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RICHMOND, VA—At a press conference Tuesday, tobacco giant Philip Morris introduced its new medicinal cigarette, Marlboro Sinus PM, a smokable nighttime cough suppressant and analgesic designed to ease cold symptoms. “Marlboro Sinus PM uses the power of acrid tobacco smoke to restore and rejuvenate,” Philip Morris president William Gifford said. “Just inhale two cigarettes right before bedtime and the medicated tar goes to work by coating your mucus and packing it down deep inside your lungs. You’ll wake up feeling rested, refreshed, and ready for a smoke.” In addition to the Sinus PM cigarettes, Philip Morris will later this month introduce its new line of Non-Drowsy Daytime Formula 100s and Copenhagen Smokeless Birth Control Dipping Tobacco.
-from The Onion
He was only trying to help.
Now he’s being cast as the winner of this year’s Bah Humbug Award. Toronto Dr. Peter Lin dared to suggest that Christmas trees could be partially responsible for winter allergies, asthma and sinus infections.
I say, “Let the man speak!” Lin told the CBC that as soon as a tree is cut down, it’s dead and allergy-causing mould sets in. Studies have shown the normal mould count inside a typical household is about 500 to 700 mould spores per cubic metre of air. But after having a Christmas tree up for two weeks, the mould count jumps ten fold to about 5,000 spores, he said.
Then 20-odd haters wrote into the CBC web site, where they called him a Scrooge. Two level-headed comments, from “mikel357” and “BuckyCanuck”, brought some balance to the debate. Sinus Sister defends Dr. Lin’s brave move and refuses to join the backlash against caution.
What can we do to minimize the spores? Shake off dead needles before bringing the tree indoors.
Sinus Sister hopes to inhale
“There is something sexy about lab geeks,” thought Sinus Sister, reading her copy of the Journal of Physics D: Applied Physics….KIDDING. I was reading about the Journal in The Telegraph, which dumbed down the gobbledygook and gave me hope. According to their rock-star science reporter, Richard Gray, something called cold plasma—streams of electrically charged gas—can be inhaled and possibly cure the common cold. Don’t toy with me Richard!
Scientists discovered that a stream of matter known as cold plasma can deactivate viruses similar to those that cause the common cold. When exposed the plasma for just a couple of minutes, the viruses were no longer able to replicate, meaning they could not spread or cause disease. Break open the bubbly!
Who Deserves Our Undying Gratitude: Dr Julia Zimmermann, from the Max-Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Germany, found that when exposed to cold plasma for 240 seconds, almost all the viruses were inactivated – just one in a million viruses was able to replicate. Julia’s crew believe that, in the long term, plasma could be inhaled directly into the lungs to treat viruses and infections…How “long term”? I’m ready to buy my black-market plasma inhaler right now. Some killjoy commented that plasma could be an evil free radical attacking the lungs, just as it attacks viruses. Details, details.
Background Trivia for Artsies: Plasma is a fourth state of matter in addition to solid, liquid and gases, and is created when particles of gas or liquid become electrically charged. It is similar to the kind of material found inside plasma televisions. Usually very high temperatures are needed to sustain plasmas, but scientists have recently found they can create cold plasmas at temperatures of around 104 degrees F (40C), which can be safely touched by the human hand.
It’ll probably take years before my black-market plasma inhaler appears, if it doesn’t kill some lab rats first. Handsome Manling has a better chance of getting his 60″ plasma television first. In the meantime, I’m cheering on Team Julia.
Honestly, we won’t be offended. Cancel your business presentation. Call off your dinner party. Be a “no show” at a baby shower. It’s okay. When we hear the rattle in your lungs, we’ll be glad you stayed home. Yesterday, the Globe & Mail published an article about illness in the workplace, by Wency Leung, who is now an honorary Sinus Sister. Wency talked to the experts and coughed up this valuable piece of information:
In general, after the first 48 hours, people’s immune systems kick in but they could continue to spread illness for four to five days, says Bhagirath Singh, director of the centre for human immunology the University of Western Ontario. Regardless, they may not feel topnotch for a while. Typically, a common cold can last around seven days, while the effects of some flu viruses can last several weeks, Dr. Singh says. “Obviously you will still be feeling miserable and terrible, but you won’t be contagious.
Indie culture voice Death + Taxes never disappoints:
By Carmel Lobello Tuesday, October 11, 2011
I’ve been sick with a cold for three and a half weeks. Without going into too many details, I have a sinus infection, which comes with a sore throat that makes me feel like I’m gulping wood splinters every time I swallow, a cough which has led me to pull a rib-muscle, and the kind of headache that makes you consider breaking your pinky toe with a hammer just to transfer the pain.
It’s been a rough few weeks—ones which I’ve tempered with an impressive concoction of Rite Aid’s finest medicinal offerings.
In addition to my second 10-day antibiotic prescription, I’m currently taking a cocktail of Sudafed (not the pussy PE shit), Chloraseptic throat-numbing spray, Zicam, Emergen-C (I’m a dreamer), and my new favorite food—Halls cherry-flavored “triple soothing action” cough drops. The package promises that the drops will “soothe sore throats, relieve coughs, and cool nasal passages”—all things I need.
