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Daily Dose

Penicillin Allergy

1:30 to read

Has your child ever been labelled “penicillin allergic”?  Interestingly, up to 10% of people (of all ages) report having a penicillin allergy, but only about 1% are truly allergic. I see this often in my own practice, especially when seeing a new patient and inquiring about drug allergies, and the parent replies, “ she is penicillin allergic, and developed a rash when she was younger”.  In many if not most of those cases the child is not allergic to penicillin.

 

Penicillins are a class of antibiotics known as beta-lactams and include not only penicillin but  amoxicillin, augmentin, oxacillin and nafcillin, just to name a few.  If you are incorrectly identified as penicillin allergic, when your doctor needs to prescribe an antibiotic they may resort to another class of antibiotic, which are not only more expensive but often may cause more side effects.  

 

Penicillins are the antibiotic of choice and the first line treatment for many pediatric bacterial illnesses including otitis ( ear infections ), strep throat, and sinus infections. They are not only effective, but they are typically inexpensive and have few side effects….which includes allergic reactions.

 

Penicillin allergy is an immune - mediated reaction which usually causes hives ( raised rash ), face or throat swelling, difficulty breathing and in some cases life threatening anaphylaxis.  Intolerance to penicillin is different than being allergic, and in this case symptoms are more likely nausea, diarrhea, headache or dizziness, which may make you uncomfortable but are not immune mediated. 

 

In pediatrics, many children present with a viral illness that includes several days of fever and upper respiratory symptoms, and are then also found to have an ear infection. They are given a prescription for amoxicillin and several days later develop a rash. Many viral infections in children also cause a rash, which is typically red, flat and covers the trunk, face and extremities and does not cause any other symptoms which are seen with a true penicillin allergy.  This rash is benign, but unfortunately many young children will be seen at an urgent care or even an ER due to the rash. The parents are told that their child is penicillin allergic and the antibiotic is changed…and the label “pen allergic” sticks….for many years or even life.  I even saw this rash occur in one of my own sons while on an antibiotic. He is NOT allergic!

 

The good news is that most children are truly not penicillin allergic, and if possible I try to see all of my patients who report a rash while they are on an antibiotic. At times this is not possible, and now with the advent of “smart phones” I have parents send me a picture of the child and the rash. This often helps in determining if the rash truly appears allergic and to identify if there are other symptoms.  Back to the “get a good history”. 

 

If I see an older patient who has had a rash on amoxil when they were little and had no other adverse effects (get a good history), I will sometimes try using a penicillin again, as most people also “outrgrow” their sensitivity after about 10 years. If it is my patient and I have seen the rash I tell the parents that this is not a “pen allergy” and I will use penicillins again.  Some  patients will report a “pen-allergy” but say I can take “augmentin” which is penicillin derivative, so that makes it easy to know they are not allergic.  If I am unsure if a child has had a true penicillin allergy I will refer them to a pediatric allergist for skin testing.  Skin testing is not painful and is an important method for documenting a true allergy. 

 

 

   

Daily Dose

Food Allergies

1:30 to read

With the holidays approaching and lots of family gatherings revolving around food and eating together, it seems a good time to discuss the differences between food allergies and food intolerance, as they are not the same thing.

 

When one member of your family tells you that their child is “allergic to nuts” and another tells you that their child cannot “drink milk”, they may not be talking about the same phenomena at all. There is a big difference and it important to understand why.

 

Food allergies are immune mediated adverse reactions to foods.  While any food protein can trigger an allergic response, only a few foods account for most allergic reactions.  Eggs, milk, peanuts, soy, fish, shellfish, tree nuts and wheat are the most common causes of true immune mediated food allergies.

 

The most common symptoms of an acute allergic (anaphylactic) reaction to a food include such things as:  itching around the mouth and lips, swelling of the throat, difficulty breathing, cough, shortness of breath, wheezing, nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, flushing, and or hives.  A person may present with only a few of these symptoms after being exposed to a food, or may have multiple symptoms that occur.  The most common symptom of an allergic reaction is with the acute onset of hives (urticaria) and itching, which may then be followed by other symptoms of respiratory or gastrointestinal tract.

