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Your Child

Could More Dietary Fiber Reduce Food Allergies?


In the never–ending search for an answer as to why more Americans – from children to adults- are experiencing food allergies, several new studies suggest that the culprit could be too little fiber in our diets.  

According to the non-profit organization, Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), 15 million Americans have food allergies. That’s a 50 percent increase from 1997 to 2011. About 90 percent of people with food allergies are allergic to one of eight types of foods; peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, eggs, milk, shellfish and fish. 

So, what is going on that so many people are suffering from food allergies, particularly children? That’s what researchers around the world are trying to find out.  Many studies are beginning to suggest that it’s not just one thing but a combination of factors.

A lack of dietary fiber in the diet may be one of those factors. The notion is based on the idea that bacteria in the gut have the enzymes needed to digest dietary fiber, and when these bacteria break down fiber, they produce substances that help to prevent an allergic response to foods, said Charles Mackay, an immunologist at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia.

So far, the research related to this idea has been done mainly in mice, and dietary factors are unlikely to be the sole explanation for why allergy rates have skyrocketed, researchers say. But if the results were to be replicated in human studies, they would suggest that promoting the growth of good gut bacteria could be one way to protect against, and possibly even reverse, certain allergies, researchers say.

The modern western diet, high in fat, sugar and refined carbs seems to produce a different kind of bacteria in the gut that may be liked to food allergies.  Fiber such as beans, whole grains, nuts, berries, vegetables and brown rice promote the growth of a class of bacteria called Clostridia, which break down fiber and are some of the biggest producers of byproducts called short-chain fatty acids.

In a 2011 study in the journal Nature, researchers found that these short-chain fatty acids normally prevent gut cells from becoming too permeable, and letting food particles, bacteria or other problematic compounds move into the blood.

An overabundance of antibiotic use may also be contributing to food allergies. Not only are people being over-prescribed, we may also be getting extra doses in some of our foods.

Antibiotics, which are widely used in agriculture and for treating ear infections in babies and toddlers, kill the bacteria in the gut. So the combination of antibiotics and low-fiber diets may be a "double whammy," that predisposes people to allergic responses, notes said Cathryn Nagler, a food allergy researcher at the University of Chicago.

The new findings also suggest a way to prevent, or possibly even reverse some allergies. For instance, allergy treatments could use probiotics that recolonize the gut with healthy forms of Clostridia, Nagler said.

In fact, in a small study published in January in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, showed that children with peanut allergies who received probiotics were able to eat the nut without having an allergic reaction, and their tolerance to peanuts persisted even after the treatment.

Many factors may contribute to the rise in food allergies, said Dr. Robert Wood, director of pediatric allergy and immunology at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center in Baltimore. Epidemiological studies have found that having pets, going to day care, having a sibling, being born vaginally and even washing dishes by hand can affect the risk of allergies.

As more and more research is being conducted on food allergies, a bigger picture is starting to emerge about possible causes. Pediatricians and family physicians are keeping a close eye on the new findings to better help their patients. Some of those findings are changing the way physicians are treating food allergies.

For years, doctors told parents of children at a high risk of developing allergies to wait until the children were 3 years old before giving them peanuts or other allergy-inducing foods, Wood said.

"We really thought we knew what we were doing, and it turns out it was 100 percent wrong," Wood said.

If your child suffers from food allergies, you might want to talk to your pediatrician or family doctor about adding more dietary fiber or probiotics to your child’s diet. However, it’s not recommended that you “experiment” on your own because some children’s health problems can be made worse from probiotic use or too much fiber. Be sure and check with your doctor first.

Sources: Tia Ghose,

Your Child

Melatonin May Help Kids with Eczema Sleep Better


Eczema is a common skin disease that affects as many as 30 percent of all kids.  It’s an itchy red rash that often causes continuous scratching. Numerous children with eczema have trouble sleeping through the night. A new study suggests that over-the-counter melatonin may help them sleep longer and better.

These sleep problems can be difficult to treat in these children, said Dr. Yung-Sen Chang, an attending physician in pediatrics at Taipei City Hospital Renai Branch in Taiwan. Antihistamines can stop working after a few days, and tranquilizers have potentially serious side effects, Chang said.