And they pretty much seem to work—at least while they’re in my mouth. But Halls does something else, something not so soothing, that they doesn’t advertise on the bag—they make me want to cry.
Sinus Sister wants a shot in the arm
The cavalry is coming! There’s a new hay fever vaccine! Roll up your sleeves! My hopes, if not my money, are on a U.K.-based company called Circassia Ltd. They fight the good fight, trying to help us sad-sack sneezers with cats, grass, mite and pollen allergies. There are, of course, conspiracy nuts who saw The Constant Gardener and now think Pharma is incapable of fighting the good fight, but let’s not be ridiculous.
Why We’re Excited: Circassia announced that results from the phase II trail of their ToleroMune hay fever vaccine have shown significant improvement in participants’ allergy signs and symptoms compared to the placebo-takers. And the vaccine was well tolerated! Yippee!
What Happened: The randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled phase II investigation enrolled 50 individuals in Quebec, Canada, who suffer from hay fever. (Hello! Why didn’t anyone call Sinus Sister?) During the study participants received four doses from one of five different treatment regimens over a period of 12 weeks. After 5 weeks, the researchers tested participants’ skin and eye responses to grass pollen. The results revealed that the ToleroMune vaccine reduced allergic symptoms in participants’ eyes by up to 30% more than those taking placebo. Furthermore, the treatment improved early skin reactions by up to 54% and late skin reactions by up to 19% more than those on placebo.
What’s Next: The final phase II trial of Circassia’s hay fever vaccine, consisting of 280 participants is currently underway in Kingston, Ontario. The trial will evaluate the efficacy of the ToleroMune T-cell vaccine at enhancing individuals’ nasal symptoms and eye responses when grass pollen is added to an exposure chamber. Fingers’ crossed!!!
Why it Might Actually Work: Circassia’s T-cell vaccine technology draws on well-established synthetic chemistry rather than the techniques for purifying whole allergens used by many immunotherapies, so Circassia has been able to establish the scale-up and production processes required to meet modern regulatory standards for pharmaceutical products.
Why We have a Crush on Steve Harris, CEO at Circassia: Because he said, Our clinical data show that Circassia’s T-cell vaccines have the potential to revolutionize allergy therapy! (Italics, mine)
Steve, don`t toy with me.
Sinus Sister sees the light
You have to hand it to the eggheads at Oxford. Yesterday, the OUP (Oxford University Press) published the most lucid, accessible explanation of hay fever on their blog. The article is called SciWhys: What happens when our immune system doesn’t work as it should. Thanks Jonathan Crowe, for writing in the first-person and making it fun! Here is Jonathan’s post:
“I consider myself lucky: I don’t wait for the onset of summer with trepidation, knowing that it will bring days of itchy eyes and sneezing. For others, though, the blossoming of our natural world through spring and summer is less a time for marvelling at the wonders of nature, and more a time for an annual battle with hay fever. But why do some people have to suffer such afflictions while others don’t? What’s going on?
As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, our immune system protects us from attack from potentially dangerous alien invaders in our surroundings. But sometimes even the best systems can go awry, as hay fever demonstrates so clearly.
The symptoms of hay fever – the itchy eyes and runny noses – are a consequence of the reaction of our bodies to pollen in the air. On the one hand, pollen is an alien invader (after all, it’s not a natural part of our body), so you might think it’s a valid target for attack by our immune system. However, it’s a harmless intruder, whose presence won’t actually cause any damage if left alone. So, in fact, there is no real benefit to be had from our bodies mounting an attack against it. Indeed, this is why, for many people, no attack is mounted. (It’s a bit like having both a neighbour’s cat and a poisonous snake wandering into your garden: the cat might not belong there, but at least it won’t do much harm. You’d struggle to feel the same about the snake. It’s a question of knowing which battles are worth fighting.) For others, though, the lack of danger posed by the intruding pollen isn’t recognised by their immune system, and the familiar response I’ve noted above is triggered.
Hay fever is an example of an allergy – the inappropriate response by our body to something that isn’t actually a threat. This inappropriate response takes the form of our immune system over-producing a particular type of antibody – but it is the knock-on effect of this antibody over-production that we really notice. As I mentioned in a previous post, antibodies can summon other parts of our immune system into action. When we suffer an allergic reaction, the overabundant antibodies sound a call-to-arms that triggers inflammation – localised swelling as the white blood cells of our immune system rush in to mount an attack on the perceived intruder.
Sometimes this over-sensitive response is little more than an annoyance, as in the case of hay fever (though I should note that it’s a significant annoyance for hay fever sufferers); other times, an over-sensitive response can be life-threatening, as in the case of asthma, where the network of tiny tubes that form our lungs swell up, making breathing very difficult.
It’s not just invaders from outside that can trigger an inappropriate response by our immune system, however. Sometimes, our immune system can turn inwards and start to attack components of our own body, wrongly considering them to be a threat. Such a response is called an autoimmune response. For example, rheumatoid arthritis – the painful swelling and degeneration of our joints – is caused by the white blood cells of our immune system attacking the cells in our joints, as if they were dangerous intruder cells.
