By Glenda: First published in Online Currents – Vol.19 Issue 2, March 2004
Asthma and allergies, especially food allergies, are a hot topic these days, as the prevalence of these conditions has increased significantly over the last generation. Australia and New Zealand have one of the highest incidences of asthma in the world, and about one in seventy Australian children are allergic to peanuts. This article covers asthma and allergies in general, with the emphasis on food allergies, as these can be chronic and life-threatening, and they affect carers of, and caterers to, sufferers, as well as the people with the allergy themselves.
The Web sites in this article have been chosen because they have reliable information. The commercial ones are included to give an idea of the products and services that are available. The general sites are also sources of information on other health conditions. The same pattern of information supply applies to many other health issues, with reliable information coming from government portals, patient support groups, medical associations, and some commercial organisations.
One of the biggest problems with searching for health-related information on the Web is deciding what resources can be trusted. Resources that have been selected by government-sponsored sites such as HealthInsite, or are provided by medical associations, are likely to be authoritative. Sites that follow the HON (Health on the Net) code of conduct (http://www.hon.ch/HONcode ) have agreed to follow certain ethical standards in the presentation of information, and to make explicit to users the source and purpose of the information they are reading, although the content of these sites hasnt been checked. Of the sites mentioned in this article, HealthInsite, ASCIA and FAAN all follow the HONcode.
My first port of call for most medical queries is HealthInsite. As I am a member of Anaphylaxis Australia Inc (previously FACTS) I also went to their site, as well as to links they have recommended in their newsletter. Online searches retrieved other sites, including commercial ones. Different sites provide different types of information. For example, sites run by patient support organizations often provide good resources and interaction opportunities for children, while medical sites and bibliographic databases, such as PubMed, can be relied on for more clinical information. Commercial sites can offer good background information, with a focus on treatment options and products, as this is what these companies provide.
You can search for information on HealthInsite (http://www.healthinsite.gov.au ) in the following ways:
- Select Conditions/Diseases and then the Topic page for Allergies and Hypersensitivities. This is further split into categories such as asthma, conjunctivitis and sinusitis. These sections note major links and provide an introduction to the topic. Some sections, including asthma, are further subdivided. For example, clicking on Asthma statistics leads to a page with links to 16 resources.
- Select Topics map then browse down the list to Allergies and Hypersensitivities. This provides the same links as the option above, although they are displayed differently (here all subdivisions are displayed at once) and some textual information is missing.
- Select Expert Views to see an overview article. There is one for asthma but not for allergies.
- Do a Quick Search using keywords such as allergies or asthma. Links to HealthInsite Topic pages are ranked highest, followed by external links to selected sites such as ASCIA (see below).
- Do a Power Search limiting the search according to publisher, currency, and language.
- Do a thesaurus search by selecting Thesaurus Navigator and Thesaurus Search from the top of the Power Search page. You can browse the thesaurus (e.g. select Diseases and Disorders, then scroll down to Immunologic Diseases and then to Hypersensitivity). An alternative is to use Thesaurus Search; however, this can be slow to load, and requires the correct thesaurus term. A search for allergies received the response Allergies is not a valid thesaurus term.
The PubMed bibliographic database from the National Library of Medicine (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?db=PubMed ) provides searchable access to full text medical abstracts and articles. When the article is not freely available, the abstract provides a link to the site at which it is stored, where further information is provided. For example, an article in Chest Online can be accessed online for seven days for US $7. A search for allergies retrieved 172,000 records, while a more specific one for latex allergy mortality retrieved nine. (A search for latex allergy deaths also retrieved nine hits, although they did not all overlap with the search for mortality.)
A search for allergies in MedlinePlus ( http://www.medlineplus.gov ) retrieved 73 hits for Health topics organized in categories such as latex allergy and food allergy, along with hits for Drug information and the Medical Encyclopedia.
The New York Allergy & Sinus Centers Dictionary (http://www.allergyasthmatherapy.com/Dictionary.htm ) provides definitions of terms such as allergen extract and anaphylaxis. It is not error free, however, as the first definition says adrenaline is produced by the kidneys whereas it is actually produced by the adrenal glands, just above the kidney, and the third definition has misspelt provocation as provacation.
Another way of checking definitions is to do a Google search starting with define: followed by the term you want a definition of. This usually results in a list of definitions, often sourced from Web pages with the filename glossary.htm.
The myDr site links to the CancerWeb searchable online dictionary (sections have been updated between 1997 and 2002). It provides different definitions for the same word in different medical fields (e.g. there is one definition for anaphylaxis appropriate to pharmacology and one to immunology).
