An Asthma Attack Caused by a Thunderstorm (McGill OSS)

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On November 21st, 2016 a thunderstorm swept across Melbourne, Australia. It brought with it the usual flooded basements, wet shoes and ruined picnics, but it also brought a strange outbreak of asthma. Asthmatics and non-asthmatics alike suddenly found themselves unable to catch their breath, coughing and in extreme cases not being able to breathe at all. By the time the storm had passed, there was a 672% increase in respiratory-related presentations to emergency departments and a 992% increase in asthma-related admissions to hospital. The storm contributed to the death of at least 10 people.

So what was it about this thunderstorm that spurred a city-wide asthma attack? Experts aren’t certain, but the best guess is pollen. It seems that polled, mould and other allergens can get picked up into a storm, riding on wind currents, and carried into the clouds. Up in the sky, they make contact with water molecules, which causes these allergens to break apart into microscopic particles that can more readily enter human lungs and cause reactions. 
In the case of Melbourne, the allergen of importance seems to be from ryegrass. A grain of ryegrass pollen can be broken down into 700 starch granules, measuring 0.6 to 2.5 μm, which may then be inhaled into the deepest parts of the lungs, and cause an asthma attack or an allergic reaction.

As roughly 20% of the world is sensitive to grass or tree pollens, you can imagine that these storms are quite bothersome to many. Melbourne wasn’t the first case of casualties due to storm inflicted asthma, and it sadly will probably not be the last. 

Article originally posted here: https://www.mcgill.ca/oss/article/did-you-know-health/thunderstorms-cause-asthma-attacks

Did You Know That Moon Dust Is Incredibly Toxic?

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Originally posted here: https://mcgill.ca/oss/article/did-you-know/did-you-know-moon-dust-incredibly-toxic-humans

There are no aliens on the moon, but that might not stop it from trying to kill us.

Lunar soil is exposed to micrometeorite impacts and because the moon lacks an atmosphere, constant intense solar wind. As a result, the soil is electrostatically charged, so much so that it can levitate above the surface of the moon.

This dust was a problem faced by the Apollo astronauts. It stuck to their suits, following them into their spaceship, coagulating in vents and causing “lunar hay fever” in astronaut Harrison Schmitt.

Lunar dust is problematic because of its intense static charge, but also because of its size. Small particles (5-10 mcg) can accumulate in airways, smaller particles (0.5-5 mcg) can travel right into lung alveoli, and at least in rats, the smallest of particles (<0.1 mcg) can travel through the olfactory bulb right into the brain.

A study has recently shown that human neuron and lung cells exposed to simulated lunar dust experienced DNA damage and cell death, even in very small quantities.

This isn’t totally unexpected. Earth dust can have similar effects, toxic or not. Volcanic ash has been known to cause bronchitis and emphysema when inhaled. But the degree to which lunar dust damaged cells was unexpected. The scientists were at times unable to measure the extent of DNA damage since it was completely destroyed.

If You Have a Nut Allergy You Might Want to Check Your Shampoo Ingredients

Originally posted here: https://mcgill.ca/oss/article/you-asked/nut-allergies-and-shampoo

Nut allergies affect about 2% of the Canadian population and can be broken down into tree nut allergies (like almonds or cashews) and peanut allergies (peanuts aren’t actually nuts but legumes). These allergies are caused by ingesting or inhaling certain allergenic nut proteins, not all of which have been identified yet. So, if these proteins were present in oils made from nuts that are used in cosmetics like hand cream or shampoo, one could have a reaction to them.

If you’re allergic to peanuts, that’s likely all you’re allergic to. Numbers vary on the percentage of people allergic to peanuts that have cross-reactivity to other legumes like soy or tree nuts, but it’s not a majority. On the other hand, if you’re allergic to one kind of tree nut, chances are you’re allergic to several. You are likely, however, not allergic to coconut or nutmeg (though it’s a common misconception) as they are not nuts.

Studies have found that contact allergic reactions can occur due to exposure to allergens in cosmetics. But these reactions only occur if the relevant proteins are intact, so in general, the more processed and refined the cosmetic, the smaller the likelihood of a reaction.

Allergens in cosmetics can pop up more than you might expect. Peanut oil is often used under the name arachis hypogaea in shampoos and creams. Tree nut oils in cosmetics are downright common, with almond oilargan oil and shea butter being some common examples. Coconut oil is also growing in popularity lately, with many companies incorporating it into products in order to market them as ‘natural’. Looking in my bathroom I found six products containing peanut, tree nut or coconut oils.

Since every allergy is different it’s really best to evaluate your own situation. If you’re allergic to tree nuts but not coconut, look for coconut-based products. If you’re allergic to tree nuts and coconut, you might have to look for specialty products or make your own. Or, you might check the products you’ve already been using and realize that they contained your allergen, in which case you’re probably good to keep on using them.

Your Allergies Are Getting Worse Because of Climate Change

Photo by Matteo Zamaria Photography
Originally posted here: https://mcgill.ca/oss/article/did-you-know/your-allergies-are-getting-worse-because-climate-change

If you feel like your recent periods of coughing, sneezing and shaking your fists at the trees for producing so much pollen are getting longer, you’re probably right.

It seems that climate change is having an effect on the duration of plants’ pollination seasons. Warmer and wetter winters are allowing pollination to start earlier and last longer, sometimes as much as 27 days longerChanging carbon dioxide levels in the air can also affect how much pollen plants produce… and it’s not going down. The net effect is longer, harsher seasons for allergy sufferers.

Seasonal allergies were first reported around the time of the industrial revolution, though we’re not certain why they sprang up then. It could be that the rapid urbanization and increase in human greenhouse gas emissions triggered the phenomenon of seasonal allergies. Even now, pollen allergies are on the rise in urban centres. As the temperature increases, due to our elevated emissions, allergenic species are able to migrate into areas they previously couldn’t thrive in. This results in new allergies as well as worsening of previously existing ones. Pollen counts are raised by windy and dry conditions,and lowered by wet and cooler ones, so staying indoors on the hottest of spring days is a good idea. You might also want to consider what you can do to mitigate climate change. After all, the climate is unequivocallyundeniably changing. And not for the better.

Under The Microscope: Rose Petals

Originally posted here: https://www.mcgill.ca/oss/article/history/under-microscope-rose-petals

Nowadays roses are mostly used for Bachelorette ceremonies and hipster lattes, but once upon a time roses, and their fruit, rose hips, were widely used as medicines.
Diarrhodon is the name given to herbal treatments containing roses, and there are lots of them, said to treat everything from liver problems to heart problems to digestion issues. Traditional Chinese medicine made use of the China rose for regulating menstruation, pain relief, thyroid problems and diarrhea.
Did any of the rose-based traditional therapies work? Well, at least one could have. As rose-hips are quite high in vitamin C, they would likely have done wonders for sailors afflicted with scurvy.
Today we mostly keep our rose-based products for use in cosmetics, and a few specialty food products like rose hip jam, rose water or syrup that is common in many Indian desserts, or rose flavouring for ice cream, liquor or hipster lattes.
Even though the petals in these photos have been dried for more than 5 years, they still retain a fair amount of pollen, seen as yellow specs on their surface.