By Dr. Paul Ehrlich
Any parent–or doctor for that matter—who is mystified by sudden exacerbation of a child’s allergies should take a look at the calendar. It’s not just a matter of when the ragweed is flowering. Different parts of the country have different seasons and different native vegetation. But human behavior also operates according to the calendar. A pediatric allergist can plot his work year according to the school calendar. Right after school begins, when kindergartners and first graders pull out their mats and rugs at quiet time, we see dust-induced asthma and rhinitis. Guinea pigs and white mice are a soothing and educational addition to elementary classrooms, but they are also full of allergens.
The start of heating season is always busy in our offices. This is when custodians fire up the furnaces and all that dust and mouse droppings are swept from the heating ducts into the classroom. If your child has allergies that commence at certain times of the year, by all means think about the weather and the change of the seasons, but also consider these behavior-related environmental changes.
The study of allergy and the behavior that influences it encompasses much more than just what’s in the air. Certain foods may only be part of your diet at particular times of the year. I was reminded of this recently when I saw a young patient from an Ashkenazic Jewish family in the month before Passover. I suspected that one of his allergies was to legumes, but in wishing him and his mother a good holiday, I said they probably wouldn’t need me for a few weeks. Why? Because Ashkenazis exclude legumes from their diets along with other grains for Passover, and while legumes themselves are not chametz—that is they will not rise like flour upon exposure to water—it is not unheard of in the long history of the Jewish people for legumes to be inadvertently stored with other problematic grains, so to be safe, Rabbis have adopted strict rules.
Are there non-Jewish versions of this phenomenon? Undoubtedly. If your child is allergic to pumpkin or chestnuts, you have to be careful on Thanksgiving and Christmas, and the rest of the year you can probably rest easy. Pay attention to the environment, natural and man made. Allergies are often seasonal, but seasons are not just about the weather.
By Dr. Paul Ehrlich