Allergy Sufferers Breathe In A Rest From Summer's Fertility

Posted: July 29, 1990

In a world swirling with procreative plant matter, cat dander and dust mites, there are not many safe havens where people with allergies can breathe freely.

But if there is any good time for allergy sufferers in the Northeastern United States to venture outdoors and fill their lungs with fresh air, it is now, said Dr. George Green, chief of the allergy section at Abington Hospital.

This is the midsummer lag phase, said Green, the few precious weeks in late July and early August when the trees and grasses have finished their wind- blown fertility rites, and the ragweed has not yet bloomed.

"Typically, people are less symptomatic" this time of year, he said, ''unless they're out mowing." Mowing stirs up the particles of pollen, which irritate people sensitive to grass.

One out of every six Americans suffers from at least one allergy or from asthma, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease. An estimated 22.4 million suffer seasonal allergies, from pollen or molds.

According to the American Board of Allergy and Immunology, which is based in Philadelphia, there are 3,409 certified allergists in the country. The number is growing by about 200 every year, said Lynn Depray, a spokeswoman for the board.

Green said that his practice slowed down about this time of year but that by Labor Day, the waiting room would be filled with teary-eyed sneezers seeking pharmacologic relief.

They will not necessarily need a prescription, said Green, who believes many over-the-counter products are just as effective. Antihistamines have traditionally been the primary weapon against allergy symptoms, he said.

Antihistamines work by masquerading as the body's natural histamines, said Green. Histamines are a material released from little cells, called mast cells, in the respiratory tract.

"If a person is allergic . . . when ragweed contacts the mast cell, it fires off and generates a histamine," he said. The histamine then attaches itself to glandular cells in the nose, eyes and lungs, which respond by secreting mucus.

Antihistamines, which look like histamines to the body, attach themselves to the glandular cells. When the histamines arrive, "the glandular cell is filled, so it can't do its thing," Green explained. "Pretty clever."

During the last few years, drug companies have come out with less sedating antihistamines, such as Seldane and Hismanal, he said. They were developed with a bulky side-chain of molecules that impede the drug from entering the central nervous system.

Other drugs, nasal sprays and eye drops and inhalers, may help allergy sufferers, and some new nasal steroids seem promising, he said. For people who are truly oppressed by their allergy symptoms, he said, injection therapy, better known as allergy shots, may help bring the problem under control.

Although most body functions have some reasonable purpose in the

larger scope of things, Green said, "it's hard to know why we have

allergies. . . . We don't really understand that. It doesn't seem to have

any rewarding features."

While the allergens outside may be dormant for now, indoors there are perpetual sources of discomfort for people sensitive to dust and cats.

One of the most important measures people with allergies can take, say

allergy experts, is to do the obvious - try to reduce their contact with the things they are allergic to.

"It's important for people who have allergies to vacuum and keep dust to a minimum," said Sarah Kaluzny, a spokeswoman for the American Academy of

Allergy and Immunology. By getting rid of knickknacks that gather dust, thick- pile carpets and thick drapes, she said, people can help minimize their misery.

A new product developed two years ago by Dr. Jeffrey D. Miller, a Connecticut allergist, is supposed to neutralize the proteins that trigger allergic reactions.

Those proteins indoors are primarily cat dander and the waste products from a microscopic insect called a dust mite. The mites live in carpets and sofas, pillows and drapes. The dander, a sticky material, clings to furniture, mattresses and other soft furnishings, said Miller.

The new product is a 3 percent solution of tannic acid, he said, the same substance that is found in coffee and tea and is used to tan leather. In studies conducted in allergy patients' homes, he said, he found that when the solution was sprayed on carpets and furniture, it neutralized the proteins

from dust mites and cat dander by 95 percent or more.

Miller's wife, Annette Miller, runs the company, Allergy Control Products Inc., based in Ridgefield, Conn., that manufactures and distributes the solution as well as other allergy products, such as airtight pillowcases and mattress covers.

The product costs $24.95 for a 32-ounce bottle and is distributed primarily through mail-order sales.

Dr. John Ohman, an associate clinical professor of medicine at Tufts University and an expert on cat allergies, said he believed it was premature to hail tannic acid as a solution to indoor allergy problems.

"Theoretically, it's interesting," he said. "It should be tested, but I don't think the evidence is conclusive."

Ohman said that the studies had not been fully published and that after reviewing the preliminary data, he was not convinced that tannic acid truly worked in the environment.

The studies showed that when extracts were taken from treated rugs, the proteins were neutralized. But Ohman said the neutralization might have occurred in the test tube, not in the rugs.

"The real acid test is whether people get better," he said, and so far, that has yet to be proved.

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