May 30, 2015
You’re sneezing, your eyes are itchy and you feel miserable. Seasonal allergies aren’t just a nuisance, they are real diseases that can interfere with work, school or recreation, and can range from mild to severe.
May is National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month, and many allergy treatment options are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). For the first time, these include three sublingual (under the tongue) prescription products to treat hay fever (also called “allergic rhinitis”)—with or without eye inflammation (called “conjunctivitis”)—caused by certain grass pollens and short ragweed pollen. The new products—Grastek, Oralair and Ragwitek—can be taken at home, but the first dose must be taken in a health care provider’s office.
An allergy is a heightened immune system reaction to a substance that your body has identified as an invader. If you have allergies and encounter a trigger—called an “allergen”—your immune system fights it by making antibodies, which causes your body to release chemicals called histamines. Histamines are responsible for symptoms such as repetitive sneezing and itchy, watery eyes.
Allergic rhinitis affects more than 30 million children and adults in the United States and more than 500 million people worldwide. It may be seasonal or year-round.
The seasonal allergy, often called “hay fever,“ typically occurs in the spring, summer or fall. If you have this, you may suffer from repetitive sneezing, and stuffy or runny nose and itching in the nose, eyes or on the roof of the mouth. Eye inflammation can occur when your eyes react to allergens with symptoms of reddening, itching and swelling.
Plant pollens usually cause seasonal allergies. Pollen allergies are common, and allergy-causing pollen can come from trees, weeds and grasses, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Trees and grasses are typical spring culprits in the United States, while ragweed and other weeds ramp up in late summer and early fall.
Indoor substances, such as dust mites, often cause the year-round type of allergies. Molds can cause seasonal and year-round allergies.
If you suspect an allergy, see your health care provider, as conditions such as upper respiratory infections, sinus infections and eye infections can have similar symptoms.
“The first step is to get appropriate testing to determine what you’re actually reacting to,” says Jay Slater, M.D., an allergist and director of FDA’s Division of Bacterial, Parasitic and Allergenic Products.
Your health care provider can test you using injectable allergen extracts. Allergen extracts are sterile liquids made from natural substances such as molds, pollens or animal hair. FDA has licensed these products. Tests include:
- a skin prick test, which involves placing the allergen extract on your skin and pricking so it goes under the skin’s surface. Your skin is studied for swelling or other signs of a reaction, which usually occurs in about 15 minutes.
- an injection of a small amount of an allergen, or
- a blood test, which can detect and measure antibodies to certain allergens.
“After testing, you need to sort out results with your health care provider,” Slater says. “Take the results of the test and combine it with reflective thinking about when and where you’re experiencing symptoms. Then determine the best course of action.”
For instance, if you have a spring oak tree allergy you can try to avoid the allergen by limiting outdoor activities on high pollen-count days and keeping your windows closed. But airborne pollen can be hard to avoid, so your health care provider may also recommend prescription or over-the-counter medications to relieve symptoms.
Antihistamines reduce or block symptom-causing histamines and are available in many forms, including tablets and liquids.
“There are several different antihistamines. First-generation antihistamines include medications such as diphenhydramine, marketed under the brand name Benadryl. They have been available over the counter for a long time,” says Narayan Nair, M.D., a medical officer at FDA. “Newer second generation antihistamines have not been available over the counter as long. They include medications such as fexofenadine and loratadine, which are marketed under the brand names Allegra and Claritin, respectively.”
When choosing an over-the-counter antihistamine, patients should read the Drug Facts label closely and follow dosing instructions, Nair says. “Some antihistamines can cause drowsiness and interfere with the ability to drive or operate heavy machinery. The drowsiness can be made worse by taking sedatives or consuming alcohol,” he explains. “Also, patients with chronic conditions such as glaucoma, or an enlarged prostate should talk to their health care provider before taking certain antihistamines.”
In addition to the antihistamines, nasal sprays and eye drops can help improve some allergic symptoms. “Nasal sprays can help relieve nasal symptoms but they should only be used for a limited time without talking to a health care provider. If some nasal sprays are used longer than intended they can make the congestion worse,” Nair notes.
May 17, 2015
It’s the season when you take a timeout from school and your absence is actually excused. But if you’re traveling for spring break, you’ve got to stay safe.
The Office of Women’s Health (OWH) at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is taking new steps to ensure that young women have access to timely wellness information. OWH has launched a new web page with information about health issues to help you stay safe on vacation and beyond. The page is the latest in its ongoing College Women’s Campaign, a collaboration with more than 160 schools across the country to disseminate OWH health publications at college health centers and other campus locations.
“We know college women face a lot of pressures, and we want to make sure they take time to care for their health while they’re in school and on break,” explains Marsha Henderson, FDA’s assistant commissioner for women’s health.
