TIME allergies

The Hair Dye Allergy You Should Know About

hair dye
Marc Vuillermoz—Getty Images/Onoky

Not a natural blonde or brunette? You might want to be more cautious about coloring your hair. Turns out some people can be extremely allergic to hair dye, as NCIS star Pauley Perrette found out last week when she landed in the hospital with a severe reaction to the stuff.

“Was in ER. Just got home from hospital. Awful. My head swelled up huge like a melon,” Perrette tweeted after posting a photo of her swollen face. Now the star is urging others to read up on hair dye allergies themselves.

“The most important thing to me is that anyone out there that dyes their hair, particularly black, you need to be aware of the symptoms,” she told a local CBS station in Los Angeles.

The actress, who’s a natural blonde, had been dyeing her locks jet black for more than 20 years without incident. Then about six months ago, she developed a rash on her neck and scalp which got worse with every coloring.

Health.com: 16 Hair Myths You Need to Stop Believing

An allergy to hair dye is quite rare, affecting about one in 250,000 people, says Debra Jaliman, MD, a New York City-based dermatologist and author of Skin Rules. Still, it can prove to be just as serious as a nut or shellfish allergy, especially if you’re someone who’s prone to allergic reactions. And while some people may see symptoms the first or second time they use hair dye, it may not happen as fast as you think.

“To be allergic to something, usually your immune system has to come in contact with it and decide it doesn’t like it,” Dr. Jaliman says. “Depending on how sensitive your system is, the allergy may develop more slowly than others.”

That means if you start to see signs of redness, swelling, itching, or burning after several uses of hair dye, don’t write it off. This is your body’s way of telling you an allergy is building up, and continuing to use the dye could actually be fatal. “If you develop a severe allergy, you could get blisters and hives and, though rare, difficulty breathing similar to an anaphylactic reaction,” Dr. Jaliman says. See an allergist or a dermatologist for advice on how to treat your allergy, whether that’s with topical creams or pills like antihistamines.

Health.com:11 Secret Allergy Triggers

If you’re allergic to hair dye, you can blame a chemical called paraphenylenediamine or PPD for your symptoms, Dr. Jaliman says. It’s in most commercial dyes you’d find at both drugstores or hair salons and it helps protect color from fading. Though Perrette called out black dye as being worse than others, you could get a reaction no matter the shade you’re using—or the original color of your hair, Dr. Jaliman says.

If you’re going to dye your hair for the first time, there’s an easy way to tell if you may be allergic. Before coloring your hair, do a skin patch test, typically recommended on most boxed hair color. Basically, you put a bit of dye on your skin and wait 48 hours to see if a reaction develops. If you pass the first time, it’s likely you’re in the clear whether you color at home or the salon, Dr. Jaliman says, and you shouldn’t need to do the test again.

If you do develop an allergy, there are other ways to color your locks safely. Dyes like henna or the line from EcoColors are great natural and non-toxic solutions, she says. Even highlights could be better for you as most use bleach and don’t add color, Dr. Jaliman says. Ask your colorist what formula would be used on your hair.

Health.com: 20 Ways to Stop Allergies

One thing’s for sure: even a mild reaction to hair dye could turn serious. “I wouldn’t be looking into putting chemicals in your hair if you have a history of allergies,” Dr. Jaliman says. “It would probably be best to switch to a chemical-free dye because you don’t want it to escalate into a life-threatening situation.” As for Perrette, she says she’s going to look into natural dyes or wigs.

The Hair Dye Allergy You Need to Know About originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Processed Food Hurts Your Immune System—And Your Kids’ Too

Poor dietary habits get passed down in DNA

Society’s over-indulgence on foods full of sugar, salt and fat may be ruining our immune systems, a new study says.

A study published in Nutrition Journal looked at the impact the Western diet and lifestyle has on people’s immune function. It found that the large number of calories in processed and fast food may lead to health problems such as increased inflammation, reduced control of infection, increased rates of cancer, and increased risk for allergic and auto-inflammatory disease.

And we’re not only harming ourselves. The study authors point to research that poor dietary choices get “encoded” into both DNA scaffolding and into the gut microbiome, meaning that food and lifestyle choices can permanently change the balance of bacteria in our bodies and can weaken the immune system. It also means those changes can be passed onto offspring.

The study’s author, Dr. Ian Myles, says he was surprised by how heavily gut bacteria determined a child’s health. “Our bodies are a kind of mini-ecosystem, and anything that disturbs our bacteria can alter our health in profound ways,” he adds.

Myles, a doctor at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the only way for people to avoid these immune effects is to improve their diets.

“Things that most people know—but do not feel confident in their ability to accomplish right now: eliminate processed sugars, eliminating homogenized fats,” he said. “I always tell people there’s a big difference between fat in a piece of fish or meat, and eating fat as a part of processed foods.”

TIME Research

Parents Are More Worried About Milk and Egg Than Peanut Allergies

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Photo by Maren Vestøl—Getty Images/Flickr Select

In surprising findings

Peanut allergies are terrifying for parents, but recent research shows they’re actually even more concerned about milk and egg allergies.

