Friday Links – Toothpaste, Perfume, Food Allergies

The Toothpaste that Might – Heavy on the ‘Might’ – Prevent Asthma Symptoms
The People’s Pharmacy is a radio show and website that lots of newspapers syndicate. Recently, it featured this brief article about two radio-show callers who claim Crest Sensitivity toothpaste prevented some of their asthma symptoms. Now, the toothpaste does contain potassium nitrate (saltpeter), a preservative doctors used a long time ago to treat asthma, but hello? It’s toothpaste. Very little of it enters your system when you brush your teeth, and that’s a good thing. Saltpeter carries some pretty nasty side effects.

Even though two testimonies does not evidence make, and the People’s Pharmacy authors themselves don’t endorse the connection, this link has popped up several times on my Twitter feed. The moral of this story: hey, trying out a new toothpaste can’t hurt, but keep your expectations low. And don’t stop using your actual asthma meds.

Fighting for Air
The American Lung Association just unveiled this branding campaign with its clever name (Fighting for Air has a double meaning – get it?) and fresh new design. I love the two new ads, especially; go take a look.

What’s in Your Perfume? (Who Knows?)
The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics tested 17 popular perfumes and discovered, on average, 14 chemicals not listed on the packaging.

How is that possible? Well, companies don’t have to list anything that falls under “fragrance,” and those chemicals are the very ones that can cause health problems like asthma flares. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics is working to change these labeling laws, but in the meantime: there are alternatives. I’ll post about them next week.

Food Allergies Not That Common, Actually. Better Testing Needed
Before you go read this article, two points:

1. This research shouldn’t be used to diminish the very real, very serious danger of true food allergies.

2. True food allergies always – ALWAYS – involve the immune system.

Willy Wonka, Jr. Tonight!
The kid’s playing Veruca Salt in her school musical, atrociously bad fake British accent and all. It’s gonna be awesome. Next week, there may be video.

25 responses to “Friday Links – Toothpaste, Perfume, Food Allergies”

  1. MC says:

    I wonder if the toothpaste idea might have to do with breathing the vapor/oder/whatever during/after brushing your teeth…

    One thing that many doctors don’t say, is that food allergy symptoms (true food allergy) are not limited to hives or tickling in the throat. I’ve never ever had hives yet, but I have had tickling in my throat, lips, mouth, runny nose, drop in blood pressure, nearly passed out, and some others. All which are among true food allergy signs. Throw in the fact that there are IgE-mediated food allergies, and non-IgE-mediated food allergies, and skin and blood tests only who IgE-mediated food allergies… and that doctors often rely on tests as if they have a 100% accuracy rate. Somehow, I have negative food allergy tests but still show obvious signs of some kind of food allergy, and somehow I have a “normal” methacholine challenge test but according to my pulmonologist have asthma that’s “severe at times”.

    Despite all the tests they’ve run on me being negative, I know that I react to dairy (and now nuts), and over the years, my allergies have only gotten worse. It used to take 1-2 days to notice symptoms and they were very mild. Then things got worse, and I can tell in about 5-15 minutes if something had dairy. My GP was about to send in a rx for an EpiPen for me at school because the symptoms I had had shortly after eating food containing dairy sounded potentially life threatening and nearly sent me to the ER by ambulance more than once in 3 days, and I was gasping for breath and having major issues breathing in addition to a drop in blood pressure and nearly passed out (this is when I was first told by a doctor I might have asthma).

    I can totally understand that doctors would be suspicious of many people who think they have food allergies, as there’s a LOT of misinformation out there, and misperceptions. Sometimes I wonder if I have true food allergies, but I may never know. The best thing I can do for now is strictly stay away from dairy, nuts and chocolate to keep me from getting sick from that and then shortly later in the ER from a nasty asthma attack. Hopefully when I go home for the summer we’ll be able to sort other foods out too, but for now I’m going to stick to the label of “food allergy”, until I’m proven otherwise. I’d rather be safe than sorry.

  2. Amy says:

    The food allergy websites have been writing about the same things re: testing. If anything, they say, the research highlights the need to clear up misconceptions and work on better diagnostics (or clarify existing ones). Someone I follow on Twitter posted a good link today – and I wish I could find it, but I didn’t bookmark it – that also pointed out the research is saying probably “only” 1 to 8 percent of kids have true food allergies: that’s a lot of kids, you know?

    On the other hand, if people are calling their food intolerances “allergies” just because they don’t know any better, that diminishes what patients with actual food allergies go through and eliminating the misconception is important.

    Mostly I think, as we’ve talked about in the comments before, “allergy” and “asthma” both are conditions – and therefore words – that’ve been around so long, uncured and widespread, that they are largely meaningless to people. As conditions, asthma and allergies have sort of faded into our cultural background because they’ve been hanging around for so long and, since they’re not front and center, no one really thinks about them unless they have to. What they mean, how they affect individuals and families, how you live with them. So lots of people probably have the tendency to say, “Oh, yeah, I’m allergic to ______” simply because they don’t truly know what a food allergy is the way, for example, you do. They’ve never thought about it, never read about it, never commented on a blog about it, because they haven’t had to.

