DEAR ABBY: In a recent column, a few of your readers shared the effects of their allergies. Unfortunately, an estimated 60 million Americans suffer from some type of allergy, including hay fever, eczema, hives, contact dermatitis, and allergies to foods such as eggs, milk, nuts and seafood.
People with allergies have super-sensitive immune systems that react to seemingly harmless substances. The most common of these include plant pollen, dust mites, cockroaches, stinging insects, animal dander, mold and mildew. Multiple sensitivities are common, and many people with allergies are also sensitive to irritants -- tiny airborne particles that irritate the nose, eyes and lungs. Common irritants include strong fumes from perfume, cleaning fluids, wood smoke and cigarette smoke.
Many people are unaware of the link between allergies and asthma, which is a serious and sometimes life-threatening disease. In approximately 70 percent of the 13 million Americans with asthma, allergy is the primary trigger. The asthma death-rate in the United States is more than 5,000 per year, and growing -- especially in urban communities and among children and the elderly.
Asthma is characterized by an inflammation and/or an obstruction of the airways. Symptoms vary, and may include coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness or excessive mucus. In addition to allergies, asthma can be triggered by respiratory infections, exercise and dry, cold air.
The fact that asthma and allergies are so common causes their impact to be overlooked or trivialized. If you suspect you have asthma or allergies, see a doctor for a proper diagnosis. You can help your doctor by keeping a diary of your symptoms and the circumstances when reactions occurred. Your doctor can conduct tests that may confirm your suspicions. Asthma and allergies can be controlled by eliminating allergens at home, work and school, and by strictly adhering to a medical treatment plan that may include regular medication. -- DAWN MARVIN, ASTHMA AND ALLERGY FOUNDATION OF AMERICA
DEAR DAWN: Thank you for an important letter and for pointing out the seriousness of allergies and asthma. Readers, lest you think that Ms. Marvin is overstating her case, read on for a letter I recently received:
DEAR ABBY: About three months ago, "Barbara," a special friend of mine, went into a coma. A week later, she was declared brain-dead. She died on Nov. 13, 1995.
Many people have asked me if she died in a car accident. The truth is, she had an asthma attack. Yes, asthma! Other than having asthma, Barbara was a healthy 19-year-old woman. Not many people, including myself, realized that asthma is a serious disease.
However, some good came from Barbara's death. All of her organs were donated, so other people were given a chance at life. Consequently, Barbara will live on.
Abby, please tell me where I can get more information on this potentially deadly disease. -- HER GRIEVING FRIEND IN GERMANY
DEAR GRIEVING FRIEND: Your letter will surely be an eye-opener for many of my readers, as it was for me.
To obtain a free packet of information about allergies and asthma, contact the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, 1125 15th St. N.W., No. 502, Washington, D.C. 20005, or call the toll-free information line: 1-800-7-ASTHMA (727-8462). (Please allow three to five weeks for delivery.)