But giving children melatonin, his study found, "is safe and effective for helping children with atopic dermatitis fall asleep faster."

The link between the skin condition and insufficient sleep "has an impact on people with eczema at all ages," said Dr. Lawrence Eichenfield, chief of pediatric and adolescent dermatology at the University of California, San Diego and Rady Children's Hospital.

According to Eichenfield, it's generally established that it’s the itching that keeps people with eczema from getting enough sleep. However, Chang said that may not be the case.

Chang and colleagues discovered that patients with eczema, that had difficulty sleeping, had low levels of nocturnal melatonin. That intrigued Chang and inspired the new study.

"Melatonin is a natural human hormone with minimal adverse effects," Chang said, "so it seemed like a good choice for children."

The study was small and involved 48 children, about 22 months to 18 years old, who had eczema. The children received treatment with either an inactive placebo or a 3-milligram daily dose of melatonin at bedtime for four weeks. Thirty-eight participants then took the alternate treatment (melatonin or placebo) for another four weeks.

When the children took melatonin, the severity of eczema dipped slightly, possibly because melatonin's anti-inflammatory effect improved the skin condition, Chang said.

Also, kids taking melatonin fell asleep about 21 minutes sooner than kids taking the placebo, the findings showed.

Total nightly sleep rose by 10 minutes on average (from 380 to 390 minutes, or 6.5 hours total) in the melatonin group, while it fell by 20 minutes among those who took a placebo, according to the report.

The participants did not report any side effects. Melatonin supplements are inexpensive in the U.S.- typically under 9 cents a pill from one major supplier.

Eichenfield, who wasn't involved in the research, said the study appears to be well-designed. Melatonin hasn't been studied much as a sleep treatment for kids, he cautioned.

While Eichenfield said melatonin may turn out to be helpful, he said there are a broad set of other tools available to treat eczema and minimize its effect on children. He suggested tackling the skin condition first to try to mitigate the sleep issues.

Chang recommended that parents talk to their child's doctor before starting melatonin. As for adults, melatonin may help them, too. But more studies are needed, Chang said.

The study was published in a November online edition of the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

Source: Randy Dotinga,


Your Teen

Mental Health Clues Found in Teen Brain Scans


If you’ve ever wondered why there are so many ups and downs in your teenager’s moods- there’s a very good reason; their brain is still developing. Brain scans from a research team at the University of Cambridge identified the areas of the brain that change the most during the teen years. It’s no surprise that areas associated with complex thought and decision-making are the ones going through a growth spurt during this time.

The scientists also discovered a link between teenage brain development and mental illness, such as schizophrenia.

The team from Cambridge's department of psychiatry scanned the brains of 300 people between the ages of 14 and 24.

They found that basic functions such as vision, hearing and movement were fully developed by adolescence. However, complex thinking processes and decision-making were still in a growth stage.

These areas are nerve centers with lots of connections to and from other key areas.

You can think of the brain as a global airline network that's made up of small infrequently used airports and huge hubs like Heathrow where there is very high traffic.

The brain uses a similar set up to co-ordinate our thoughts and actions.

During adolescence, this network of big hubs is consolidated and strengthened. It's a bit like how Heathrow or JFK have become gradually busier over the years.

Researchers found that genes involved in the “hub” were similar to those associated with mental illnesses, including schizophrenia.

The discovery is in line with the observation that many mental disorders develop during adolescence, according to researcher Dr Kirstie Whitaker.

"We have shown a pathway from the biology of cells in the area through to how people who are in their late teenage years might then have their first episode of psychosis," she told the BBC.

Genetics are not the only reason for mental illnesses. Older studies have also linked stress during childhood and the teenage years as a possible contributor. Recent findings have shown an association between maltreatment, abuse and neglect and brain development during childhood and adolescence. In addition, these types of stressors may also contribute to the emergence of mental illness.

Lead researcher, Professor Ed Bullmore, whose work was funded by the Wellcome Trust, believes the discovery of a biological link between teenage brain development and the onset of mental illness might help researchers identify those most at risk of becoming ill.

