Posts Tagged ‘hay fever’

Halloween Sinus Scare: Public Transit, The New Yorker & Tissues From Hell

Understated. That’s how I like Halloween. Save the ketchup-soaked costumes and theatrical ax murders. The sound of a creaking staircase does not, as a rule, make me scared at parties. But if you think I’m a stick-in-the-mud beyond fear, you’re dead wrong.

Sinus Sister got the scare of her life on Halloween: minding her own business, she stepped into a subway car and resumed reading The New Yorker, where Canadian Craig MacInnis is a finalist in the cartoon caption contest! (Vote here!) After laughing at Craig’s witty entry, I moved on to read Rebecca Mead’s profile of fashion icon/heiress Daphne Guinness. While it was an engrossing article, I slowly became aware of a building chorus of sneezing and sniffing. Looking up from the magazine, it was like a scene from a Hitchcock movie. Instead of birds flying at me, it was germs, from every direction…There was a sneezing art student with bedhead…a party girl coughing without covering her mouth…Another passenger was picking his nose, staring at me with unblinking eyes. I was trapped. My subway station was three stops away.

Nobody heard my silent scream as I reached into my purse and pulled out a tissue—as if it could save me from the onslaught of germs flooding the subway car. At least the 4-ply Sniff tissue ($1.60) accurately reflected the situation: black with a skull and crossbones. Would it be rude to wave the tissue like a pirates flag, and declare the subway a sneeze-free territory? Probably. Did I fantasize about burying an ax in the party girl’s chest, then suffocating the art student? Yes. The nose picker would get more of a Dexter Morgan treatment, later. Sinus Sister fled at her subway stop, cursing the sneezers on her way out, and disappeared into a safe sea of Harry Potters, Lady Gagas and Jack Sparrows.

Steam Cleaned: How to Pick a Humidifier

Sinus Sister consults The Boogor Doctor

His real name is Dr. Russell Faust, but most people know him by his online name, The Boogor Doctor. He works at Lakeshore ENT, in Michigan, but he helps patients everywhere via his cool blog. Sinus Sister is not a doctor—with the science scores to prove it—so she laps up the good doctor’s advice on how to hunt for a humidifier. Boiling a kettle, it seems, is not enough. Here’s what you should know:



The Three Types of Humidifiers:

1- Evaporative

This type of humidifier uses a cloth or mesh belt that acts like a wick: it dips down into a vat of water, then rotates up so that a fan can blow across it and evaporate the water off the belt into the air. Effective way to humidify the air, but these have some downsides.

2- Ultrasonic

This is the so-called “cool mist” humidifiers. These use a small ultrasound transducer to vibrate a stream of water so that the water vaporizes. Effective, inexpensive. These have their own special disadvantages as well.

3- Steam Vaporizer

These are little more than a pot of water with a heating element that boils the water to produce steam. Very effective, but of course, they have their own issues, too.

Most of us are also familiar with the humidifier on our central heating system, if we have forced-air heat. The only thing to keep in mind with those is that the system should be cleaned. How often? I have no idea. The thing to do is to read the instructions for proper maintenance. I have asked several people if they have ever cleaned theirs, and the standard response has been “what?”.

There is another type of humidifier that I have no experience with – the “impeller” humidifier. These produce a cool mist using a rotating disk. I suspect they may have issues similar to the Ultrasonic type of humidifier (see below), but I have no personal experience with them.

So, after years of using these other 3 types of humidifiers in my home, including experience with multiple belt-evaporative humidifiers growing up in my parent’s home, here is my own assessment. My apologies to humidifier manufacturers. No doubt some will take offense at my admittedly simple and anecdotal comparison of these types of humidifiers, but this is based on decades of personal experience, and experience with each of these types of humidifier.

(1) Evaporative (2) Ultrasonic (3) Steam Vaporizer
Efficiency Efficient Efficient Less efficient
Construction, Ease of Use Complex Simple Simple
Cost / purchase $$$$ $$ $
Cost / to run $$ $ $$
Cleaning Challenge to Clean Easy to Clean Easy to Clean
Microbe risk: mold, etc ++++ ++
Boogordoctor endorsement + + +++
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Best Tissue Box for Downton Abbey: Keep Calm and Carry On

Brilliant tissue box. Keep Calm and Carry On. Who said that? Churchill? Indirectly. After some investigation (i.e. in-depth and rigorous Google search), Sinus Sister learned that it was a slogan in a poster created by the British Ministry of Information in 1939, at the beginning of the Second World War. Indeed. It conjures images of stiff-upper-lip Brits brewing tea as the bombs fell.

When suffering from hay fever or a bad cold , this is the perfect slogan to get you threw the worst.  It’s also good to have this box of tissues handy while you’re watching the latest episode of Downton Abbey, the ever-so-prim Masterpiece Classic/PBS parlour drama set during World War One. It’s really about class divide and who’s tempted to cross it. Love is usually involved, of course, and money.

Why we love Downton Abbey:  all the corsets and tea cups

What we notice: everyone’s great posture and dic-tion

What we really notice: the evil class system

What we covet: the dresses

What we crave: the Upstairs/Downstairs skulduggery

Who’s hot: the Irish chauffeur (these days, the hot Irish guy’s usually a vampire or an I.T geek)

Buy your Keep Calm tissue box here, at Marye-Kelley. $36 (USD)




Is There a New Hay Fever Vaccine on the Horizon?

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.

