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Health Capsules: Oct. 10

Halloween ‘tricks’ can include allergic reactions

Parents of kids with food allergies should take precautions to ensure a safe and fun Halloween celebration.

The number of American kids with food or other allergies currently stands at between 4 and 6 percent, and is continuing to rise, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  The number who are severely allergic – and susceptible to life-threatening reactions called anaphylaxis – also is increasing.

Those facts make Halloween a pretty scary holiday for parents of children with allergies. Common allergens such as peanuts, tree nuts, milk and eggs are often found in Halloween treats. Ingredients in some Halloween masks and makeup may also cause allergic reactions.

But when parents do a little planning beforehand, Halloween doesn’t have to be so spooky. “There are some simple ways to keep kids safe on Halloween,” said allergist Stephen Tilles, president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology [ACAAI]. “A little preparation can ensure your little ones don’t suffer from allergic reactions or asthma attacks.” Following are a few tips from the ACAAI for protecting kids with allergies and making Halloween fun rather than frightful: 

Read every label – If your child goes trick or treating, it’s important to check all of their candy before they eat any. Be especially cautious with “fun size” candy, which may contain different ingredients than regular size packages – follow the rule that if there’s no label, it’s not safe for kids with allergies. Teach your child how to politely say no to food that may not be safe, especially homemade treats such as cookies and cupcakes. For smaller kids, consider dropping off safe treats with neighbors ahead of time.

Use the buddy system. Don’t let your food-allergic child trick-or-treat alone, and always make sure they carry their autoinjectible epinephrine with them if prescribed. Make sure all adults or friends who are accompanying your child understand his or her food allergies and what to do in an emergency. Make sure cell phones are charged.

Choose costumes wisely. Even though kids might think their costume won’t be complete without the right mask, the latex they contain or their tight fit may be a problem for kids with certain allergies and asthma. If a mask is a must, it should never interfere with breathing. Likewise, the ingredients in some Halloween makeup can be a problem for kids with eczema or other allergic skin conditions. Consider using hypoallergenic makeup – and test it in advance on a small patch of your child’s skin.

Plan treat-free activities. If trick-or-treating seems too stressful, consider starting some new holiday traditions. Hold a scavenger hunt around the neighborhood, have a Halloween-themed party and serve safe treats, or watch a scary Halloween movie.

Paint your pumpkin teal. The nonprofit group Food Allergy Research & Education [FARE] has started a nationwide campaign to make Halloween safer and happier for kids with food allergies. The group encourages families to put a teal pumpkin – the color of food allergy awareness – in front of their homes, to let other trick-or-treaters know that they have allergy-free and non-food treats to give out on Halloween. 

Be watchful during Halloween celebrations.  An anaphylactic reaction can happen very quickly, and typically affects more than one part of the body. Signs include a lump in the throat, hoarseness or throat tightness; trouble breathing, wheezing or chest tightness; or a tingling feeling in the hands, feet, lips or scalp. Other symptoms include dizziness, confusion and shock. If a child experiences any of these symptoms, use autoinjectable epinephrine and call 911 immediately.

Implantable device may help with treatment-resistant depression

For people suffering from depression, the first line of treatment almost always includes medication. However, well over half of the 14 million Americans diagnosed with clinical depression don’t experience any improvement from the first antidepressant drug they are prescribed, and adding multiple drugs still fails to help up to one-third of depression patients.

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have been studying several types of treatments for people whose depression doesn’t respond to medications. One of those treatments, a device called a vagus nerve stimulator, helps patients feel significantly better even if their depression symptoms don’t completely disappear, Wash U scientists recently reported.

Vagus nerve stimulators are small devices surgically implanted under the skin in a patient’s neck or chest, which send regular electric impulses to the brain. The Wash U study involved 600 people whose depression did not respond to four or more antidepressant drugs, taken either separately or together. The researchers followed 328 patients implanted with vagus nerve stimulators, comparing them with 271 patients who received their usual treatment. The patients’ quality of life was evaluated in 14 categories such as physical health, family relationships, ability to work and overall well-being.

“On about 10 of the 14 measures, those with vagus nerve stimulators did better,” said Dr. Charles R. Conway, a Washington University professor of psychiatry and the study’s leader. 

