Don’t Get Your Dander Up about Adult-Onset Pet Allergies

Pets are family members — even when you have allergies.

As a pet owner, you know all about the benefits of owning a pet. Whether it’s your companion’s unconditional love or the stress relief they bring, your pet has brought you joy over the years.

So, why do you suddenly feel itchy and irritated around your animal companion?

Sadly, it sounds like you’ve developed a pet allergy. Yes, allergies can develop in adulthood. But don’t fret! Take the time today to learn all about your newfound allergy and how you can keep it from coming between your animal companion and you.

Why would you develop an allergy now?

While you might not have had one before, allergies can develop at any point in life. This typically happens once your body starts to view certain allergens (i.e., substances that can cause allergic reactions) as a threat to your immune system. For pet allergies, this might mean your body ends up viewing substances like your pet’s dander, saliva, or skin flakes as a threat.

To defend your health, your body will produce large numbers of cells to fight off the substances. This defense will then cause a certain physical reaction, depending on the number of allergens encountered and how your body reacts to them. So, you could end up with the following symptoms or more:

  • Itchy, watery eyes
  • Nasal congestion
  • Hives

An allergy can be serious, but it doesn’t mean you need to let your pet go.

Your pet is like another family member. You’ve spent time caring for and playing with them, and in turn, they have given you their trust.

Don’t abandon that trust by letting your pet go just because you have mild or moderate allergies. There are ways to reduce your symptoms.

However, it is understandable and heartbreaking if your reaction is much more severe. If you’ve been dealing with anaphylaxis from your pet allergy, which is not one of the common anaphylactic triggers, you may actually have to think about rehoming your pet. One way to make this act less traumatic is to consider getting a close friend or family member to adopt.

For those with non-life-threatening allergic reactions, try to think of what’s best for you and your animal companion. You’re family members, and presumably, you’ve loved each other’s company, so do your best to reduce your allergic reactions so you two can stay together.

Give these allergen reduction methods a try.

If you are determined to stay with your pet, know that there’ll be a tough road ahead for you two. It’ll take time and testing to determine what reduces your allergic reactions. But for a start, consider following these suggestions.

Turn your bedroom into an allergen-free space.

A bed in blue and white is right next to a white geode lamp in a gray and white room.

You might have enjoyed having your bedroom as a space for both you and your pet to relax. But this lifestyle may have to change.

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, your bedroom is usually the one area of your home with the highest amount of allergens. After all, on average, Americans spend a third of their lives in their bedrooms. So it doesn’t take long for allergens to build up.

To avoid this dilemma entirely, turn your bedroom into an allergen-free zone. It can be difficult training your pet to accept that they cannot enter your bedroom anymore, but training is a lot less painful compared to rehoming your pet.

Once you’ve gotten your pet accustomed to not entering your bedroom, you’ll have a space that will be almost completely free from pet allergens. But you’ll also need to get into a regular cleaning routine.

Clean your home regularly.

A vacuum rests near a pair of white shoes against a blue and white carpet.

Cleaning might feel like a chore, but it’s one of the best ways you can reduce the number of allergens your body encounters. After all, cleaning will help you remove any allergens or dirt particles that might be hanging around your home. So get better acquainted with vacuuming and doing the laundry regularly.

Purify the air in your home.

A number of blue-tinted windows from a gray building are facing forward.

Part of your routine cleaning might include directly purifying the air of your home.

To do this, look into getting an air purifier. It’s a cleaning machine designed to remove pollutants from the air. And for extra filtering, make sure the machine you choose is one that has a high efficiency particulate arresting (HEPA) filter attached. This filter will help your purifier catch common allergens that like to collect around your home.

Sanitize your pet.

A person is holding a shower head to wash their dog.

Don’t forget to clean your pet frequently, too!

The ASPCA suggests you bathe your pet at least once weekly. Giving your pet a frequent wash will not only keep them clean, but it will also wash away any allergens that might bother your allergies. You can also wipe your pet with products that are designed to prevent dander. And remember: brush or comb your pet regularly.

All this grooming should give you a simple, effective way of reducing both your pet’s allergens and your allergy symptoms.

