Ken discovered his food allergy in a dramatic fashion. At his senior prom dinner dance, he passed out. It was his first - and hopefully last - taste of shrimp.

Thousands of Americans have allergies. Peanuts, grapefruit, strawberries, cats, rats, dogs, horses, grass, ragweed, bees. Name anything and someone, somewhere, may have an allergy.Some are easier to avoid or control than others. It's easier to avoid seafood than it is to stay away from grass pollen.

Saturday, the Deseret News/IHC Healthcare Hotline will feature two doctors who specialize in treating allergies. From 10 a.m. to noon, Dr. Tony Henry and Dr. Duane Harris will be on hand to answer allergy questions.

Pet allergies are a common cause of year-round allergies in Utah. Pollen goes away in winter, but cat hair lingers.

"The best thing for pet allergies is removing pets from the home," said Henry. "Especially if symptoms are very severe or if the pet allergy causes some problems with asthma. That tends to be a very dramatic reaction and is a good reason to get rid of pets."

Even then, studies have indicated that, despite vigorous cleaning, it takes four to six months for the allergens associated with pets to denature or get to the point where they don't cause significant symptoms.

Cat allergy seems to be most potent. And any cat will bother someone who is allergic. Dog allergies are more breed-specific. Allergic to Great Danes? Get a corgi. Horse and rat allergies are also fairly common, Henry said. And rats seems to be a popular pet with Utah kids.

If the thought of banishing Rover to the farm breaks your heart, Henry said to keep the pet localized to a part of the house where there's less contact.

At all costs, keep pets out of the bedroom, where people live one-third of their lives. Wash the pet once or twice a month and always wash your hands before you touch your face. If the pet is outside, make the children change clothes and wash their hands and faces before going into the rest of the house.

Medications can help. Allergy shots are most effective with cat allergies and not as effective for dogs. They do little with horse and rat allergies. For mild symptoms, Henry suggests over-the-counter antihistamines, nasal sprays and eye drops.

Food allergies are more - and less - complex. In most cases, it's easier to avoid the offending food.

Some foods are hard to avoid. Grapefruits make surprise appearances in chef salads. Any deep-fried food can trigger disaster for those allergic to seafood if a restaurant deep fries everything in the same oil.

People with food allergies should always carry epinephrine in injectable form with them, Henry said. A study in the 1980s found that every one of the people who died from a severe reaction to food had one prescribed but didn't carry it, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Other sources of serious allergic reactions include bees and other insects. Bee stings can cause a vicious, life-threatening reaction in some, while others just get hives.

"It's interesting that the community, the public and even physicians at large are quite unaware that venom therapy can be curative," Henry said.

Allergy specialists test different bee venoms to discover which is the offender, then provide it in tiny doses over a three- to five-year period. "Treatment used to be lifelong, but now it's to five years. We basically look at that as a complete course of therapy."

He calls the venom therapy safe and effective.

To minimize the risk of bee stings, avoid wearing lots of perfume and cologne and don't dress in really light colors. Carry epinephrine.

The most common other category of allergy is drug reaction. Most people know exactly what they're allergic to. Avoidance is the primary treatment - and that means telling others about the allergies.

The Deseret News will discuss hayfever and other seasonal allergies Saturday.

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ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Call for answers

The Deseret News/IHC Health Hotline will accept calls Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon. The toll-free number, 1-800-925-8177, can be called from anywhere in the Intermountain West. All calls are confidential.