 

An allergic reaction to food is a medical emergency and may cause serious of even life threatening reactions and requires immediate treatment. If this is a new onset food allergy and a person is thought to be symptomatic call 911 as a serious reaction can happen quite quickly.  If there is a known food allergy and someone is inadvertently exposed to the food, they should carry injectable epinephrine and use it immediately along with an antihistamine….then call their doctor or go to the emergency room for follow up. Remember,  anaphylaxis is life threatening! 

 

Food intolerance is a different story. It is NOT an immune mediated event and while you may feel miserable after ingesting certain food, such as milk, it is not life threatening. In most cases of food intolerance a person learns that they may ingest small amounts of the offending food without any problems (maybe a small scoop of ice cream), but cannot tolerate drinking an entire glass of milk without experiencing GI complaints, often with abdominal cramping and diarrhea. Lactose seems to be one of the most common offending agents, while others seem to be sensitive to gluten or even food additives like sulfites and dyes.  The best treatment for this is to stay away from foods that cause you to have symptoms, or to only ingest small amounts.

 

So, if you have a relative with true food allergies make sure to check with them before planning a meal and avoid cross contamination of foods during preparation. For those with intolerances….they may just choose to skip the offending food and double up on others!

 

Happy Holidays!!

Daily Dose

Allergy Suffering Continues

Allergy suffering continues with itchy eyes, nasal congestion and sneezing. Dr. Sue explains how to treat season allergies.With pollen blowing across the country and “the worst spring allergy season in 10 years” in the headlines I thought I would follow up with a second blog on treating seasonal allergic rhinitis (SAR).

As discussed previously I typically begin seeing seasonal allergic symptoms of runny nose, sneezing, itchy eyes and cough in children after the age of 2, and more typically around 4 years of age.  Prior to that most physicians think that recurrent viral respiratory infections account for many similar symptoms in the toddler age group. Parents who are convinced that their 8 month old baby has allergies this spring are most likely facing their child’s first “cold” as allergic symptoms to pollens are brought on after repeated exposure, so we therefore see the symptoms later on.  Allergies do seem to be hereditary so a child who has two allergic parents has between a 50-80 % chance of developing those seasonal allergies. Seasonal allergies at this time of year are typically due to pollen from trees, and will then be followed by grass and weed allergies. By far the best way to prevent the misery associated with SAR is to begin a nasal steroid spray early in the spring in order to help prevent the histamine release that occurs when  microscopic pollen particles enter the nasal passages.  For children with known allergies I typically begin nasal steroids in mid March. The histamine release in the body following exposure to the offending pollens will cause all of the seasonal allergic rhinitis (SAR) symptoms.  On top of using a nasal steroid children who have classic allergic shiners (darkened areas beneath their lower eyelid), clear watery nasal discharge with frequent sniffing and/or blowing or throat clearing, cough and sneezing may benefit from taking a daily anti-histamine. (in other words to fight the histamine release that has already occurred).  There are both 1st and 2nd generation anti-histamines. The 1st generation antihistamines are the older drugs that often cause sedation or drowsiness but are still excellent antihistamines.  Examples of these are Benadryl (see recall info for this product), Tavist, Dimetapp, and Triaminic products that are all available over the counter.  I use Benadryl (see recall info for this product) most frequently as there are so many different choices as to dosing methods. Many allergists also feel that if one class of anti-histamine does not work to try another, so many people have their own favorite medication. The newer 2nd generation antihistamines such as Claritin, and Zyrtec (se recall info for this product) are now available OTC also and come in both liquid and chewable preparations.  There are also prescription products in this group such as Allegra, and Clarinex and Xyzal.  These antihistamines are labeled non-sedating and are usually given once a day.  Again, one child may prefer one brand over another and some do not have a chewable or liquid option so are used in older children and adolescents. There are also other drugs that are used to combat allergy symptoms and these drugs may be used in combination with antihistamines and nasal steroid sprays.  Decongestants help constrict blood vessels and shrink the nasal mucous membranes and may improve nasal congestion.  The most common medications are Sudafed which is pseudoephedrine (now found behind the medicine counter) and Sudafed-PE which contains the decongestant phenylephrine.  These decongestants may also be found in nasal sprays to use topically, but if used locally within the nose may cause actual rebound symptoms of more congestion so are not recommended for use as a nasal spray for more than 3-7 days. Therefore it is preferred to use systemically to avoid that problem.  Decongestants may also cause hyperactivity and insomnia so I rarely recommend them for use in the evening in children. Singulair which is a leukotriene inhibitor (anti –inflammatory) may help relieve nasal allergic symptoms as well as the allergic cough, especially in children who have frequent night time coughs during allergy season. It comes as both granules, chewables and pills and may be given to children down to 2 years of age, especially those that have asthma as well as nasal allergies. Lastly, there are antihistamine nasal sprays now available but they have the problem of “really tasting badly” and I find most children will not use them. There are also several good eye drops for those that get seasonal allergic conjunctivitis (SAC) several of which, Zaditor and Patanol are now available OTC and older children find them quite helpful. Despite this huge armamentarium of products, no one (or two or three) will totally prevent symptoms. So make sure that your child bathes or showers after playing outside, including washing their hair, to get the pollen off of their skin and hair.  It is also helpful to wipe off the dog or outside cat with a dryer sheet to get some of the pollen off of the pets. While I love to sleep with the windows open and ceiling fans going, if your children suffer from SAR you are better off keeping windows closed and the AC on. That's your daily dose for today.  We'll chat again tomorrow. Send your question to Dr. Sue!