If you still have harsh enough allergic reactions, consider immunotherapy.

So, you’ve tried out all those suggestions before, and they didn’t work. You don’t feel like you’re having an anaphylactic reaction, but your allergies are still way too frustrating for you. Now, what?

It may be time to consider talking to your doctor about immunotherapy. This method involves injecting the pet allergen directly into your blood stream. While there are risks, this method is generally safe and ensures that your body gets used to being around the allergen. After enough time, your body will stop reacting so harshly whenever it encounters the allergen. And you should be able to enjoy spending time with your pet again without worry!

In short, you and your pet do not need to part ways because of your allergies. Just take the time and effort needed to see what you can do to reduce your symptoms.

A man is reading a newspaper behind a street fruit stand and next to a scale for fruit with the title "Fortnightly Medical News Round-Up" next to him.

Fortnightly Medical News Round-Up: From Electrical Bandages to an Experimental Blood Test

Let’s dive into the wonderful world of medical science once again.

It’s that time! Join me as I take a look at the latest medical news.

A study shows how electrical bandages can heal chronic wounds faster.

A hand is shown against a black background with a bandage covering the palm.

Paving the way for better chronic wound care, electrical bandages have come to be known for their great healing properties. But what about them makes them so great? To find out, we need to dive a little deeper into what defines this type of bandage and what defines a chronic wound.

What is an electrical bandage?

Belonging to a particular type of therapy called electroceuticals, electrical bandages are meant to treat chronic wounds.

How?

They do so with the help of a device that’s attached to them. When the bandage is applied to a chronic wound, this device emits electrical impulses. These impulses then eliminate the bacteria found in the chronic wound.

What is a chronic wound?

So, electrical bandages are great at cleansing chronic wounds from infection. But what exactly are chronic wounds?

These types of wounds are typically non-healing ones. The reason for this is that they usually have skin infections coupled with biofilms. And these biofilms form from small groups of microorganisms, which can also include bacteria. These groups are usually held together by fat and protein substances. And both these groups and substances can end up creating a protective barrier for the bacteria.

This protective barrier makes it difficult for traditional treatments like antibiotics to heal chronic wounds. But that isn’t the case for electrical bandages.

Why?

No one’s sure. But researchers at The Ohio State University have discovered new clues that may explain why these bandages have better luck at healing chronic wounds.

When using an electrical device with silk, the university researchers found that the two items created the antimicrobial chemical hypochlorous acid. This chemical was shown to penetrate the biofilm barrier and kill the bacteria inside without harming the healthy skin nearby.

To learn more, you can take a look at a plain English summary here and read through the original study here.

Pregnant women at risk for late preterm delivery may have a new cost-effective treatment.

A pregnant women in all black is standing against a white background.

For years, it has been standard to treat women with prenatal steroids if they were at risk of giving birth before their 34 weeks of pregnancy. After all, this treatment helps fetal lungs mature quickly enough to survive the birth.

Despite the benefit this treatment offers babies, researchers did not initially consider it necessary for women who were going to give birth to their babies during the later part of their preterm stage. But the Maternal-Fetal Medicine Units Network conducted a 2016 randomized trial that proved that there might be a benefit to doing otherwise.

After analyzing this past trial, the journal JAMA Pediatrics has found even more evidence to support that study’s findings. The journal’s analysis showed that late preterm babies from mothers who had been given the prenatal steroid betamethasone had fewer complications with their lungs. And they also had less of a need for respiratory treatments.

With such benefits, women who give birth to late preterm babies could see their medical costs go down.

For more specific information on the benefits of betamethasone, see the original study here. You can also see a plain English version here.

UC Berkeley neurobiologists develop a therapy that could improve sight and delay vision loss.

An open eye is staring.

Over 3.4 million Americans at the age of 40-years-old or older have to deal with vision difficulties. It’s a tough situation to be in that could lead to minor instances of needing to hold reading materials at a farther distance or more severe cases of losing vision entirely.

Sadly, there’s no cure for vision difficulties. But, luckily, neurobiologists at UC Berkeley believe they have discovered a therapy that can at least help.

