Thursday, May 11, 2006

Apple #168: Allergies

Before I get into allergies, I have a small Betta fish update.

I was feeding my Betta the pellets that came with the bowl kit that I bought. But he was spitting out the pellet once or twice before he'd swallow it. I looked this up online and though many sites say different things, the upshot I think is that he was spitting out his food because he didn't really like it. Lots of websites say that pellets may be the cheapest and easiest thing to feed your Betta, but it's probably one of the foods they like the least.

Lots of Betta sites recommend feeding your fish live bloodworms or freeze-dried bloodworms. Despite the name, they are not actually worms, but the larvae of midge flies. I read that feeding live bloodworms can make it more likely that your fish gets parasites and diseases and crap like that, so I decided to give the freeze-dried variety a try.

Freeze-dried bloodworms

The kind I got come in a little plastic box with a flip top, sort of like a Tic Tac box. I opened the box, gave it a little tap and about five or six of the dead, winged bugs dropped out into the water. And lo and behold, FishFish snuck up underneath one of them, then snapped it up like it was prey! He did this with each of the bugs and found them all in no time.

So I've kept feeding him the bloodworms, and it's pretty obvious he likes them better. He gets much more excited when they're in the water, and the rest of the day, he is way more active. When I was feeding him just pellets, he'd spend a lot of time at the bottom of his bowl, hanging out in his favorite hiding place. Now, every time I walk past his bowl, he's swimming around with his little fins going, and though he's always made bubbles every day, he makes even more bubbles each day. I plan to give him a few pellets now and then, just to keep some variety, but I'm sold on the bloodworms.


Now, on to the real posting. The reason I started out with the Betta fish thing is that lately, my skin has been itching like crazy. I read that some people are allergic to bloodworms, so I thought maybe that's what's been going on with me. But most people say their allergic reaction is respiratory in nature, rather than itchiness. Plus, I make sure to wash my hands right after handling the food, and I just don't think that's the cause.

So I was looking up allergy information in general and here are some of the things I learned:

  • Allergic reactions are what happens when your body encounters a type of protein that it doesn't like. I had thought that you could be allergic, potentially, to just about any substance. But it's really types of proteins that trigger the reaction.
  • When your body encounters the Enemy Protein, it makes an antibody to help fight off the Enemy Protein. The antibody is called Immunoglobulin E, or IgE, for short. Your body makes millions of these, and fast. The IgE runs around in your blood stream and attaches itself to certain types of blood cells and also certain types of tissue cells. When the IgE shows up on these cells, the cells are essentially told to start producing histamine. And histamine is what makes your eyes water and your nose get runny and your skin turn itchy, and it can give you rashes and hives and make you start to sneeze and all hell breaks loose to try to get the Enemy Protein far, far away.

This French guy is beseiged by an allergic reaction
(Image from L'Ambroisie)

  • In very serious reactions, your lips or tongue may swell, the lining of your throat can swell to make it difficult to swallow, or even breathe. You may get dizzy and pass out. If you're not revived, usually with a shot of epinephrine, that could be all she wrote. This type of reaction is called anaphylaxis. You've heard about this probably most often in reference to bee stings or peanut allergies. If you've seen My Girl, you've seen an example of anaphylaxis.

My Girl still from HBO Sinapore

  • When it comes to reactions to certain types of foods, there is an important distinction to make between an allergic reaction and intolerance. In most cases, intolerances do not involve your immune system, the reactions are short-lived and while unpleasant, will not be life-threatening. Lactose intolerance, for example, might make you bloated and give you gas, but it's not going to close up your throat and kill you.
  • Some people can't tolerate sulfites in their foods. Sulfites are a kind of preservative that occur naturally in wine and it's also used in lots of canned or bottled foods. In this case, the reaction can be severe because sulfites produce sulfur dioxide gas, which can cause all sorts of problems in a person's lungs, including triggering an asthma attack or anaphylaxis.
  • The most common food allergies are
    • Peanuts
    • Tree nuts, including almonds, pecans, and walnuts
    • Dairy
    • Soy
    • Wheat
    • Eggs
    • Fish and shellfish

For some people, this sight instills great fear and the desire to flee
(Photo from Virginia Market News Service)

  • You may have noticed that lots of food labels these days have printed the above-listed ingredients in bold type, or they are listed again at the end of the ingredients in bold print. For example, I've seen this on bread labels and on peanut M&Ms. This is because these food allergies are so common, and people can really have severe reactions to these ingredients.
  • Here are some other common sources of allergic reactions (notice that all will include some type of protein):
    • Insect bites
    • Airborne particles including mold spores, animal dander, or pollen
      • Dust fits under this category, but it's actually not dust that people are allergic to. It's actually the fecal matter produced by dust mites. Yup.
    • Antibiotics or other types of medications
    • Manufactured chemicals, including cosmetics, dyes, laundry detergents, pesticides, or household cleaners
You'll be happy to hear that the advice that doctors give most often about allergies is that the best thing to do is avoid the thing that triggers the reaction. Well, duh.

Betta, Food, Frequent Aquarium Questions
Brine Shrimp Direct, Specialty Diet for Aquarium Fish
Greater Cincinnati Killfish Association, Bloodworms . . . a cautionary note
International Food Information Council, Food Insight, Food Allergy Myths and Realities, November/December 1997, Allergies, Sulfite Sensitivity
Nemours Foundation, Teens Health, Allergies
Net Wellness Consumer Health Information, House Dust Allergy

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