Researchers from the University of Michigan studied 305 caregivers of kids with milk, egg, peanut or tree nuts allergies, and analyzed their understanding of their child’s allergy as well as their quality of life. Parents of kids with milk and egg allergies have increased anxiety and strain over their child’s allergies compared to parents of kids allergic to peanuts, the researchers found.

“It’s assumed peanut and tree allergies are the most severe, and therefore it may be presumed they would cause the most strain for caregivers” allergist and study author Dr. Laura Howe said in a statement. “But because eggs and milk are everywhere, and used to prepare so many dishes, caregivers with children allergic to those two ingredients feel more worried and anxious.”

Peanut allergies affect about 400,000 school-aged children in the United States, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. By comparison, milk allergies affect about 300,000 U.S. kids under age three, and egg allergies effect about about 600,000. But about 70% of people with egg allergies will outgrow it by age 16.

The researchers concluded that milk and eggs are ubiquitous in the American diet. Another study showed 72% of 614 allergic infants had another reaction to their milk or egg allergies within three years—showing that avoidance is difficult.

The study was published in the journal Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

TIME Germs

Why You Should Let Kids Eat Dirt

Gardening Hands - let your kid eat dirt
Getty Images

Kids who are exposed to more germs before age one are less likely to have allergies and asthma a new study shows

Infants who are exposed to unsavory things like rodent and pet dander, roach allergens and household bacteria during their first year are actually less likely to suffer from allergies and asthma, Johns Hopkins researchers say.

A new study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology shows that being exposed to allergens before a child turns one can benefit allergies. To reach these findings, the researchers studied 467 inner-city infants in Boston, New York and St. Louis. They tracked their health over three years, and visited their homes to calculate the levels of a variety of allergens. They also conducted allergy tests on the children and collected bacteria from dust gathered in their homes.

The kids who lived in homes with mouse and cat dander as well as cockroach droppings during their first year had lower rates of wheezing by age 3. The kids with a greater amount of bacteria in their homes were also less likely to wheeze and were less likely to have environmental allergies.

Kids who were completely free of allergies were also most likely to grow up in homes with the highest amount of allergens and bacteria in them. In contrast only 8% of kids with both allergies and asthma were exposed to the substances by the time they were 1.

It’s possible you’ve heard of the “hygiene hypothesis,” which is the speculation that the reason Americans have so many allergies is because we are, quite simply, too clean. Kids are kept in such sterile environments that they never build immunities to common allergens.

A significant amount of research has shown that kids who grow up living on farms with livestock, or with a pet are less likely to develop asthma or allergies. Prior research has also suggested that it’s not necessarily dust that provides a protective benefit, but the microbes that are in our guts that influence our immune system and ability to fight off infections.

The new findings support a growing body of evidence that a little exposure to germs here and there never hurt anyone, and in fact, could actually be protective.

TIME allergies

Louisville, Ky. Named The Worst U.S. City For Allergy Sufferers

A new study by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, which ranks the 100 most challenging places to live with spring allergies, finds the 10 worst cities for the pollen-averse are in the South. The best? Mainly the West

If you’re among those for whom the onset of spring means sneezing and stuffy noses, consider avoiding Louisville, Ky. this season, the worst city in the U.S. for people with allergies.

The American south in general tends to be hard on allergy sufferers. In the rankings released Monday by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, Louisville is followed by Memphis, Tenn., Baton Rouge, La., Oklahoma City and Jackson, Miss. Each of the top 10 worst cities for allergy sufferers is in the region.

The American west tends to fare better than other regions in the list, which ranks the 100 most challenging places to live with Spring allergies. This allergy season is forecast to be worse than usual due to the frigid winter across much of the U.S.

The rankings combine data on a city’s average pollen score, the amount of medicine used per patient and the number of allergists per patient, so just because a city ranks higher in the list doesn’t mean it scores higher on any one of the three data points. Louisville, for instance, doesn’t necessarily have the highest pollen score of all cities in the U.S., but its composite score comes out on top.

You can see the full list of 100 cities ranked here.

TIME allergies

Study Shows Once and for All That Raw Milk Doesn’t Help Lactose Intolerance

Unpasteurized "raw" milk has become popular with some drinkers who say it's better for the lactose-intolerant among us despite FDA warnings against it, but a new study says raw milk causes the same symptoms seen in folks who can't drink the regular stuff

Only a small population of people drink unpasteurized milk, also known as “raw” milk, but its increasing popularity has some medical groups concerned. Some raw milk advocates argue that it’s healthier for us since raw milk contains no antibiotics or hormones, while others say it’s better for people with lactose allergies. For its part, the FDA advises against drinking raw milk, which can contain bacteria from fecal matter and sometimes be fatal, and has long stated that it doesn’t help with lactose intolerance.

But a new study published in the Annals of Family Medicine is definitively poking holes in the allergy theory, by reporting that lactose-intolerant people have the same symptoms from raw and pasteurized milk.

