• What are Allergies?

    An allergen is a substance found in the indoor or outdoor environment that is normally harmless to most people. Inhalation is the most common route for allergens, including those found in the indoor environment, to enter the body. Other allergens enter the body through ingestion (food allergies), skin contact (dermatitis) or injection (drug or bee sting allergies).

    The first step in the development of allergic disease is a process called sensitization. Sensitization occurs when the body is overexposed to certain allergens, causing the immune system to produce what are known as IgE antibodies in response to these specific allergens.

    For reasons that medical science is not completely sure of, the body mistakes these harmless environmental substances for materials that cause illness, specifically infection, and creates IgE antibodies in order to protect the body from “sickness” when it encounters these substances in the future. In effect, the body programs itself to consider these harmless substances as enemies to be defended against. A person can become sensitized without expressing allergic illness. Generally, continued overexposure to allergens and other environmental irritants causes the illness to manifest and symptoms to occur.

    Allergic illnesses often multiply and lead to much more serious, chronic and debilitating ones such as allergic rhinitis patients developing asthma or sinusitis.Allergens are proteins that have unique shapes that identify them as allergens to the immune system. The allergen is like a lock and the antibody is like the key that fits only that lock. These IgE antibodies exist continuously in the body, constantly on the lookout for the presence of the allergen they were created in response to, sort of like keys floating around the immune system looking for the locks they were created to fit.

    The way IgE antibodies identify allergens that have entered the body involves a kind of confirmation process. The antibodies look for many copies of the allergen protein shape or “lock” in order to confirm that this is indeed the invader that they were created to defend the body against. When these antibody “keys” find a repetitive pattern of the allergen “locks” that they fit, the antibody and the allergen bind together, setting off a chain reaction designed to protect the body from infection. Part of this process is that the body releases chemicals called mediators, such as histamine, that cause what doctors call an “immunologically mediated adverse reaction” or allergic reaction or attack.

    In essence, allergic reactions are the body’s mistaken reactions to fight off disease when the “invader” is actually a harmless environmental substance. These allergic reactions produce symptoms including itching, coughing, wheezing, sneezing, watery eyes, inflammation and fatigue, which are unpleasant, distressing and frequently debilitating, causing millions of missed school and work days each year. Allergies are not only annoying and uncomfortable to say the least, but many have been linked to a variety of very serious chronic respiratory illnesses such as sinusitis and asthma.

    Allergic reactions can be severe and even fatal, with thousands of deaths being caused by allergic diseases such as asthma each year. Many people develop allergies simply through overexposure to allergens, especially when they are very young (though some are genetically predisposed to developing allergies). While there are many other risk factors, exposure to indoor allergens is now one of largest and yet one of the most preventable and controllable causes of allergic illness. The medical community has identified dust mite and pet allergens as posing the greatest risk for the development of allergies in the first place, continued suffering of those with allergic illness and a component in the development of much more serious allergic diseases such as asthma and sinusitis.

  • What is Asthma?

    Asthma is a chronic, inflammatory, allergic disease in which the body’s airways become sensitive to allergens. When the asthma sufferer is exposed to certain triggers, the linings of the airways become swollen and inflamed, the muscles surrounding the airways tighten and the production of mucus increases, further blocking the airways. Asthma is often associated with allergy and risk factors for developing asthma include sensitization to indoor allergens such as from house dust mites, animals and cockroaches as well as outdoor allergens, early exposure to tobacco smoke and a variety of other risk factors.

    During an asthma attack, which can last from a few hours to several days, breathing is difficult and symptoms also may include wheezing, coughing and chest tightness. Asthma can even cause death. Each asthmatic has different triggers that cause attacks. These triggers include indoor allergens such as dust mites, animal dander and cockroaches, certain foods, strong fumes, irritants like cigarette smoke, smog, soot or pollen, respiratory infections, cold or windy weather conditions, and emotions or exercise that cause deep or rapid breathing.