The campaign spans a variety of topics, and here are five themes for spring break. So follow these tips, and enjoy your trip.
You may be tempted to “pre-tan” and then tan some more once you arrive. But don’t. Any increase in skin pigment (called “melanin”) is a sign of damage. Ultraviolet radiation from the sun can cause wrinkles and dark spots among other problems—and tanning puts you at higher risk for skin cancer. But the beach can still be a high point of your trip.
- Protective clothing. Wear a hat and protective clothing, and stay in the shade.
- Sunscreens. Wear a broad spectrum sunscreen that protects against UVA and UVB rays, and choose an SPF of 15 or higher. You need at least one ounce of sunscreen lotion (the size of a golf ball) to cover your body. Reapply at least every 2 hours, or every 40 to 80 minutes when swimming or sweating, according to the directions on the product label. And limit the time your skin is exposed to the sun between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
- Tanning beds. The lamps in the beds emit ultraviolet radiation that can be more intense and harmful than the sun. FDA recommends carefully reading the instructions and warnings before using these beds, and tanning pills and accelerators are not approved by the agency.
- Spray tans and bronzers. Know that spray-on tanning or bronzing products are not UV protective.
Prepare for your trip by asking your health care professional any questions, including those about side effects and interactions, before you go. Then follow his or her directions. Don’t skip doses, don’t share medication, and don’t take more than the suggested dose. Also check expiration dates in advance and keep your medicine with you when traveling. (If you’re flying, you don’t want to land in Cancun and have your prescriptions land in Cleveland.) Finally, keep a detailed list of what you’re taking. Ideally your travels will be smooth. But if you need to seek medical care this list will be helpful.
They’re convenient but can expose you to serious conditions such as eye infections and corneal ulcers—something you don’t want to deal with on vacation. To avoid problems, first make sure your contacts are prescribed by an eye care professional. Skip colored or decorative lenses sold in beauty supply stores and at the boardwalk, since they can damage your eyes. Second, wash your hands before touching lenses, and use sterile solution. Never expose your lenses to saliva or non-sterile water, including that from the tap, bottle or ocean. Non-sterile water can put you at risk for an eye infection. So remove your contacts before swimming or getting in the hot tub and follow your eye care professional’s other care and removal instructions. If your vision changes, your eyes get red, you have lots of tears, or your eyes hurt or feel itchy, take out your lenses and seek medical attention.
Whether you’re considering a non-permanent (e.g., henna) or a permanent addition (including makeup), think before you ink. Tattoos can cause allergic reactions and put you at risk for infections like HIV or hepatitis from unclean tools, practices or products. FDA has not approved any inks for injecting into your skin and does not regulate tattoo parlors. FDA also hasn’t approved henna or hair dye for skin use, and some people have reported serious problems after using henna, including allergic reactions such as rashes and scarring.
Time flies when you’re having fun, but take a few moments to sip H2O throughout the day. “When you’re traveling, it’s easy to become dehydrated because sometimes you don’t have access to water,” explains Shirley R. Blakely, Ph.D., R.D., a senior nutrition advisor with FDA. So when you spend a late afternoon at the beach (remember sun safety!) bring water and drink even before you feel thirsty, she advises. Also beware of ice or tap water in places where water isn’t safe to drink. If you don’t have access to safe water, Blakely recommends drinking an internationally known brand of a sugar- and caffeine-free carbonated beverage. Finally, Blakely says, “When traveling, you may find yourself overindulging.” For healthy eating, Blakely recommends following the dietary guidelines by making half your plate fruits and vegetables, and half your grains whole, to get enough fiber and other essential nutrients. “And if you’re faced with a smorgasbord, build your plate with fruits, vegetables and whole grains first, then add the protein source.”
May 12, 2015
Arteries are blood vessels that carry blood rich in oxygen throughout your body. They go to your brain as well as to the tips of your toes. Healthy arteries have smooth inner walls and blood flows through them easily.
Some people, however, develop clogged arteries. Clogged arteries result from a buildup of a substance called plaque on the inner walls of the arteries. Arterial plaque can reduce blood flow or, in some instances, block it altogether.
Using invasive techniques, doctors can also open up clogged arteries. However, these procedures involve a risk of complications. They are usually saved for people with significant symptoms or limitations caused by clogged arteries and atherosclerosis.
We recommend only natural products to unclog arteries, support balance in the cardiovascular system, reduce high cholesterol level and lower blood pressure.
May 7, 2015
Summer vacation is on the way. Time to pack your swim suit, hit the beach, and perhaps indulge in a little harmless fun. How about getting a temporary tattoo to mark the occasion? What’s the harm? Just because a tattoo is temporary, however, doesn’t mean it’s risk free. Some consumers report reactions that may be severe and long outlast the temporary tattoos themselves. The risk varies, depending on what’s in the ink.