Conducting a study on mice, the neurobiologists have found that the mice’s eyes, and presumably human eyes as well, have an issue with noise similar to how our ears deal with tinnitus. This noise reduces how well the mice with the genetic condition retinitis pigmentosa can see.

The neurobiologists believe that there may be a drug candidate that could reduce this visual noise to clarify the remaining vision so that people with age-related macular degeneration and other related poor vision conditions can prolong their useful vision and even delay total blindness.

The neurobiologists’ study summary can be seen here.

People unable to take typical cholesterol-lowering drugs may finally have an alternative.

A person in doctor's attire is holding the hand of someone offscreen over a white counter with a folder.

It’s well-known that typical cholesterol-lowering drugs, also known as statins, have side effects that not everyone can tolerate. More specifically, side effects like muscle pain or bad interactions with other medications can pose too great a problem for some. So cholesterol-lowering medications like rosuvastatin aren’t always ideal.

To counter this issue, the New England Journal of Medicine has tested the effectiveness and efficiency of bempedoic acid — a new oral medication that has yet to be approved in Europe. According to the journal’s findings, this medication works like typical statin medications. So, like those medications, bempedoic acid can block an enzyme key to the body’s cholesterol production. And it does so effectively. But unlike your average statin, this medication was shown to be tolerated by most patients.

The medication isn’t out just yet, but when it does come out, if your well-being depends upon it and you live in the United States, you might want to consider checking to see if it’s available at an online international and Canadian pharmacy referral service like Canada Med Pharmacy. This service helps Americans connect with licensed pharmacies from outside the United States, where prescriptions are often offered at more affordable rates.

To find out more about bempedoic acid and its findings, read the New England Journal of Medicine’s research summary here.

An experimental blood test makes it easier to diagnose fibromyalgia.

A needle is taking out a vial of blood.

For a long time, there was no specific way to diagnose fibromyalgia. But now, researchers from The Ohio State University have given us a reasonable way to identify the condition.

According to their study in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, researchers have proven that they can detect fibromyalgia reliably within blood samples. Using the technique vibrational spectroscopy, the researchers measured the level of molecules within each sample and came to discern a clear pattern that set fibromyalgia apart from other conditions.

It’s not a cure, but at the very least, those suffering from fibromyalgia will soon be able to avoid undergoing a number of general tests just to find out what condition they have.

You can see the abstract for the fibromyalgia study here.

Why Bird-Watching Is Perfect for Health-Conscious Seniors

(And for Anyone Else Who Wants More Nature Time)

From nature geeks to retired folks, everyone young and old can reap heaps of health benefits from this accessible activity. All you need is an area where birds congregate — which can be anywhere from city parks to untouched wilderness — a little patience, and some knowledge.

Birds are found on every single continent on Earth (even Antarctica!) which makes it possible to chase this hobby anywhere in the world. Plus, it’s free!

Still skeptical? Then, let’s dive into the specific benefits that bird-watching has to offer.

red cardinal
The beautiful Cardinal is a frequent visitor to backyard feeders in the Midwest and along the east coast of North America.

Bird-watching gets you out in nature.

Numerous studies have purported that nature is good for you. The Japanese even have a practice devoted to it called forest bathing, which offers a number of health benefits, such as a boosted immune system, reduced stress, and increased energy.

Many of these benefits are due to the relatively quiet, peaceful, and reflective space that the outdoors offers, unlike the hustle-bustle of urban life. Relaxing in heavily wooded areas where trees breathe out oxygen can also give your lungs a much-needed break from the exhaust-polluted air of the city.

seniors in nature
Getting out in nature is good for you!

Perhaps you consider retirement to be a relatively stress-free time of your life. However, consider your family obligations. Whether you help babysit the grandkids or assist your adult children with their new mortgages, these obligations can still be stressful. And when these duties feel overwhelming, know that you can always go out in nature to observe the birds and enjoy the natural healing benefits that the outdoors can provide.

Bird-watching gets you moving.

Golden eagle
Most people are familiar with the Bald Eagle, but if you venture out a little farther into the wilderness, you may just be able to spot the elusive and majestic Golden Eagle, the only other eagle species in North America.

