year at a cost of $225 million
Cost U.S. consumers and employers about $2 billion for treatments, office visits, tests, medications and immunotherapy
Source: Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America, Florida Chapter, www.aafaflorida.org

Affects about 14.5 million Americans, including 4.8 million children and more than 740,000 Floridians
Is the most common chronic childhood disease
Source: Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America, Florida Chapter, www.aafaflorida.org

Food Allergies
Affect about 7 million Americans
Account for about 200 deaths and 30,000 emergency room visits each year
Are primarily (90%) caused by eight foods: Peanuts, tree nuts (such as pecans and walnuts), fish, shellfish, milk, eggs, soy and wheat
Are incurable; the only effective prevention is avoidance
Source: www.allergypreventioncenter.com

Food Allergy Alerts
Consumer recalls and alerts are posted for foods that have been mislabeled and could pose a threat, such as those that contain peanuts but have not listed that item on the package. Check out www.foodallergy.org.

Clinical Trials
Are you allergic to peanuts? The University of South Florida Division of Allergy and Immunology Clinical Research Unit is looking for people to participate in clinical trials. Call (813) 631-4027 for information.