The Shiatsu Solution? How two thumbs might help your hay fever and allergies

Guest blogger and ex-sneezer Ross Oakes

Ross, a retired school teacher and blogger, credits Shiatsu for nearly eradicating his hay fever. Sinus Sister opens her mind and listens:

 “For over 25 years I struggled with Hay Fever every Autumn. None of the medications or shots ever really worked. As a dynamic high school teacher and later as a Chaplain I was always sick for 4 to 6 weeks just when I returned to work after a 2-month summer vacation. My energy levels were very low, my body was a mess, I couldn’t sleep well at night…my ribs were sore from sneezing and on bad days I felt that my whole body was under attack. However, when I discovered Shiatsu and especially Namikoshi Shiatsu, my situation changed dramatically. With regular Shiatsu treatments over a period of 5 years and an amazing nasal rinse with lukewarm water and dissolved sea salt, I finally defeated hay fever for good. Every year when this allergy season begins I get hit with all the symptoms for 48 hours. Then my immune system kicks in strongly and I am free of serious symptoms completely. The odd sneeze and once in a while a runny nose at times is nothing to me when I remember how sick I was every single day, morning, afternoon and evening with no possible escape and nowhere to hide. Shiatsu treatments saved me from a terrible seasonal nightmare!

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How the Eggheads at Oxford Explain Hay Fever and Allergies to People Who Suck at Science

September 27, 2011  |  News  |  , ,  |  2 Comments

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.”


SinuSoothe Review

August 26, 2011  |  Drug Reviews  |  ,  |  2 Comments

Sinus Sister snorts the good stuff

It has been suggested that a certain sneezer you know is addicted to her nasal spray. Furthermore, it is alleged that said sneezer gets really grumpy when the backlash hits. Okay, okay. Begrudgingly, I decide to call off the chemicals and try a few alternative products.

Enter SinuSoothe. According to the web site, it’s “ZINC FREE, 100% natural and contains no chemicals, additives or preservatives”. Oh brother. Isn’t “100% natural” code for 100% lame?  But I’ll try to keep an open mind, for the sake of my mucous membranes. The active ingredients have anti-allergenic, anti-bacterial, anti-biotic, anti-fungal, anti-histamine, anti-inflammatory, ant-septic, anti-viral, decongestant, expectorant and pain relieving properties. Now we’re talking!

But what are the active ingredients? Let’s see….opening the box, I was delighted to find a small, one-sided piece of paper accompanying the spray bottle. Where’s the fine-print document written by liability lawyers? SinuSoothe clearly has nothing to hide. The active ingredients are stated plainly: essential oils of cinnamon, cumin, frankincense, ginger, manuka, tea tree and tumeric diluted in an isotonic saline solution. This sounds like something that goes in your mouth, not up your nose.

After giving the bottle a shake, I inserted the tip into my nostril and snorted while spraying. A tingling sensation was instantaneous, but not unpleasant. No stinging. No burning. Just….breathing.

Bhringaraj Powder (Part 1)

July 27, 2011  |  Drug Reviews  |  , , ,  |  1 Comment

“Is he a stoner or a sneezer?” wonders Sinus Sister.





Like vampires, sinus sufferers know each other by instinct. It’s something about our bloodshot eyes and dozy manner. Chaz was both bloodshot and dozy, in sharp contrast to everyone else working in the organic store. Was that a hankie I saw in his back pocket? He was so intent–in his slacker way–taking inventory that he didn’t register me until I said his name.

“Um, Charles?”

He brushed aside his dreadlocks, so I could get a better read on his name tag.

“Chaz. It’s Chaz.” His loopy grin was unexpected. Maybe he’s just a stoner, not a sneezer. He had that far-away look that retail staff get around 3:30pm, but it could be any combination of pot, antihistamines and boredom.

“Can you recommend something for hay fever and seasonal allergies?”

“Absolutely,” he said, using my least favourite word–the word most favoured by celebrities in interviews. Sinus Sister would absolutely not be developing a retail crush on Chaz. “Try some bhringaraj powder. It’s awesome. A client said it totally cured his allergies!”

The price of bhringaraj powder was, indeed, totally awesome. At $8 for 200 grams, it’s worth a try. Chaz handed me a squishy plastic package of bhringaraj powder by Organic Traditions and lead me to the cash register.

“Drink plenty of liquids to thin the mucus,” he added, knowingly. “Give it a few days and let me know how it goes with the bhringaraj powder, ‘k?”

Okay. Then I threw in a parting question designed to test Chaz and possibly redeem his vocabulary. “What is Bhring-ar-aj, anyway?”

“Eclipta alba L.” He looked me dead in the eye to prove he wasn’t reading the package. I’d underestimated Chaz. “It’s from the False Daisy plant, from somewhere in India…I think.” Touché. The “I think” at the end of his sentence was an endearing touch of modesty. It was punctuated by a robust sneeze–his, not mine–that made us kindred spirits. We shared a dozy smile, as I headed for the door.

At home, I tore open the bhringaraj’s plastic bag, which was more like a thick bladder, and inhaled. [Sneeze] What a bad start! Then the powder didn’t dissolved in an 8oz glass of water. Its consistency was like fine sawdust, which clung to the sides of the glass and sank to the bottom. Rigorous stirring worked, in short intervals. The flavour of the bhringaraj powder was mild enough to encourage a second big gulp. Hmmm. If you think of it as medicine, it’s not so bad. I’ll let you know if Chaz and his recommendation pans out.