"As we understand more about what puts people at risk for schizophrenia, that gives us an opportunity to try to identify individuals that are at risk of becoming schizophrenic in the foreseeable future, the next two to three years, and perhaps to offer some treatment then that could be helpful in preventing the onset of clinical symptoms. "

The study also sheds light on the mood and behavioral changes experienced by teenagers during normal brain development.

"The regions that are changing most are those associated with complex behavior and decision making," says Dr. Whitaker.

"It shows that teenagers are on a journey of becoming an adult and becoming someone who is able to pull together all these bits of information.

This is a really important stage to go through. You wouldn't want to be a child all your life.

This is a powerful and important stage that you have to go through to be the best and the most capable adult that you can be."

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

Story source: Pallab Ghosh,


Your Teen

Teens Drive Better With More Sleep

1.45 to read

The study, published in Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, compared school start times and automobile crash rates for students aged 16 to 18 years in Virginia Beach, Va., where high school classes began between 7:20 a.m. and 7:25 a.m., to students at schools in adjacent Chesapeake, Va., where classes started between 8:40 a.m. and 8:45 a.m. A new study suggests that getting an extra hour of sleep at night could help your teen drive safer.

The study, published in Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, compared school start times and automobile crash rates for students aged 16 to 18 years in Virginia Beach, Va., where high school classes began between 7:20 a.m. and 7:25 a.m., to students at schools in adjacent Chesapeake, Va., where classes started between 8:40 a.m. and 8:45 a.m. What they discovered was that the earlier risers may not be very alert while behind the wheel and were more prone to sleep loss and daytime sleepiness. The study's lead author, Dr. Robert Vorona, said that starting high school later in the morning might make young drivers more alert simply because they get more sleep. There were 65.8 automobile crashes for every 1,000 teen drivers in Virginia Beach, and 46.6 crashes for every 1,000 teen drivers in Chesapeake. The comparisons were made in 2008 and were similar to results in 2007. "We believe that high schools should take a close look at having later start times to align with circadian rhythms in teens and to allow for longer sleep times," said Vorona who is an associate professor of internal medicine at Eastern Virginia Medical School. "Too many teens in this country obtain insufficient sleep. Increasingly, the literature suggests that this may lead to problematic consequences including mood disorders, academic difficulties and behavioral issues." An extra hour of sleep could also improve attention levels, reduce mistakes and performance according to another study in the April edition of the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. The Israeli study of 14-year-old, eighth-grade students found those teens that slept 55 minutes longer each night performed better on tests that require attention. So just one more hour of sleep can make a big difference in how teens drive, and perform in school. Instead of the 7 or 8 hours of sleep recommended for adults, teens should think in terms of about 9 hours per night. With school schedules and other activities it can be a challenge to set aside that much time. It is also a good idea to get this amount of sleep on a daily basis and not skimp during the week and then try to make it up on the weekend.

Your Baby

Study: Fracking Linked to Babies Low Birth Weight

High volume fracturing, also known as fracking, has increased in production all through the United States. The process allows access to large amounts of natural gas trapped in shale deposits by utilizing natural gas wells.

These types of wells were once more likely to be found in rural settings but are now increasingly located in and near populated neighborhoods.

A new study from the University of Pennsylvania has found a link between mothers who live close to high volume fracking wells and an increased risk of having a lower birth weight baby.

Researchers analyzed the birth records of more than 15,400 babies born in Pennsylvania's Washington, Westmoreland and Butler counties between 2007 and 2010.

Women who lived close to a high number of natural gas fracking sites were 34 percent more likely to have babies who were "small for gestational age" than mothers who did not live close to a large number of such wells, the study found.

Small for gestational age means a baby is smaller than normal based on the number of weeks the baby has been in the womb, according to the March of Dimes.

The findings held true even after other factors were accounted for such as whether the mother smoked, her race, age, education and prenatal care. Also taken into account was whether she had previous children and the baby’s gender.

Like other cities around the country, the number of fracking sites in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale has increased substantially in the last few years. In 2007 there were 44 wells; by 2010, more than 2,800.

"Our work is a first for our region and supports previous research linking unconventional gas development and adverse health outcomes," study co-author Bruce Pitt, chair of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health's Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, said in a university news release.