  3. Sarah says:

    I have a food allergies, and three things that my doctors are still uncertain about whether they’re allergies or just really, really bad food intolerances. My intolerances (to turnip, parsnip and squash) are actually more of a pain to me than my food allergy (to an additive used in one particular brand of chocolate), since the additive is much easier to avoid and it makes more sick, but for a shorter amount of time… If I eat the thing I’m allergic to, I can expect hives and an asthma attack, but they’ll be gone in a half hour to an hour. If I eat the stuff I have intolerances too (even if it’s just food that’s been cooked in the same pot, or eating off a utensil that still has a bit of that food on it), I’ll have stomach flu symptoms for the next two to three days, and how bad they are depends on how much I ate. My allergist is of the opinion that I might have a “gastrointestinal allergy” to that stuff, but he admits it’s a bit weird and my symptoms are really more like a really, really bad food intolerance.

    I’ve had a lot of difficulty explaining that I’m as sensitive to cross-contamination with those foods as someone who’s truly allergic. Usually, a restaurant I’ve gone to or whatever will assume I just don’t like them and pick them out or whatever, and then I get sick. As a result of that, I spent much of my first year at university fighting with the cafeteria people about their cross-contamination, until I finally gave up and started eating stuff only when I could physically see them prepare it.

    I’ll tell people, “I have a food intolerance, which means I’m sensitive to that food. It’s like being allergic, except it’s usually not quite as bad. If I get any of that food on mine, I’ll be sick for the next three days or so, and I’d really like to avoid that.”

  4. Sara C. says:

    The problem with putting a statistic out like that (true or not) is that in a culture where parents of NON-allergic kids do nothing but complain and yitch that they can’t send their kid to school with a peanut butter sandwich…it just gives people MORE ammunition to say “well…food allergies aren’t even as common as we thought…”

    We’ve talked about it before, how I think that people use the word allergy….even if they KNOW it’s a sensitivity or an intolerance…in the “real world” because people understand the word “Allergy” If I were to say “Abby is sensitive to red dye 40″ or “She has an intolerance to red dye 40″ those around her would think it was OK to give it to her. However, though she doesn’t have an anaphylactic reaction to it….her behavior reaction is rapid and extreme. (Amy, you’ll get this reference, I’m sure…your younger readers might not) ANY exposure to red 40 turns her into the Tasmanian Devil….on SPEED…so no, it’s not going to kill her…but it basically makes her, and everyone around her miserable.

    It’s kind of like the word “depression” Abigayle has been diagnosed with chemical depression…she’s been on meds for it since she’s 3 years old…and if people find out about it (and I don’t HIDE it, I just don’t generally ADVERTISE it) the first thing I hear is “she’s NINE, what does she have to be depressed about” If it had a name like “Seretonin Processing Disorder” or even an easier to say name that hadn’t come to mean “feeling kind of sad” I think people would understand more…I mean, we don’t look at a diabetic and tell them to “buck up and process your glucose the right way” We don’t look down on diabetics because they need insulin.

    I don’t think people understand how POWERFUL words are…how important labels are…and how they color everything we think and do…KWIM? That a food sensitivity, or a food intolerance CAN make someone miserable…even if they aren’t ALLERGIC to the food.

    As for the toothpaste link…that’s all sorts of bizarre. If I used mint toothpastes, I might think about getting some for me. AND, industry’s use of “catch all” terms for ingredients bugs the CRAP out of me…it’s difficult to decided on a food item, when the ingredients list “artificial color” as an ingredient….WHICH ONE? You can’t even look at the color of the item to make a decision…because dumb things like YELLOW cake mix can have red 40 in it. I’m a HUGE HUGE fan of honesty in labeling.

  5. Amy says:

    To clarify my first comment, I didn’t mean to imply food intolerances don’t also make people miserable–I just reread it and realized how that sounded. That’s what I get for going through the comments late at night when I’m too tired to make sense!

    In that context, I meant mild intolerances. For example, my system is not happy with me when I have a significant amount of artificial sweeteners, but the symptoms are nothing on the level of what you guys are describing. That’s the sort of thing I mean.

    Sarah–That is weird, and it almost seems as if the definition of food allergy should be broadened. Or even the serious intolerances and food allergies combined under a term that incorporates them both. I mean, I don’t even use the word “intolerance” in real life to describe my aversion to sweeteners b/c my symptoms are so mild, comparatively.

    Sara–You read my mind. I started to write about how outlets will use the research to their own ends, to say “See? I told you so” or to make fun of helicopter parents , and I even had links–but my previous comment got too long already.

    Non-health sites, too, post a link or write a couple lines about food allergies (and any health story, really), and that’s it. They don’t have readers well-versed in the subject like you guys, and so the nuances of food allergy/intolerances – like in your daughter’s case – are lost. I’ve seen a lot of that this week, too.

    In fact, that phenomenon explains my including the toothpaste link, too. You wouldn’t believe (or maybe you would) how many misleading headlines I’ve read linking to that People’s Pharmacy exchange, with no explanation.