Daily Dose

Epi Pen Controversy

1;30 to read

I have more than several patients who have had serious allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) to a variety of things…including insects (fire ants, bees) as well as foods (peanuts, tree nuts, fruits, shellfish). All of these children need to have epinephrine auto injectable pens (EpiPen) on hand in case of “accidental” exposure to the allergen and a subsequent life threatening allergic reaction.  These medical devices are seldom used ( thank goodness), but need to be replaced every 12-24 months and should always be readily available in case of an emergency.

For the longest time it was not a “big” issue (cost wise) to write prescriptions for these allergic children and to make sure that they had several EpiPens on hand. This included having them available at home, school, in the mothers purse or in the car or in the gym bag…many people also wanted “extras” to have at the grand- parents house or at the lake house…etc.  So….I would write a script for the EpiPen 2 pack and the family might get 4-5 sets to disperse to the appropriate people. Prior to 2009 the cost was less than $100/two pack. 

It was several years ago that a few families started talking to me about the expense of these devices and also how quickly they seemed to expire…in fact we started asking the pharmacist to look at the expiration dates and to try and dispense the ones that had the longest expiration, in hopes of saving some expense.  At that time there were also two companies that were making the epinephrine devices.  

Then in the last year parents started calling me complaining that the EpiPens were becoming cost prohibitive and “did they really need to keep filling them?”….especially seeing that they had never needed to use one?  Of course I replied that “by the grace of God” and their vigilance they had not needed one, but YES, they indeed needed to continue to have them on hand.  In many cases families reduced the number that they bought and tried to make sure that they handed them off if their child left home….terribly hard I would think to keep up with.

This issue came into view most recently as parents across the country started complaining to not only their physicians, but to the pharmacy, their insurers and the drug maker Mylan Pharmaceuticals….why in the world had the price jumped to over $600? In retrospect, the price had been raised 15% twice a year over the past 2 years!  ( It was also pointed out that this was a 6 fold price increase in the past decade).

I do know that epinephrine has been around for a long time and the drug itself is not that expensive, and is used everyday in hospitals around the country….but the EpiPen auto injector which allows “anyone” to inject the medicine into a muscle without any measuring etc. has become cost prohibitive for many families, even some of those with insurance. It seems that Mylan Pharma  is setting prices “based on whatever the market may bear” and not on the fact that the drug is new or expensive to produce…

This is one of the times that all parents with children who need to carry an EpiPen need to contact their representatives in Congress, as well as their insurers to see if the public can be influential in trying to remedy this situation.  The public will have to let their concerns and voices be heard…

Just as I am writing this, Mylan has announced an “instant savings card” for those people who are paying out of pocket and help for those who do not have the means to buy the EpiPen….but this does not correct the problem as a whole. While the discount may be helpful for some, but not all, it is not the answer to the ever growing problem of exorbitant drug costs in this country. I have several families who are going to try and buy the EpiPen while on trips to Mexico and Canada. I have no idea of the costs there…but worth a try.  

