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Elisa Batista's picture

Ever since my seven-year-old son was a baby he was a snorer. Every time my father visited, he would joke, “¡Tienes una sinfonía!” You have a symphony!

At first my husband and I laughed off the snoring as a quirk of our sweet, smart, and otherwise healthy boy. But it became an issue when teachers started commenting on how “tired” he looked during the day. Also, his younger sister, who he shares a room with, started crawling into our bed at night because his snoring would awaken her.

After consulting with my son’s pediatrician, I took him to a nose and throat specialist thinking that he needed his tonsils and/or adenoids taken out. The specialist found somewhat enlarged tonsils, but not anything that required surgery. He then referred us to an allergy specialist.

Three doctors and 22 skin pricks later, the allergy specialist came back with a diagnosis: my son is allergic to all grass, ragweed, another type of weed, and oak trees. Because it is spring, his allergies have been particularly bad and he is now on a nasal spray as well as children’s Claritin when he needs it. My son loves the outdoors that I am seriously considering allergy shots for him in the future. I can’t imagine locking him up every spring – windows and everything closed -- which is pretty much a recommendation by WebMD.

I suspect that there is a genetic component to allergies as my husband is allergic to dust and dander. I do not have any allergies that I know of, but having lived in a Latino family in an urban setting almost all my life, I have been surrounded by friends and family with inhalers or pills to control allergies and/or asthma. And considering the uptick in both asthma and allergies -- think the infamous peanut ban in schools nowadays -- I am often left wondering what is going on here?

As it turns out, I am not crazy to think that we are seeing an uptick in allergies and it is caused by, drum roll please, environmental “changes.” Everywhere I turn, one of the top news stories, on the radio, on TV, on the Internet is how 2011 purports to be the WORST YEAR for allergies. Here is a FOX News story on it. Last year, I read a similar story in Time magazine on how last year’s WORST YEAR allergies were triggered by none other than…global warming:

“As the climate warms, it is likely to favor trees that give off pollen — like oaks and hickories — over pines, spruces and fir trees, which don't. By 2100, once relatively cool states in the Northeast — including Vermont, New Hampshire and New York — could have the sort of highly allergenic trees now seen in the hotter Southeast, as species migrate north to adjust to the heat.

“Asthmatics will suffer as well — about 10 million Americans have allergic asthma, which is triggered by allergens. The condition tends to make people unusually sensitive to air pollution, and some studies indicate that pollution will worsen over time if fossil-fuel emissions aren't curbed.”

Even if one doesn’t believe in global warming, I want to point out that FOX News and Time are not exactly known for their liberal commentators. Also, there is no denying that there have been a lot of watery eyes and running noses lately. Not to mention we can no longer pack peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in our children’s lunchboxes, because all allergies, including food allergies, are deadlier and on the rise.

An estimated 3.9% of children and 2% of adults now have life-endangering food allergies, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A study released this week pegged the price of doctor visits, hospital care, and lost working days due to food allergies at $500 million a year.

Keep in mind that this data does not include non-food allergies like those of my husband and son. An estimated 60 million people in the United States suffer from asthma or allergies, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. A whopping 90 percent of children have "allergic asthma," in which asthmatic symptoms are induced by allergens such as pollens, mites or molds.

A disproportionate number of both asthma and allergy cases are urban Latinos like my family. Here are two statistics in the Asthma and Allergy Foundation website that really spoke to me:

“Hispanics may have an elevated risk for exposure to air pollution since a disproportionate number live in areas failing to meet one or more national standards for air pollutants. (It is estimated that 80 percent of Hispanics live in areas that failed to meet one U.S. EPA air quality standard, compared to 65 percent African Americans and 57 percent of Whites.)

“Puerto Ricans (I am half Puerto Rican, by the way) may be at increased risk for multiple indoor and outdoor allergies compared to Whites.”

This is the thing. Even if allergies were caused by genes alone, we can’t deny that air quality exacerbates these symptoms. I am now too painfully aware of this every time I hear my son snore or see his nose running after playing outside. I am reminded of this each and every time he takes his medicine, which is every day, and probably for the rest of his life as the allergy specialist told me. We are officially part of the $18 billion spent every year on allergy treatment in the United States.

Do you or your child suffer from allergies? Then please join me and the Moms Clean Air Force in urging the EPA to strengthen our air quality laws. Having to lock up our kids to keep them healthy should not be acceptable to anyone.

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