If you struggle to exercise for exercise’s sake, bird-watching, a goal-oriented activity, can be your way of getting off the couch. Bird-watching requires you to do lots of walking, which may count towards your 150 minutes of recommended weekly exercise.

What’s more, when bird-watching, you might find yourself motivated to move faster. Walk briskly, and you’ll not only burn more calories but also see more birds. To catch sight of a particularly speedy flier, you might even fit in a jog here and there. Plus, the added rugged terrain of forests and mountains forces you to use balancing muscles you may otherwise never get to exercise walking on flat ground.

All this exercise for bird-watching might actually seem a bit overly exhausting, but the great thing about this hobby is that you can tailor all the required exercise to your needs. If you have arthritis, for example, and struggle with painful joints, you can take lots of breaks. Sometimes staying still may even make it easier for you to spot certain birds!

For the more adventurous birders among us, retirement is the perfect time to explore new places, whether it be a local trail you’ve always wanted to visit or the uncharted wilderness where rare birds fly.

Exercise from bird-watching is a natural antidepressant. And it’s free!

feeding chickadee
While some birds, like this chickadee, are naturally curious about humans, feeding wildlife is not recommended unless specifically allowed in your natural park. Habituating wildlife to humans can make them aggressive and endanger them.

Exercise has been shown to significantly improve mood. Unfortunately, clinical depression is something that doesn’t discriminate against age, and seniors can develop it too. The abrupt change from working full-time to retiring, the death of a spouse, or another traumatic event can trigger this illness. If you notice fatigue, difficulty sleeping, irritability, and even confusion, don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor, as you may be dealing with clinical depression.

Luckily, a side effect from bird-watching is that you’ll be doing some form of exercise in the hopes of catching sight of a bird or two. Don’t expect to get too far in the hobby if you think it’s just a matter of sitting on a park bench all day!

Bird-watching can be social.

feeding pigeons
The humble yet adaptable Rock Pigeon is not a native of North America. It was introduced from Europe, but can be found almost everywhere in the world.

While many people enjoy bird-watching as a reflective, solo activity, others find community in bird-watching. Retirement may be the best years of your life, but you can’t deny that as we get older, it gets harder and harder to make friends. Finding a community of nature lovers may just be the social refreshment you need.

Team up with other bird lovers in the community to learn a few birdsong recognition skills or borrow a pair of high-power binoculars for the weekend.

Birdwatching is also a highly accessible activity for families, friends, and couples. You don’t have to pay an expensive entrance fee to most natural places. You can simply chat and bond over finding rare birds, and you can even round off the day with a tasty picnic!

Bird-watching may be good for your brain.

hummingbird at feeder
Beautiful, colorful birds are not limited to the tropics! Hummingbirds, such as the Rufous, Ruby-Throated, and Anna’s Hummingbirds, can be spotted in suburban backyards.

“Being intellectually engaged may benefit the brain[,]” says the National Institutes of Health, citing academic studies. “People who engage in meaningful activities, like volunteering or hobbies, say they feel happier and healthier. Learning new skills may improve your thinking ability, too.”

While bird-watching is a relaxed hobby compared to many others, it does require some mental exercise. Serious bird-watchers will read plenty of books about bird behavior and biology. Just identifying birds requires you to remember what many species look like, their behavior, their habitat, and perhaps even songs and calls. Since many birds look alike, knowing other information such as geographical range and preferred habitat (e.g., marsh, open plain, forest) is important to identifying birds correctly.

Bird-watching fosters an appreciation for nature.

Blue Jays belong to the same family as crows and ravens, and can be found in the Midwest and east coast. Their western relative is the darker-blue Steller’s Jay.

Perhaps more than health benefits, this last benefit is probably the most valuable result that comes from bird-watching.

No one can deny that the natural world is in grave danger at this time in history. Climate change, pollution, and environmental degradation are causing at least 10,000 species to go extinct each year.

As humans, we often forget that we, too, are animals that originally came from nature. Too often are we preoccupied with getting better, stronger, faster gadgets that make us superior to nature. And it makes us forget that nature can be just as — if not more — beautiful as our high-tech lives.

Fostering an appreciation for the natural world is humbling. And hopefully, it’ll inspire you to care for it a little more.