“When evaluating patients with treatment-resistant depression, we need to focus more on their overall well-being,” Conway said. “A lot of patients are on as many as three, four or five antidepressant medications, and they are just barely getting by. But when you add a vagus nerve stimulator, it really can make a big difference in people’s everyday lives.” The findings were published online in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

New type of treatment may reverse Type 1 diabetes 

A new type of treatment shows potential for long-term reversal of Type 1 diabetes, in both humans and pets.

New research conducted in mice may have discovered a means to successfully reverse Type 1 diabetes on a long-term basis – both in dogs and humans. The disease currently affects approximately 1.25 million children and adults in the U.S., as well as about one in every 100 dogs and cats.

The new treatment, a collagen formulation mixed with pancreatic cells, was developed by Purdue University and Indiana University School of Medicine researchers. It could potentially represent the first minimally invasive therapy to successfully reverse Type 1 diabetes within 24 hours, and maintain insulin independence for at least 90 days.

Because diabetes in dogs and humans occurs similarly, treatment has so far been similar as well: monitoring blood glucose throughout the day and administering insulin after meals. 

This also means that dogs and humans could benefit from the same new treatment – in this case, introducing new pancreatic cells to replace the clusters of cells, called islets, that aren’t releasing insulin to monitor blood glucose levels.

For many reasons, finding a way to transplant islets successfully has eluded researchers for decades, including that the current method of delivering islets through the portal vein of the liver is too invasive and the human immune system destroys most of the transplanted islets. The Purdue researchers changed how the islets were packaged – first, within a solution containing collagen, and second, as an injection through the skin instead of into the liver. They were able to successfully inject pancreatic cells mixed with the collagen solution in diabetes-induced mice, and achieved normal glucose levels in the mice for at least three months.  

The next step is a pilot clinical study in dogs with pre-existing Type 1 diabetes, which will be conducted in collaboration with Purdue’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

“We plan to account for differences from mouse to human by helping dogs first. This way, the dogs can inform us on how well the treatment might work in humans,” said Clarissa Hernandez Stephens, the study’s first author and a graduate researcher in Purdue’s Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering. The findings appear in the American Journal of Physiology – Endocrinology and Metabolism.

On the calendar

St. Louis Children’s Hospital sponsors a Staying Home Alone course on Wednesday, Oct. 17 from 6:30-8 p.m. at Progress West Hospital, 2 Progress Point Parkway in O’Fallon, in Conference Room B. This class, designed for parents and children to attend together, will help determine a child’s readiness – physically, mentally, socially and emotionally – to stay home alone and help prepare them for this experience. The fee is $25 per family. To register, call (636) 344-5437.

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BJC of St. Charles County offers free flu shots on the following dates in October: Wednesday, Oct. 17 from 5-8 p.m. at Kathryn Linneman Branch Library, 2323 Elm St. in St. Charles; and Monday, Oct. 29 from 5-8 p.m. at Middendorf-Kredell Branch Library, 2750 Hwy. K in O’Fallon. Advance registration and appointment times are required, and can be made online at bjcstcharlescounty.org/events. 

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A Babysitting 101 course offered by St. Louis Children’s Hospital is on Saturday, Oct. 20 from 1–5 p.m. at the Corporate Parkway Branch Library, 1200 Corporate Parkway in Wentzville. Topics covered include the business of babysitting, child development, safety and first aid, and fun and games. A workbook, backpack and light snack are provided. The course fee is $30 per child. Advance registration is required by calling (636) 344-KIDS (5437).

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BJC sponsors a special event on women’s health, Pretty in Pink, on Tuesday, Oct. 23 from 6:30-8 p.m. at Spencer Road Branch Library, 427 Spencer Road in St. Peters, in the Community Commons. BJC medical experts will dispel myths about breast health and heart disease, discuss signs women should not ignore and provide an overview on the latest means of detection and treatment, including 3D mammography. A heart-healthy cooking demonstration, hors d’oeuvres, refreshments, attendance prizes and more are included. Attendance is free. Registration is required by visiting bjcstcharlescounty.org/Events. 

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