Your Child

Should Schools Ban Peanut Butter?

As a result of the increasing number of peanut allergies, some parents are petitioning schools to ban peanut butter from lunch menus and snacks.Peanut Ban

Nearly 400,000 children are allergic to peanuts and many parents do everything they can to make sure their child is not exposed. As a result of the increasing number of peanut allergies, some parents are petitioning schools to ban peanut butter from lunch menus and snacks.

“Over the past few years because of the increased incidences of peanut allergies, more and more schools have been banning peanut butter and 18% of schools have bans in place and that number seems to be growing. But there is a lot of controversy around this on both sides of the equation,” says pediatrician Dr. Sue Hubbard. Dr. Hubbard says it is very hard to ban an entire student body from taking anything with peanuts as it requires a large amount of label reading education by children and parents. She says it is important to have a dialogue with your child’s teacher, school and school nurse to alert them to a food allergy. “The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network does not believe the peanut butter should be banned in schools. They are of the belief that you should have something called a “PAL” plan to protect a life from food allergies

Daily Dose

Relief During Allergy Season

1.30 to read

It's the worst allergy season in years and I'm seeing a lot of children complaining of nasal congestion, sneezing, itchy and watery eyes.Achoo!  Yes, it has been a particularly bad allergy season and (I'm afraid to say) it seems like it's going to be like this for a while. I have been seeing a lot of children complaining of nasal congestion, sneezing, itchy and watery eyes. 

The surge in allergies this year has been due to a very wet winter and the weather this spring has brought erratic temperatures and lots of wind. The perfect storm for the "allergic cascade" to inflict itself on everyone's nasal mucosa. The best preventative for nasal allergy symptoms (allergic rhinitis) has been the use of intranasal steroids. These steroid sprays have been used for the past 15 years and clinical studies have shown that intranasal steroids are superior to oral antihistamines. Intranasal steroids function by inhibiting the production of chemical mediators such as histamine and prostaglandin that cause inflammation and mucous production. In other words they are more of a preventative medication, while an antihistamine is treating the histamine that was released once you inhaled the offending tree or grass pollen. Intranasal steroids may also help eye allergy symptoms too. The problem is getting young kids to let you use a nose spray on them. The same holds true for the older tween and teen crowd who complain that they "just don't have the time to use it everyday" (it must take all of 15 seconds to use on yourself!) They have been shown to be effective within 3-12 hours, although will reach their maximum effectiveness after several days to weeks of use, so using it daily and throughout the allergy season is going to give you the maximum therapeutic effect. There are many different brands available and everyone seems to have their favorite. If one spray seems to bother your child due to scent, or intensity of the spray ask your doctor to try another brand. Many times they will have a sample and give you several to try and then prescribe the one that is easiest to get your child to use. It may be trial and error, but finding the right nasal steroid may just change your allergy season. That's your daily dose, we'll chat again tomorrow. Oh, God Bless You! Send your question to Dr. Sue!

Daily Dose

Good News About Peanut Allergies

1:15 to read

There has been a lot of news recently about peanut allergies and good news on all fronts. For several years there had been recommendations that children should not be given any peanut products until at least two years of age due to concerns about children and peanut allergies. At the same time, some physicians even recommended that breastfeeding mothers not consume peanut products. This was a difficult scenario for both parents and children as what young child did not eat peanut butter?

Many children's parents would not even let peanut butter in the house and were consumed with reading labels looking for peanut products. Remember, this was not in a peanut allergic child, or even in a family with a history of peanut allergies. I would have failed as a mother during this time as my kids ate peanut butter sandwiches almost daily.

I can remember a patient coming over to my house for one of those "house calls" I frequently do and at the end of the visit I offered her child (about 22 months) a peanut butter cookie that I had just baked. As she took the cookie from me, ready to take a big bite, the mother screamed, "She has never had peanut butter, don't let her have that!" Before you could even grab the cookie she took a big bite, a grin spread over her face and lo and behold, she ate the rest. (I am a good cookie baker, if I do say so myself.) No reaction, happy child and now the mother was convinced her child would not die if she ate peanut butter before two. Well, the recommendations have changed and children may have peanut butter, or peanut products before they are even one and seem to actually have a lower chance of developing peanut allergies. They should not eat a whole peanut, for risk of choking, but other products are fine.