Support Organisation Sites
The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Alliance (http://www.foodallergyalliance.org/vir.html ) is a group of not-for-profit organisations interested in food allergy and anaphylaxis. The site links to member organisations sites.
Anaphylaxis Australia Incorporated (previously FACTS,http://www.allergyfacts.org.au ) is the major support group in Australia for people with life-threatening allergies. It provides news on issues such as the inclusion of medications in the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and food labeling regulations. It also has a Kids Corner and links to other sites.
Anaphylaxis Canada (http://www.anaphylaxis.ca/content/livingwith/tips_travel_sept.asp)and FAAN (http://www.foodallergy.org/featuredtopic.html#fly ) both provide a range of information including travel tips. FAAN also provides allergy-free recipes and instructions on using an epinephrine auto-injector (EpiPen).
Asthma Australia is an association of all the Asthma Foundations in Australia and their site (http://www.asthmaaustralia.org.au ) links to sites for the individual states and territories. It also provides resources, such as the procedure for emergency treatment of asthma, and Asthma Update, a national magazine (in PDF format), as well as links to other sites.
Figure 1: Asthma Australia Home Page
The ASCIA (Australian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy) site provides information for health professionals and patients, including a pollen calendar for selected plants (http://www.allergy.org.au/month/pollen.htm ).
The Medem Medical Library site (http://www.medem.com ) is empowered by leading medical societies and the Feature Center is sponsored by McNeil. The section Children & Allergies provides information on rhinitis, food allergies, pet allergy, bee, wasp and insect stings, allergic diseases and cognitive impairment, and allergy triggers (http://www.medem.com/medlb/article_detaillb.cfm?article_ID=ZZZT7GT0JTC&sub_cat=19 or go tohttp://www.medem.com and select Medical Library in the For Patients section, then Asthma and other allergic diseases and Children and allergies).
The myDr site (http://www.mydr.com.au ) from MIMS has sections on allergies and asthma (as well as other conditions, such as addictions, cancer, and diabetes). The Allergy Centre links to general articles, as well as specific ones, on topics such as asthma and the hygiene hypothesis. The Asthma Centre has articles, quizzes (e.g. on asthma triggers), animations (e.g. on what happens to your lungs during an asthma attack) and news items from the archive.
The New York Allergy & Sinus Centers site (http://www.allergyasthmatherapy.com ) provides information on topics such as rhinitis, asthma, latex allergy and atopic dermatitis. I found their delineation of conditions, such as allergic rhinitis and nonallergic rhinitis, very clear.
Allergyfree (https://www.allergyfree.com.au/index.cfm) sells dust mite protection, organic clothing, books, homeopathic remedies and other items for people with allergies. It provides information on a range of conditions with an emphasis on complementary medicines, as well as a free electronic newsletter and notification about food recalls. The newsletter can also be browsed online (https://www.allergyfree.com.au/info/newsletter.cfm).
Allergy Action (http://m.gowland.users.btopenworld.com/Allergy_action.htm ) is a consultancy business offering advice and training in food allergen risk assessment. The site lists a number of print-format medical articles.
Links to Resources
Allergy ABCs Allergy Basics Center Allergy Internet Resources (http://www.immune.com/allergy/allabc.html ) provides many links organised in the following categories:
- General allergy texts
- Asthma texts
- Food allergies
- Kids allergies
- Latex allergy
- Hay fever, airborne and seasonal allergies
- Skin allergies
- Stings, testing and anaphylaxis
- Electronic mailing lists (last updated in April 1998)
- USENET newsgroups
Sites are included in each relevant category, e.g. peanut allergy in children is linked to from Food allergies and also from Kids allergies. The site is copyright to Immune.com. It has the feel of a community-based site, but it is not clear who is involved with Immune.com.
Sites for Children
Safe4Kids: a site for kids living with anaphylaxis ( Allergieshttp://www.medem.com and select
The myDr site (http://www.mydr.com.au ) from MIMS has sections on allergies and asthma (as well as other conditions, such as addictions, cancer, and diabetes). The
The New York Allergy &http://www.allergyasthmatherapy.com ) provides information on topics such as rhinitis, asthma, latex allergy and atopic dermatitis. I found their delineation of conditions, such as allergic rhinitis and nonallergic rhinitis, very clear.
Allergyfree (https://www.allergyfree.com.au/index.cfm) sells dust mite protection, organic clothing, books, homeopathic remedies and other items for people with allergies. It provides information on a range of conditions with an emphasis on complementary medicines, as well as a free electronic newsletter and notification about food recalls. The newsletter can also be browsed online (https://www.allergyfree.com.au/info/new).