Raising Awareness

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The month of May includes both Food Allergy Awareness Week and National High Blood Pressure Education Month. Dr. Martha Cano and Family Nurse Practitioner Jose Gonzalez, who practice at Valley Care Clinics in Weslaco, share important information on both food allergies and hypertension for Rio Grande Valley patients.

Food Allergies: A Dangerous Ingredient

For Cano, food allergies is a condition that hits close to home.

“My son is perfectly healthy, but we know he has the potential severe condition that can cause a whole lot of harm and maybe even death,” she said, adding that he is allergic to peanuts.

Making the public aware of the risks involved with food allergies is important to her, especially around this time of year.

“It’s more about awareness and educating the public that it’s not something to take lightly,” Cano said. “It’s not always just a rash. It can be a serious medical condition.”

Peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, shellfish, and soy are among the most common food allergies that can occur, Cano said. Allergies to peanuts are seen the most — and have the greatest potential to threaten a patient’s life.

Unfortunately, there is no way of telling whether somebody is allergic to a certain food until a reaction occurs.

“Just to give you an example, my son, who’s now 11, his first reaction he touched trail mix and he developed hives and something called angioedema — swelling of the lips and mouth that can also potentially be life threatening,” Cano said.

After the initial reaction, patients are given formal allergy testing by poking the skin with various antigens. The size of any resulting weal determines the severity of the allergy.

From there, the patient must avoid the food that caused the reaction — and inform those around them. Awareness of the issue is essential, particularly for school-age children.

“Number one is to try and keep the child safe and educating children on sensitivity and for the public to take it seriously,” Cano said. “It is an important public health issue because sometimes the reactions can be deadly.”

Though there are no known cures or preventions for food allergies, a new medication has just been approved this year to help treat peanut allergies.

“The goal is not to have the child or patient be able to eat a peanut butter sandwich at the end of the treatment,” Cano said. “The goal is essentially not to die if you come in contact with peanuts.”

The Pressure of Hypertension

Blood pressure levels above the recommended range — a condition called hypertension — can have serious ramifications if left unchecked.

What many people don’t know is that it’s an easy condition to address with your health professional.

Depending on the cause and stage of hypertension, lifestyle changes could be enough to reverse the condition.

“We encourage people to first lose weight and change their diet habits,” Gonzalez said. “But many times, because the condition is primary and there’s no reason — even if you do all these modifications — depending on your age and your risk, hypertension must be treated with medications.”

Those medications are usually affordable — though their use must be monitored and adjusted as the patient’s health changes, such as gaining or losing weight.

The crucial thing is to address hypertension immediately — before it affects a person’s quality of life, or brings on other health problems.

“Hypertension that is not controlled can lead to stroke, coronary artery disease, myocardial infarction, renal failure, heart failure,” Gonzalez said. “This all decreases your quality of life. So the most important thing people must consider here is what do I want my quality of life to be as far as in the long run. Do I want to live a healthy life until the age of 60, or do I want to live a healthy life until 100 years of age?”

Some signs that you might be experiencing hypertension include:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety attacks
  • Palpitations
  • Irritability
  • Facial flushing

However, in some cases, a person may have hypertension without any symptoms. This is why it’s so important to see your doctor on a regular basis.

“People should understand that hypertension is also known as a silent killer,” Gonzalez said. “Many people don’t realize they have hypertension. They show no symptoms and this is serious because they are actually what we consider a walking time bomb. When that happens, you can suffer a stroke and not even know it’s coming or you can have a heart attack and not even know it’s coming because you don’t have any symptoms.”

Learn more about Jose Gonzalez at valleycareclinics.com/find-a-doctor/jose-gonzalez. Learn more about Dr. Martha Cano at valleycareclinics.com/find-a-doctor/martha-cano.

Do you know anyone with food allergies? #JoinTheConversation at facebook.com/rgvisionmagazine.