Similarly, a certain type of diabetes, in which an individual’s body fails to control the level of sugar in their blood, is also associated with the misbehaviour of our immune system; in this instance, the immune system attacks a certain type of cell found in the pancreas, the part of the body that manufactures insulin. Insulin is a chemical ‘messenger’, which travels round the body, controlling how much sugar is taken up from our bloodstream. When the pancreas is damaged by attack from our immune system, its production of insulin is impeded and, with it, the vital control of our blood sugar levels.
So what causes our immune system to malfunction in these ways? While we don’t yet understand enough to have all the answers, allergies, in particular, seem to stem from the way the immune system is ‘trained’. It may seem odd to say that the immune system needs to be ‘trained’. After all, our heart doesn’t need to ‘learn’ to pump blood; our skin and nails aren’t educated in the art of growth. But our immune system does need to learn – and one way is for it to be exposed to germs and the like during childhood. Increasingly, however, this isn’t happening.
As a child, growing up in a relatively rural part of the UK, I spent much of my time outdoors, playing in the garden, or tramping over local fields, and getting exposed to plenty of old-fashioned dirt in the process. Now, however, children spend much of their time in dirt-free zones, slumped in front of the TV, or huddled round games consoles. And this clean living comes at a price: we are seeing a significant increase in the incidence of asthma in countries of the Western world, where children are growing up in increasingly germ-free surroundings. It seems possible that, by being exposed to too sterile an environment, our immune system may not be encountering a sufficient number of potential threats to learn how properly to differentiate between harmful and harmless, and risks becoming overly-sensitive to things that are, in fact, harmless. (This is a possibility set out in the so-called ‘hygiene hypothesis’ – but is something that remains a hypothesis, rather than an irrefutable fact.)
There are also lots of questions around how our immune system fails to ignore ‘self’ – that is, why our immune system wrongly turns against the cells and tissues of our own body. Early in life, our immune system is ‘trained’ to ignore self: those white blood cells (the B cells and T cells that I mentioned in my last post) that recognise self are eliminated. But, for reasons that are still being explored, this process of education clearly isn’t quite enough. Sometimes it seems that the information stored in a person’s genes makes them susceptible to autoimmune diseases; in other cases, environmental factors such as certain bacterial and viral infections seem to be a contributory factor.
Whatever the answers prove to be, it remains the case that we would live in constant peril if we had no immune system at all, as by those with severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID). These individuals have such severe defects associated with their T cells and B cells that they can only survive, without treatment, if kept in a completely germ-free environment, as so heart-wrenchingly demonstrated by the case of David Vetter, whose childhood spent living in a plastic, sterile bubble led him being known to the world as the ‘bubble boy’. The rest of us have a lot to thank our immune systems for – even if they don’t behave quite as intended 100% of the time.”
Sinus Sister’s kindred spirit
Irish Independent columnist and funny bloke Ian O’Doherty says goodbye to summer, hello to sinus misery:
Well, that’s that, then. Without fanfare, without regret, summer slinked off into the distance this week. Not that anyone noticed, of course. Following the worst winter many of us can remember, we then experienced the most abysmal summer any of us can remember. And when it wasn’t raining, the pollen count went through the window. As a kid I always saw hay fever as a sign of weakness, like asthma or supporting Liverpool. For the last three months, however, I have been walking around with a perpetual bloody cold, feeling like I’m walking underwater. As a confirmed hypochondriac I very quickly became convinced that I had succumbed to some strange and terrible new disease that was unique to me. So I was strangely deflated to learn that the reason for my symptoms — blocked nose, sinuses that seem to have developed a life of their own and a general sense of feeling rotten were, in fact, being experienced by half the bloody country.
Sinus Sister finally wants an iPhone
Launched this week, the REACTINE® Allergy Forecast for iPhone®, is the first and only iPhone app in Canada that provides three-day allergy and weather forecasts.
Brilliant–if it works. Theoretically, sneezers can plan ahead, knowing when allergy symptoms are likely to be at their best and worst. This app could be an excellent tool to schedule visits to the cinema. If you desperately want to see the new documentary Senna about Formula One race-car driver Ayrton Senna da Silva, or The Help, about the casual cruelty inflicted on black maids in the 1960s, you can plan your week around upcoming pollen outbreaks. If you need an excuse to get out of mowing the lawn, voila. If there’s a picnic on your calendar, you can pre-medicate accordingly. Tip: if you want a false positive, set the forecast to whatever city is the most likely to have a high pollen count that day (Try London Ontario).
Who do we thank for this early distant warning system? The lab geeks at Aerobiology Research Laboratories in Ottawa. Thanks! REACTINE should probably get some credit too.
Those of you with an iPhone or iPad, please tell Sinus Sister if it works!
ABC fires a warning shot about the upcoming allergy season. We hear ya. Allergist Dr. David Rosenstreich confirms Sinus Sister’s suspicion that this is the worst year on record for sneezers and wheezers. She hates being right.
if the season is anything like the spring allergy season, watch out. It turned out to be the worst allergy season in my experience…