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Can You Be Allergic to Another Person? 8 Curious Q&As About Chronic Diseases

Allergies, arthritis, asthma, diabetes and heart disease. Millions of people have them, and millions have questions.

Whether you have a chronic disease or know someone who does, we've got interesting answers to your curious questions. And you may be surprised by some of the answers. (Yes, you really can be allergic to another person! Sort of.)


finger-prick-diabetes

Diabetes

Q: Can eating too much sugar cause diabetes?
A:
No. However, weight gain may cause type 2 diabetes, regardless of what you are eating.

Robert Meloni, M.D., F.A.C.P., F.A.C.E., board-certified endocrinologist and endocrinology consultant at Lebanon VA Medical Center in Pennsylvania


Q: How do I know if I have diabetes?
A:
Symptoms include persistent thirst, frequent urination and fatigue. However, you can have diabetes with no symptoms. A blood test is the only way to be sure.

If you’re 45 or older and overweight, or have other risk factors (such as family history, high blood pressure or abnormal cholesterol), consider getting tested.

Meloni

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Allergies

Q: Can you grow out of an allergy?
A:
It depends on the allergen.

  • Food allergens: Allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish are generally lifelong. On the other hand, the majority of infants with an allergy to cow’s milk outgrow it.
  • Medication allergens: Penicillin is still the most common medicine to cause allergies, and many people can remain allergic years after the first reaction.
  • Pollen and other inhalants that cause hay fever and/or asthma: Up to one-third of kids see their allergies decrease at adolescence, though others get progressively worse. Allergy shots can help 80 percent of people who don’t grow out of these types of allergies.
Marjorie Slankard, M.D., clinical professor of medicine at Columbia University Medical Center Eastside; board certified in internal medicine and in allergy and immunology


newsletter-graphicQ: Can you be allergic to another person?
A:
Yes, actually.

The first thing that comes to mind applies to couples. A woman can be allergic to her partner’s sperm or semen. That can cause mild itching at the site of contact during or just after sex. In some instances, it can progress to the point that the woman has a severe anaphylactic reaction. The solution for this particular allergy is simply to use condoms.

Most other instances are generally due to one person reacting to a product the other is wearing, such as perfume, aftershave or hairspray. The treatment? Avoidance. Ask the person to use alternative products, like those free of fragrance.

You can also react to animal dander on another’s clothing, experiencing itching, hives, congestion, sneezing or even asthma.

Slankard

More allergy information: "Do Flowers Cause Allergies? 4 Allergy Tips and Surprises"


Arthritis

Q: Is there anything I can do to help prevent arthritis?
A:
The term “arthritis” describes many conditions, including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and gout.

  • Osteoarthritis can develop following an injury to the joint, such as the knee in football players. People who are overweight people are at risk as well.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis is mostly a genetic disease, and you can’t do much to prevent it, except perhaps not smoke.
  • Gout develops from elevated uric acid in the blood. This can result from eating a high-protein diet, as well as excessive intake of alcohol—especially beer. Other factors, including genes, can cause gout, but it’s perhaps the type of arthritis that healthful lifestyle modifications can best prevent.

—Emilio B. Gonzalez, M.D., F.A.C.P., F.A.C.R., board-certified rheumatologist, professor of medicine and director of the division of rheumatology at The University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas

More arthritis information: "How to Find a Good Rheumatologist"


Asthma

Q: I heard milk isn’t good for someone with asthma. Is that true?
A:
Dairy is one of those foods often restricted because of myth.

Providing nine essential nutrients, including calcium, vitamin D and protein, milk is a nutritional powerhouse. Despite popular belief, it doesn’t increase mucus production or inhibit breathing. Of course, asthmatic people with a true milk-protein allergy should avoid dairy because allergens could trigger asthma symptoms.

D. Milton Stokes, M.P.H., R.D., C.D.N., registered dietitian, One Source Nutrition, Norwalk, Conn.; spokesperson, American Dietetic Association.

More asthma information: "Asthma Guide"


Heart Disease

Q: How can you tell the difference between heartburn and a heart attack?
A:
The burning sensation heartburn causes can be so strong that sometimes even doctors can’t tell whether it’s a heart attack or acid indigestion until they perform certain tests. If you’re not sure, don’t be embarrassed, and don’t risk it. Seek immediate medical attention.

Following are possible signs of a heart attack:

  • Chest pain, possibly radiating to the neck, jaw or arms
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Numbness in your arms
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Pressure in your chest
  • A cold, clammy sensation or sweating
  • Breathlessness or fainting
  • Anxiety or a feeling of impending doom.

—Judy Gyde, L.P.N., licensed practical nurse with experience in areas ranging from pediatrics to geriatrics; now a full-time freelance writer

newsletter-graphic
Q: Are those blood-pressure cuffs at my neighborhood pharmacy accurate?
A:
The only way to tell for sure is to have a health-care professional check your blood pressure right after you do.

Also, make sure the cuff fits correctly. If your arm is very large or very small, those one-size-fits-all cuffs may not give you a correct reading.

Get your blood pressure checked at least every two years by a health-care professional, even it it’s normal, and even if you have access to an automatic cuff.

—Marianne Beck, R.N., 25 years of experience as a nurse, including medical/surgical nursing, urgent care, ophthalmology and outpatient surgery

More heart disease information: "What It's Not a Heart Attack: Other Causes of Chest Pain"


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Last updated and/or approved: July 2011. Original article appeared in various issues of the former print magazine. Bios current as of those issues. This general health-care information is not meant as individual advice. Please see our disclaimer.
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