  6. Sarah says:

    Sara C., what you say about Abbey reminds me of two boys I used to live with, who are both glucose intolerant. They’ve both got ADHD with sugar sensitivity, and “Tazmanian Devil on speed” about describes their reaction to any kind of sweetened food… even really sugary fruits can set them off. It got to the point that the older boy at eight would refuse any sugary stuff if he was doing well behavior-wise because, “It makes me do stuff I don’t like and that I don’t want to do but I can’t help it.” He really liked sugary treats and junk food, but he hated what they did to him so much that he’d turn them down. I’m pretty sure that 90% of the “oppositional defiant disorder” he’d been diagnosed with was actually his intolerance to sugary food. His brother was somewhat less sensitive, but he was still pretty bad off. They both had their issues (no kids in the foster care system are without at least a few issues), but they were genuinely good kids who simply could not control themselves if they were on sugar. It was like pumping them full of amphetamines or something.

    As for the rest of that food allergy stuff, another large problem is that most people don’t realize how bad allergies can be. I’ve had many coworkers tell me that my pollen allergies shock them because “Before I met you, I had no idea allergies could be that bad.” Even people who know that life-threatening allergies exist sometimes don’t realize that dealing with a life-threatening food allergy isn’t just “take your Epipen and you’ll be fine” just like dealing with serious asthma is more than just “take your rescue meds and you’ll be fine”.

  7. Sara C. says:

    we’re very very lucky that we’ve been able to narrow the actual reaction down to specifically red dye 40 (she does also have depression and ADHD…but those are not food related at all) She doesn’t react to sugar, surprisingly…but, like today…she didn’t have her medication…and it is APPARENT, and has been since about 10 this morning (just late enough that it was too late to give it to her)

    but, people think that even an intolerance or sensitivity means she can have it sometimes, or that it’s no big deal…but for a child who, when she was younger, was dangerously impulsive on a GOOD day…adding that extra trigger…she was just plain UNSAFE.

    It’s funny, though…reading labels and being careful is just second nature now…it’s just what I do. She knows she’s sensitive, and she doesn’t like how she feels…so she avoids it too (though she LOVES doritos, and has said that sometimes, the yucky feeling is worth it)

  8. Lesley says:

    MC – I’m no doctor, but if I were you I would absolutely be carrying an Epi pen (two is recommended, actually). As my son’s allergist has pointed out, it is not the test that is important so much as your reaction to the food (or other trigger) and yours certainly sounds like it qualifies for Epi pens. As they have also pointed out, using one when you don’t need it won’t hurt you, but can kill you if you don’t use it when you do need it.

    If we have to err, I’d rather it be on the side of caution. That there are people who do experience life-threatening reactions should be enough to make people treat any mention of an allergy (even if the person’s reaction is less severe, but still miserable) with the utmost caution. Yes, it means more work for everyone involved, but I know how terrifying it is for me personally when people assume that my son’s reaction would be a mild or moderately severe one when that is not the case. I sometimes have a hard time getting across that any exposure could potentially cause him to die, right here, right now, in front of you….I mean, how do you explain that without sounding like a total drama queen? :)

  9. Emily says:

    I completely agree that words can be a true hinderance to actual comprehension. I have severe asthma, and I am getting very tired of telling people that I have asthma and hearing, “So you have an inhaler, right?” I pretty much just laugh. On any given day, I take more than a dozen medications. I really think that the cultural conception of asthma and allergies is so adamant at boxing us into our separate categories that it is often useless to explain otherwise. As much as I try to tell some friends the extent of my illness, they often either don’t believe me, don’t understand, or assume that I must have something much worse than “just” asthma to be this sick. Although the cultural conception has raised awareness, I sometimes think that it might be more detrimental than beneficial.

  10. Amy says:

    Emily–Welcome, and thanks for leaving your input! A contributing issue for my family–when the asthma issues reach their worst at night, no one sees them but us. That’s why we often hear, “But she seems so healthy/active/fill-in-the-blank,” and I say, “Well, yes. She’s fine until she’s not.”

    As my daughter gets older, I’m wondering how/if that will change.

  11. MC says:

    Lesley– I’ve wondered about getting one, especially that now I have asthma, and people with food allergies and asthma are are a greater risk of anaphylaxis. But the allergist I last saw decided I had no food allergies(or asthma), or any allergies. She even said that I should start eating dairy in small quantities to re-acustom my body to it. Umm, no. I’m not going to risk that. I have learned to stay strictly away from dairy and nuts, which is really hard when dealing with a school cafeteria. Some of the cafe workers don’t even get about dairy in food, even less about cross-contamination. But I’m determined to get stuff figured out. That time I got sent to the ER, they decided that I wasn’t having an allergic reaction, so I ended up not getting an EpiPen. Instead they decided I had acute bronchospasm or asthma. But I’ve been trained in how to use it, so if I ever have one around me and need it, I’ll know. Now that I’m home for the summer, I’m going to see about getting this food allergy stuff sorted out, and getting my asthma under control.

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