    One of the most important ways to control asthma attacks is to determine and eliminate the specific triggers for each individual. A health care professional should also be consulted to decide if allergy tests would be useful and which medications might help. The Relationship Between Allergic DiseasesMedical science does not clearly understand the links between allergic illnesses but it is clear that such relationships exist. People suffering from less serious allergies such as allergic rhinitis, for example, are at greater risk for developing much more serious illnesses such as asthma and sinusitis. It is also clear that treating the less serious allergic illness is an important strategy for preventing the development of more serious illnesses or as part of managing the more serious illness once it has developed .

    There are many diseases that are likely to have an allergic component including rhinitis, conjunctivitis, asthma, dermatitis, urticaria (wheals or hives) andanaphylaxis. Again, the suspected link between allergic rhinitis with the development of asthma, rhinosinusitis, allergic conjunctivitis and otitis media is well established. To provide some idea of the magnitude of these illnesses, rhinosinusitis affects over 14% of the U.S. population and causes over 58.7 million restricted activity days annually and otitis media (middle ear infection) is the most common childhood disease requiring a healthcare visit.

    Asthma is also commonly associated with allergic rhinitis, (also known as nasal allergy), which is an inflammation of the mucous membranes of the nose with characteristic symptoms including sneezing, itching, nasal discharge and congestion. In fact, as many as 78% of asthma patients have nasal symptoms and as many as 38% of allergic rhinitis patients have asthma. Treating the allergic rhinitis in asthma sufferers often helps treat the asthma condition as well. Researchers are not sure why allergic illnesses are so closely related but suspect that the common passageways they share (sinuses, throat and lungs) may be the reason. But whatever the case it is clear that such illnesses can easily multiply and develop into much more serious conditions if allergen exposure is left unchecked.

    Allergy and Asthma Triggers and Indoor Air Quality Once allergic disease is developed, asthma or allergy attacks can be caused by something that bothers the lungs, typically referred to as triggers. Triggers fall into two basic categories: allergens and irritants. Allergens not only trigger allergy attacks but also the chemicals released during such attacks (called mediators) can, in turn, trigger asthma attacks. The most important triggers in indoor air are dust mite and animal (pet) allergens. These allergen proteins are known by the following designations: Dust Mite Fecal Matter: Der p 1 and Der f 1 Animal Dander: Dog Dander Can f 1 and Cat Saliva Fel d 1 (though all types of animals and birds may also cause allergy) Irritants such as cold air, cigarette smoke, industrial chemicals, perfume, paint and gasoline fumes can also trigger asthma.

    People with asthma may have a wide range of sensitivity to irritants, including cleaning chemicals. Therefore, it is very important to use cleaning products developed specifically for such applications, such as MasterBlend’s ResponsibleCare products. These irritants likely trigger asthma symptoms by stimulating irritant receptors in the respiratory tract. These receptors, in turn, cause the muscles surrounding the airway to constrict, resulting in an asthma attack.

    There is no question that the quality of indoor air (as well as outdoor air) can pose a significant health risk. Consider that the U. S. EPA states that indoor air pollution is one of top five environmental risks to public health and EPA statistics show levels of indoor pollutants 2 to 5 to up to 100 times more concentrated indoors than outdoors . And, the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology states that, “50 percent of all illnesses are caused by or aggravated by polluted indoor air” .

    The cleaning industry has long been aware that lack of proper ventilation, improper design and maintenance of HVAC systems, off-gassing of toxic materials, exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke, exposure to volatile organic compounds and biological agents and the plethora of contaminants in indoor air we are exposed to at home and work have created a serious public health issue. Given that Americans spend up to 90% of their time indoors, there is little question that indoor air pollution exacerbates allergic diseases, concentrates both triggers and irritants and plays a significant role in triggering allergy and asthma attacks. There are clear links that diesel exhaust and passive tobacco smoke exposure (found in both indoor and outdoor air) are both potent risk factors for allergic disease, for example.

    It is important to understand that the most serious allergens in terms of the development and progression of allergic disease cannot simply be “cleaned away” or removed by improved ventilation. This is not to say that sound cleaning and maintenance practices are not extremely important to creating a healthy indoor environment in general terms as well as a specifically allergy safe indoor environment. For example, a specially designed cleaning program is an integral component of the MasterBlend ResponsibleCare System of anti-allergen cleaning and treatment, but it should be recognized that cleaning alone will not solve the indoor allergen problem.