Advocates for raw milk claim that it contains good bacteria that can help with lactose absorption. “When I heard that claim it didn’t make sense to me because, regardless of the bacteria, raw milk and pasteurized milk have the same amount of lactose in them,” said study author Christopher Gardner, a professor of medicine at the Stanford Prevention Research Center in a statement. “But I liked the idea of taking this on since it seemed like a relatively straightforward and answerable question because the symptoms of lactose-intolerance are immediate.”

The study was small, with only 16 lactose-intolerant participants. All 16 tried three different types of milk–raw, pasteurized, and soy–over multiple eight-day periods.

For eight days, the participants were randomly assigned to one of the three milks, and they drank an increasing amount of that milk as the study period went on. They then reported their allergy symptoms, which were usually gas, diarrhea, and cramping, and rated them on a scale of 0 to 10. Their breaths were also measured for hydrogen, which can indicate undigested lactose in the colon and intolerance.

After the first eight days of drinking one type of milk, the participants took a week off where they drank no milk, and then started up again with another eight days of a different type of milk. To mask which type of milk participants were drinking, researchers randomized the order and added sugar-free vanilla syrup. Soy, which doesn’t contain lactose, acted as the control.

Researchers found no differences in the hydrogen breath tests between consuming pasteurized or unpasteurized milk. Participants also rated their symptom severity the same, regardless of the type of milk they drank.

Although the study is small, it brings into question the benefits of raw milk for people with lactose intolerance. “It’s not that there was a trend toward a benefit from raw milk and our study wasn’t big enough to capture it; it’s that there was no hint of any benefit,” said Gardner in a statement.

TIME allergies

You Can’t Hide From Allergies

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jonya—Getty Images

Prevalence in U.S. doesn't vary across regions

Researchers have scoured the entire U.S. and found that there’s nowhere to run when it comes to allergies.

In the new study published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 8,124 people, including 856 kids, underwent blood tests. The researchers scanned the participants’ blood for immunoglobulin E antibodies (IgEs), which can indicate an allergy to a specific substance. They then tested them for antibodies to a variety of different common allergens, like pets, peanuts, grass, ragweed, and shrimp.

The findings show that the prevalence of allergies do not vary across regions, but that 45% of people over age 6 and 36% of kids between ages 1 to 5, were allergic to at least one of the various allergens. There were also interesting variations in allergies according to demographics: certain allergies, like shrimp sensitivity, were linked to lower income groups, and non-Hispanic blacks had the greatest allergies to all allergens except for egg and Russian thistle. Outdoor allergies appeared to impact more people who lived in urban areas.

“The biggest surprise is that the level of sensitivities didn’t differ region to region,” lead author Dr. Darryl C. Zeldin, a scientific director at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, told The New York Times. “This goes completely against what most people would have said.”

The findings provide insights for physicians into different characteristics of allergies and how they may cluster based on demographics.

MONEY

5 Ways to Cut the Cost of Allergy Relief

Your health insurance is unlikely to cover an acupuncture session for treating allergies. Illustration: Gillian Blease

What you need to know about treating this common malady.

Looking for allergy relief? Prescriptions, rather than OTC remedies, are often more effective and cheaper in the long run.

1. Avoiding treatment can be costly

Nearly a third of adults have allergies. Suffer through the symptoms, and you could pay the price at work. During allergy attacks, one study found, employees lost more than two hours of productivity a day.

If you regularly take over-the-counter pills, get tested to pinpoint your allergens and fine-tune treatment.

The common skin-prick test is faster than a blood test and may save you a second office trip, says North Aurora, Ill., allergist Sakina Bajowala.

2. A prescription pays in more than one way

What your doctor prescribes may be more effective. For example, a steroidal nasal spray like Flonase beats an OTC spray, which shouldn’t be used for more than a few days because it’s habit forming, says Richard Madden, a physician in Belen, N.M.

Even when an OTC drug like Claritin or Zyrtec works fine for you, ask for a prescription anyway. That way you can pay for the pills with the pretax dollars in your flexible spending account.

3. Shots pay off over time

Your doctor may suggest immunotherapy — shots one or two times a week for up to eight months, tapering down to monthly over three to five years. A recent study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology found that immunotherapy patients saw 38% lower treatment costs owing to fewer overall doctor visits and drugs.

“You put in your work and expense upfront and get all the benefit down the road,” says Bajowala.

4. An alternative treatment is on you

Acupuncture, biofeedback, hypnosis, and even eating local honey are touted as treatments, but there’s little clinical data to prove widespread effectiveness over the long term. While your insurance may pay for a $100 acupuncture session for back pain, allergies are less likely to be covered.

One homebrew that gets a thumbs-up from doctors: nasal irrigation. No need to spring for a $100 contraption — a $20 drugstore variety with distilled water is fine for most.

5. For gear, there’s no need to splurge

The best air purifier is your air conditioner, says Gaithersburg, Md., allergist Jacqueline Eghrari-Sabet. Just add a HEPA filter to trap pollen, dust, and mold spores. With no AC, a basic $50 HEPA air purifier works fine, especially in small rooms.

When you’re allergic to heavier allergens that settle quickly — like dust mites and cat hair — air purifiers may not help much, though. Get a HEPA filter for your vacuum and clean often.

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