Bird-watching is a great activity for seniors, but it’s a hobby for all ages.

Birds are often excellent parents. Many species mate for life and both Mom and Dad share child-rearing duties.

While bird-watching is frequently associated with retired folks and seniors, there’s no rule saying young people can’t join. In fact, once you’ve fallen in love with birds yourself, why not bring the whole family along?

If you have young grandchildren, teaching kids about the natural world can be an enriching and rewarding process. Your grandkids may find it inspiring if their grandparent can identify birds by ear or eye, and they might even end up striving to do the same.

Get started!

So if you’re wondering what to do this weekend, what are you waiting for? Put on your hiking shoes, perhaps borrow a local birding guidebook from the library, and head outside.

While binoculars can certainly help you find birds that don’t like being too close to humans, they’re not required.

Don’t worry if you don’t know many birds in the beginning; bird-watching is a constant learning process. Once you’re familiar with the usual suspects in your area, branch out further to meet other birds and enjoy the benefits this activity offers.

Fortnightly Medical News Round-Up: Cancer Breakthroughs, Possible HIV Cure, and More!

We live in a time of incredible scientific breakthroughs.

In this post, let’s take a look at the most interesting recent health findings.

Eli Lilly releases cheaper insulin.

A victory to diabetes patients everywhere, pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly announced that it will release a lower-cost version of its insulin product Humalog®. The lower-cost version of insulin will sell at 50% of the cost of Humalog®.

This news should come as a great boon for Americans. It’s well-known how expensive pharmaceutical drugs are in the United States. Due to the expense, some Americans are even looking abroad to find affordable versions of their medication, such as through licensed international and Canadian pharmacies online.

To fill the need for cheaper medication, Eli Lilly will release Insulin Lispro (the lower-cost version of Humalog®) in vial and pen form. A single vial will cost $137.35 while a five-pack of KwikPens will cost $265.20.

Click here for the original press release.

Second patient in history is tested free of HIV thanks to stem cell treatment.

In an exciting new breakthrough, an HIV-positive patient has been tested free of the virus for 16 months following a bone marrow transplant. The transplanted tissue was from a donor with two copies of a CCR5 gene mutation. This mutation, possessed by about 1% of people of European descent, gives those who have two copies of it resistance to HIV.

However, it’s too soon to say that this patient has been “cured.” Additionally, bone marrow transplants aren’t a practical way to treat HIV in most patients. This particular patient was also suffering from chemotherapy-resistant blood cancer, so they required the transplant anyway. For most people, such a procedure would be too invasive to warrant the risk of a transplant. Instead, most patients respond well to antiretroviral drugs, a far less risky treatment.

Still, this is the second time such a procedure has proved successful. It may prove promising to future medical research into treating HIV, the virus responsible for AIDS.

This study was published in the journal Nature and summarized on the journal’s website.

We get less emotionally sensitive as we get older.

Ever wonder why your teenager is so moody all the time while your baby boomer-aged grandparent seems infinitely relaxed? Science may have just unearthed a clue.

A study published in Journal of Experimental Psychology: General found that during adolescence, our ability to sense anger and fear in others’ faces increases dramatically. As we become older adults, this sensitivity to negative facial expressions decreases. However, our sensitivity to happiness in others’ faces remains the same.

In other words, we get less sensitive to other people’s disapproval. Maybe this is why people have reported feeling the most life satisfaction at age 23 and 69.

You can find the abstract to the original study here.

More muscle mass may mean higher cancer treatment success.

A recent study conducted at Osaka University and published in Scientific Reports found a strong association between sarcopenia and the effectiveness of programmed death inhibitors (PD-1), an anti-cancer drug.

Sarcopenia is the degradation of muscle mass, a condition that can happen to cancer patients. The scientists researched the impact sarcopenia had on patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer, and they found that those with sarcopenia had significantly less successful reactions to PD-1 inhibitor treatment.

Click here for a plain English summary of the article and here for the original research paper.

Brain region of young adults at risk of drug addiction is markedly different from that of young adults with lower risk.

