Allergist Dr. Karl von Tiehl, aka the bowtie allergist, polled his San Marino Rotarians on what they wanted him to speak about during his recent “Pesky Allergies” presentation.
He was asked to address the topics of ‘food allergies’ and ‘the Zika virus’ at the Oct. 20 Rotary Club of San Marino luncheon.
“So I was asked to talk about pesky allergies and I didn’t know what that meant,” von Tiehl said. “So I asked around and nobody could tell me. So I just asked what people want to hear about.”
Von Tiehl owns Bowtie Allergy Specialists along Huntington Drive in San Marino. He’s also on staff with Huntington and Methodist Hospitals.
Von Tiehl said if one were to “cold call” the community and ask if anyone had allergies, approximately a quarter of all people would say that they do.
“The vast majority of that is not anything to do with allergies,” he said, explaining that some people claim they are allergic to something just because they don’t like it.
Von Tiel said, “Actually about 2 percent of adults and 8 percent of kids have food allergies, and the rates keep going up and up and up. Why is that? We’re not entirely certain. Although I’ll try to do my best to convince you what the allergy community believes.”
He said people become allergic from a combination of genes and environment.
“It’s not as though you’re just born with allergies,” von Tiehl said. “You’re born with the genes. The reason that you’re born with the genes is that it’s the same genes that give you an evolutionary advantage to fighting off parasites. The problem is you’re not exposed to parasites. We aren’t exposed to parasites here in Southern California. Those genes, it’s like ‘Idle hands are the devil’s workshop,’ they want to do something. So they start allergies because what else have they got to do?”
He said genes haven’t changed very much in the last 40,000 years that humans have been around.
“What has changed is the environment,” von Tiehl said.
After noting that the first food allergy was reported in 1904 – an allergic reaction to milk – he spoke about how much the environment has changed throughout the years. Von Tiehl said farm animals aren’t commonplace in communities any longer, horses aren’t used for transportation anymore, people now wear shoes everyday, water is chlorinated and many people overuse hand sanitizer. He continued to say that there have been dramatic changes in the food system since the 1950s.
“What’s happened is that food allergy rates have gone up exponentially since 1904,” von Tiehl said.
He added that food allergy rates have gone up 18 percent in the past 10 years alone.
Von Tiehl said the Hygiene Hypothesis was first proposed in 1989.
“It’s the idea that especially in early life, we all need to be exposed to the right amount and the right kind of different bacteria in order for your immune system to develop normally,” he said. “You can see this recapitulate throughout the world where allergy rates go up like crazy the more Western medicine gets involved.”
Von Tiehl said eliminating certain bacteria exposure could cause allergies.
“The take-home point of this is that kids need to go outdoors and they need to get dirty,” he said. “They can come home and turn on the shower or something, but it’s very important to get that bacterial exposure.”
The bowtie allergist said the clean Western lifestyle in turn tends to make people allergic to items, such as food.
He said there are about 150 cases per year in the United States when people die of food allergies.
Von Tiehl listed the top six foods that people are allergic to as: milk, eggs, wheat, soy, peanuts and crustaceans. He said sesame allergies are on the rise with the Asian population in the U.S.
Von Tiehl said it’s important that parents share the information that their child has a food allergy and suggested medic alert jewelry in case of an emergency.
With the upcoming holiday, he also mentioned the Teal Pumpkins movement during Halloween.
“What you can do is put a teal-colored pumpkin outside your home,” von Tiehl said. “That identifies you as a home that is willing to give non-food items. This is very important for the kids with food allergies.”
He also suggested visiting Target and getting an allergy-specific treat list that identifies items that are safe to give to children on Halloween.
The Zika Virus
“It’s coming,” von Tiehl said about the Zika Virus. “That’s what you need to know.”
He said it causes a flu-like illness for the vast majority of people who get it.
“It’s the high spike in fever, the muscle aches and the joint aches,” von Tiehl said, adding that pregnant women who get the virus will have a child with birth defects.
He continued saying that the Zika virus is spread by mosquitos, particularly Aedes aegypti mosquitoes.
“The mosquito lives mostly on the Gulf Coast—maybe as far north as the low country in the Southeast,” von Tiehl said. “But we have an Aedes genus mosquito that lives in LA. Theoretically it can carry the Zika virus.”
He said the Zika virus will be in Los Angeles once it travels further into the United States.
Von Tiehl said in addition to pregnant women, the very young and very old are at risk of getting the Zika virus.
He advised the audience to avoid travel to areas with mosquitos known to have the Zika virus as well as sexual contact with anyone who has traveled to the area for as long as six months. Von Tiehl also suggested minimizing any stagnant water on one’s property. He said there may be massive mosquito eradication efforts in the next two to three years.
“Mosquitos spit before they suck,” von Tiehl said. “They spit histamine into you to get a better blood supply. You can take antihistamine to stop them from getting such a good meal. You can wear long-sleeved clothing. You can wear repellant.”
He urged people to see their doctor if they develop flu-like symptoms outside of flu season, which is November through February every year.
Von Tiehl offers free health advice and posts about what’s in the air on Twitter at @bowtieallergy.