I had never been convinced that withholding peanuts seemed to make a difference, and peanut butter is a childhood staple, full of good protein. Now, news from Duke University is also showing that very peanut allergic children may be de-sensitized to peanuts by giving them miniscule amounts of peanut protein on a daily basis. After 8 to 10 months of gradually increasing doses of peanut powder several of the children were able to tolerate peanuts in their regular diet and several more were able to tolerate up to 15 peanuts at a time without serious reactions. This is significant data for those children suffering from peanut allergies, and who have the risk of developing anaphylaxis and even death if exposed to peanuts. It seems that scientists are making inroads into developing oral immunotherapy to de-sensitize children with food allergies, and further studies are underway.

That's your daily dose, we'll chat again tomorrow. More Information: Experimental Treatment Gives Hope to Children with Peanut Allergies

Daily Dose

Allergic Cough Season

Another Monday in the office and the newest symptom in our patients seem to be coughs. In our area the flu is passed, RSV is gone with the wind, and now the allergic cough season has arrived. It was a cacophony today; every room with short, frequent coughs, and wheezes in between.

Many children in the 18-month - 4 year old crowd, who tend to be allergic and often have a family history of asthma, will cough at this time of year due to the weather changes and pollens. With Texas having warm days, gusty winds and the occasional 40 degree temp change in one day, it is a set up for allergic coughs. That is why this entity is termed reactive airway disease, the bronchial tree gets inflamed and tightens due to the allergens and that frequent, non-productive, tight cough erupts. This cough is often most notable at night, or when your child is actively playing, while continuously coughing. Many parents complain that their children will cough continuously while sleeping and don't seem rested in the am. They otherwise do not seem sick, no fever, many with just a clear runny nose and the cough from *--*-. If your child is having symptoms that seem similar to these it is a good time to visit the pediatrician to discuss the possibility of reactive airway disease, or another similar entity described as cough variant asthma. Some of these persistent coughs will respond to bronchodilator and allergy therapy. Not only will your child feel better if the cough improves, but everyone will get a little more sleep! That's your daily dose, we'll chat again tomorrow.

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Daily Dose

Diagnosing Food Allergies

1.15 to read

Food allergies continue to be a problem in the pediatric population and I often get calls or see a patient for an office visit with a parent who has a concern that their child “may have” reacted to something they ate. Their question is, are they allergic?  

There is a great resource for physicians entitled “The Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Food Allergy in the United States”.  Not all adverse reactions to foods are allergic and it sometimes takes a bit of “detective work”, which is a good history and physical exam, to begin to determine if a child has a food allergy.   

So, when a parent tells me that their child gets a rash on their chin or cheek after eating “xyz” food the questions begin.  Was it the first time they had ever been exposed to that food? Describe the rash and how the child was acting?  Did they have other symptoms with the rash? Was the rash just on a cheek or was it all over? Was it hives? This list of questions go on and on.   

The most common food allergens are egg, milk, peanut, tree nuts, wheat, shellfish and soy. I also ask if this was a one time occurrence, and  If they have tried the food again did it happen every time? Many times hard to tease out what a child has had to eat when they have a mish-mash of food on their plate and nothing is new!  

Is there a family history of allergy or asthma?  Does your child have eczema as well?  If so there is a greater chance of developing a food allergy.  

After a detailed history, and if I do think that the child has a good history for a food allergy, there are tests (skin prick and blood) that may help determine if an allergy may exist.  BUT, with that being said, there are several caveats.  Number one, your doctor should not test for “every” food allergen, only for the suspected food or foods, as there are many false positive tests when you just check all of the boxes for testing IGE levels for an allergy.  For example, if your child eats eggs and has had no problem but the IGE level comes back a bit high for egg allergy, what does that really mean?  In other words, I just test for the suspected culprit. So, I do not test for tree nuts if the parents only had concerns with a peanut product.   More to come on this topic. 

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