"These findings cannot be ignored. There is a clear need for studies in larger populations with better estimates of exposure and more in-depth medical records," he added.

The main concerns around fracking sites are the air and noise pollution and waste fluids.

"Developing fetuses are particularly sensitive to the effects of environmental pollutants. We know that fine particulate air pollution, exposure to heavy metals and benzene, and maternal stress all are associated with lower birth weight," Pitt said.

While the study provides an association between fracking and lower weight babies, it does not prove that living close to a high concentration of natural gas fracking sites causes lower birth weights. Researchers said that they believe the study’s findings warrant further investigations.

The study was published online in the June edition of the journal PLOS One.

Source: Robert Preidt,

Your Child

Students Do Better on Tests After Short Break


As the school day wears on, kids can begin to suffer from mental exhaustion. A new study suggests that students do better on test scores if the testing starts earlier in the day or they are allowed a short break before testing begins.

The study found that students aged 15 and under suffered from mental fatigue as the school day progressed, and that their test scores dipped later in the day. The effect appeared to be the greatest on those who scored the poorest; a hint that tests later in the day might hurt struggling students the most.

They also found that kids who were given a short break before they took the test scored higher.

Many school administrations have toyed with the idea of extending the school day.

"If policymakers want to have longer days, then they should consider having more frequent breaks," said study co-author Francesca Gino, a professor of business administration at Harvard Business School in Boston.

The researchers also suggested that standardized tests be given at the same time of day to avoid giving some students an advantage over others and skewing the results in favor of children who are tested earlier in the day. If testing times must be spread out, then the study’s author recommend that students who test later in the day be given time to relax and recharge before the test begins.

The new study is unusual because it's so large and because it explores the role played by breaks during the day, Gino said.

The researchers reviewed results from about 2 million national standardized tests taken by kids aged 8 to 15. The children attended public schools in Denmark from 2009-2010 and 2012-2013.

The findings revealed that test performance decreased as the day progressed. As each hour went by, scores declined. But they improved after breaks of 20 minutes to 30 minutes, the research showed.

Gino described the effect as "small, but significant."

"We found that taking the test one hour later affects the average child the same way as having 10 days less of schooling," she said.

Gino blames "cognitive fatigue" -- essentially, tiredness that affects thinking. "But a break can counterbalance this negative effect. For example, during a break, children can have something to eat, relax, play with classmates or just have some fresh air. These activities recharge them."

Even though the test score differences were not huge, Christoph Randler, a professor of biology at the University of Tubingen in Germany, believes they were still significant. They could be consequential if they affect a student’s chances of getting into college, he said.

Other academic experts also found the findings had an important message. Pamela Thacher, an associate professor of psychology at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y., endorsed the study. She agreed with Randler that small differences in test scores could be important to a student's future.

As for the value of breaks, she said the findings make sense. "Rest restores the ability to perform," she said. "These results are consistent with virtually every study we have that has spoken to the brain's requirements for best performance."

The study appears in the February issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Source: Randy Dotinga,





Your Baby

Pets May Protect Infants Against Allergies

1.30 to read

Fluffy or Fido may protect your baby from developing allergies later in life. Many owners will tell you that their pet is like a family member. A new study suggests that those four-legged family members may reduce a child’s risk of developing allergies.

For years allergists have warned parents that some pets may actually cause allergies, but a new study published in the journal Clinical & Experimental Allergy suggests that early exposure to pets, during an infant’s first year of life, appears to provide an actual defense against allergies later in life. Lead study author Ganesa Wegienka, Ph.D., of Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit noted, “Exposing children to cats and dogs in the home is not going to increase the risk of sensitization to these animals. It might even decrease the risk.” Interesting revelations were found in the study such as; 18 year old males, who lived with a dog in the house when they were an infant, reduced their risks of developing allergies by half,  but not so with girls. Cats, on the other hand, seem to affect both sexes. Infant boys and girls who lived in a home with cats reduced their risks of developing allergies –by about 48%- by the age of 18 years. Another finding of the analysis showed that both males and females delivered by C-section had a 67 percent less likelihood of developing a dog allergy when a dog was present in the home during their first year of life. Wegienka said that this could be due to the fact that babies born by cesarean section are not exposed to the diverse microflora that babies born vaginally are. The long held idea that pets may cause allergies led Wegienka, and her colleagues, to study what effects childhood exposure to cats and dogs had on the risk of developing allergies to them. For their study, the researchers analyzed blood samples of more than 500 children taken during the Detroit Childhood Allergy Study from 1987 to 1989 that followed participants from birth. The focus of the analysis was to look for the presence of an antibody known as animal-specific IgE, which would indicate that a child was sensitized to that animal. In addition, follow-up among children in the study at age 18 included additional blood samples and pet histories. The histories indicated that 184 participants had a dog, and 110 of the children had a cat, during their first year of life. Pet allergy is an allergic reaction to proteins found in an animal's skin cells, saliva or urine. Signs of pet allergy include those common to hay fever, such as sneezing and runny nose. Some people may also experience signs of asthma, such as wheezing and difficulty breathing. Severe allergic reactions can be deadly. Pet allergy is often triggered by exposure to the dead flakes, or dander, that a pet sheds. Any animal with fur can be a source of pet allergy, but the most common pets are cats, dogs, rodents and horses. Wegienka pointed out that the study does not definitively indicate that having a family pet will prevent infants from developing allergies later in life, as it only found an association between a reduced risk for allergies and exposure to cats and dogs at an early age. Wegienka cautioned, “We don't want to say that everyone should go out and get a dog or cat to prevent allergies.” She then added, “More research is needed, though we think this is a worthwhile avenue to pursue. How does having a dog or a cat change the home environment? And, how does that affect allergy risk?" If you have an infant and a pet sharing the house, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on your little one to make sure that he or she is able to tolerate pet dander.

Your Baby

Abusive Head Trauma in Babies, Toddlers Can Last a Lifetime


This is going to be a hard story to read, but don’t let that stop you. It’s difficult because it involves very young children who suffer head trauma because they are abused.   Sometimes, it’s an accident. Sometimes it’s because a parent or guardian loses control and angrily shakes an infant or toddler until brain damage occurs.  While you may never intentionally abuse your own child, you should know how to recognize the symptoms of an infant or toddler that has been shaken. That knowledge could save a child’s life or improve the quality of treatment they receive.

Half of children who experience a severe abusive head trauma before the age of 5 will die before they turn 21, according to a new study.

In addition, among those who survive severe injuries, quality of life will be cut in half, the study found.

What causes such terrible consequences? According to, when a caregiver shakes and injures a child, it's sometimes called shaken baby syndrome. Abusive head trauma (AHT) and shaken baby syndrome usually refer to the same thing.

When a child's head is shaken back and forth, his brain bumps against the skull, causing bruising, swelling, pressure, and bleeding in and around the brain. The impact often causes bleeding in the retina – the light-sensitive portion of the eye that transmits images to the brain.

A child with AHT may also have a damaged spinal cord or neck as well as bone fractures. The extent of the damage depends on how long and hard the child is shaken or how severe the blow to the head is. But in just seconds, a child can suffer severe, permanent damage or even death.

In the United States, "at least 4,500 children a year suffer preventable abusive head trauma," said lead researcher Ted Miller, of the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, in Calverton, Md.

Among children with any abusive head trauma, including minor cases, one in three "will not survive to adulthood, and even the survivors will lose significant quality of life," Miller said.

For the study, the researchers surveyed parents, caregivers or pediatricians of 170 youngsters who survived an abusive head trauma to determine the victims' quality of life. The head traumas all occurred before the children were 5 years old. But, most -- about eight in 10 -- experienced the head trauma before they were 1 year old.

The majority  (71%) of the cases fell into the severe impact category. Moderate impact cases accounted for 13.5 percent and there were 16 percent that were listed as minor cases. 

Injuries caused by shaking a baby or toddler can be shocking. Almost one-quarter of children required a feeding tube, and 57 percent were blind or legally blind. Among the severe cases, 86 percent of the children lost their sight or needed corrective eye surgery, the report indicated.

"This article is a devastating reminder of how serious shaken baby syndrome is and how fragile these little ones are," said Linda Spears, vice president of policy and programs at Child Welfare League of America. She said children under 5 are much more likely to die due to abuse and neglect for several reasons.

"One is fragility of their little bodies, and another is that they have less ability to protect themselves," she said. "They're also less visible in the community because they rely on the people who abuse them. They're not in school yet and not seen in the community as much as older children."

Frustration is often the cause for shaking a baby. Parents can feel overwhelmed when their infant or toddler doesn’t stop crying. Potty training time is another trigger for some parents or guardians the study notes.

Parents of small children need a support system to help them through the rough times. Without one, things can get out of hand quickly.

"Shaken baby is one of the more devastating things that happen when people don't have what they need in terms of knowledge, skills, emotional maturity, concrete services and emotional support." Spears said.

She explained that "people feel incredibly inadequate in those moments, and if you have little support and little mentoring, frustration levels can get pretty high pretty quickly because parents feel upset and angry and need to feel like they can manage the situation."

The most common signs of abusive head trauma in an infant or young child are:

•       The child is not eating or is having difficulty feeding 

•       The child’s body is rigid; stiff, not flexible or feels firmly fixed.

•       The child’s eyes are glassy looking. They show no expression.

•       The child is unable to lift their head.

•       The child’s eyes are unable to focus on an object.

•       Vomiting

•       The child is lethargic.

•       The child seems constantly irritated.

In a second study, researchers tested the accuracy of a new screening method to identify which children's injuries were most likely caused by abuse.

By assessing four specific types of injuries to almost 300 children under 3 years old, the researchers determined that the method was approximately 96 percent accurate at identifying cases that were definitely caused by abusive head trauma.

Spears said providing education and support to parents, especially younger parents, is effective at preventing abusive head trauma and other forms of abuse, but it is a matter of identifying those families and getting them the support they need.

What should you do if you suspect a baby has been shaken in this way? Miller said you should report it to law enforcement or child protective services. Parents of children who may have been shaken, he said, should take their children to the emergency room, where immediate treatment may improve their long-term outcomes.

Both studies have been published in the journal Pediatrics. The newest study is in the online November issue.

Sources: Tara Haelle,

Karen Miles,

Your Child

Super-Lice Resistant to OTC Treatment


Well, this certainly isn’t good news.

The American Chemical Society recently reported a new study shows that certain lice in at least 25 states are now resistant to over-the-counter (OTC) treatments.

Study author Kyong S. Yoon, PhD, assistant professor in the Biological Sciences and Environmental Sciences Program at Southern Illinois University, has been researching lice since 2000. His research is still ongoing, but what he’s found so far in 109 samples from 30 states is startling: the vast majority of lice now carry genes that are super-resistant to the OTC treatment used against them.

Permethrin, part of the pyrethroid class of insecticides, is the active ingredient in some OTC treatments. Certain lice have developed a trio of mutations that make it resistant to the pyrethroids. What happens is you end up with a new kind of super-lice that doesn’t respond to typical treatment any longer.

“It’s a really, really serious problem right now in the U.S.,” Yoon says.

Six million to 12 million U.S. children are infested with head lice every year, "with parents spending about $350 million dollars annually on permethrin-laced over-the-counter and prescription treatments," Yoon said. Lice infestations occur in rich neighborhoods as well as poor ones.

Currently, there are 25 states, including Arizona, California, the Carolinas, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Texas and Virginia where lice have what Yoon calls "knock-down resistant mutations". This involves a triple whammy of genetic alterations that render them immune to OTC permethrin treatments.

Lice in four states, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York and Oregon, have developed partial resistance, the researchers found.

Michigan's lice have no resistance as yet. Why that is remains unclear.

Fortunately, there are prescription medications that still work in treating lice. They are more expensive than over-the-counter formulas and do not contain permethrin. These prescriptions may contain benzyl alcohol, ivermectin, malathion and spinosad; all powerful agents or insecticides. Lindane shampoo is another alternative for difficult-to-treat cases.

If your child has head lice and OTC medicines haven’t worked, you can check with your pediatrician or family doctor for a prescription treatment. 

Sources: Mandy Oaklander,

Alan Mozes,



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Keeping it fun for kids with food allergies during Halloween.

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