This study, conducted by researchers at the University of Cambridge and Aarhus University, further supports the progressive claim that drug addiction is not merely a case of weak character. Rather, addiction is strongly associated with innate biological factors.

Impulsivity in young adulthood is strongly associated with the risk of drug addiction. In this study, researchers found another strong association: increased impulsivity in young adults and low levels of myelin in a brain region called the putamen.

Myelin is a sheath that protects a nerve cell’s axis, maximizing nerve conduction efficiency much like the plastic coating of an electrical wire. The putamen is a part of the brain that is a key component of addiction, as it sends dopamine signals that impact impulsivity.

Further research is needed to see if decreased myelination is a reliable predictor of addiction risk. Find a link to the original study here.

How Cats Can Be Purrfect for Your Health

Why you should rethink how you view cats and consider adopting one of your own.

Cats tend to get a bad reputation about their personality. And unfortunately, this perception can lead people to think that they offer nothing of value to their human companions.

The main reason for this bad reputation, according to the host of Animal Planet’s show, Psycho Kitty, Pam Johnson-Bennett, is that many people unfairly compare cats to dogs. But cats and dogs are two entirely different species, so it’s only natural that they would react differently to similar situations.

Descended from wolves with a not-so-strict-but-still-hierarchical pack mentality, dogs typically act more social. They spend more time trying to work together efficiently as a group, so they interact with each other and people through different body postures, facial expressions, and other positions that are recognizable to people. As a result, both dogs and people have an easier time reading each other’s behavior. And this can lead to people viewing dogs as more overtly social and caring.

While it is true that dogs do emphasize their interest in their human companions, it does not mean that dogs are more empathetic than their feline counterparts. Cats just happen to show their care and interest in different ways.

Cats are not above enjoying the social company of one another in groups. They’ll even occasionally form feral colonies when they want to share a larger territory.

But they don’t form strong attachments to everyone in that territory. In fact, cats are typically solitary hunters, as they can only hunt enough food for one. So it’s more likely that they’ll establish a lone territory that doesn’t conflict with other nearby cat territories.

Because feline socialization is built around the availability of food and territory, cats prefer to feel and know that they’re secure. So domestic cats may seem standoffish at first, but they really just need the space and time to get used to anyone new who enters their territory and sounds, smells, and looks unfamiliar.

Once a cat has gotten the time and space they need to make up their mind about you, you’ll find that they can be very caring creatures who offer a number of benefits to your life and health, including the ones listed here.

1. You gain a furriendly caretaker.

Many cats have gone on to save their human companion’s life, and your future kitty might just do the same. For instance, without any official training, Lilly, a cat in Dorset, England, was able to save the life of her owner numerous times by alerting his family whenever he had an epileptic seizure. Another cat in 1949, Simon, even won the highest military medal available for helping save the lives of Royal Navy officers during the Chinese civil war. Despite suffering from severe shrapnel wounds from an attack on the ship he was on, the HMS Amethyst, Simon continued to protect the navy’s stores of food from an ongoing rat infestation and continued to lift the morale of the surviving sailors.

Now, I’m not saying your future furry friend will, without a doubt, turn out to be your own personal Superman in four-legged disguise. But you may find that your cat will be able to help you in ways that you’ve never thought of before.

2. Cuddling them can improve your heart health.

You might not have considered cats to be war heroes before, but have you considered that they could be your own form of therapeutic help?

All cats offer a number of natural healing benefits.

Just by petting a cat alone, you can improve your cardiovascular health. This is because petting a cat lowers your stress levels, which in turn, lowers any anxiety you might have. Petting is a nice, calming activity proven to be effective by at least one study that discovered during a 10-year period, cat owners, unlike those who did not own cats, were 30% less likely to die of a heart attack or stroke.

3. Their purring alone is medically therapeutic.

Another direct benefit to your body that cats can offer is their purring. Purring is not just a delightful sound for you to hear and feel whenever your cat is content to be around you. It’s also a form of healing.

Because cats purr within the 20 to 140 Hz range, they can help your body heal in a number of ways, including:

  • Providing you with an additional way to lower your stress in combination with petting
  • Lowering your blood pressure
  • Promoting bone restoration and healing in your muscles, tendons, and ligaments
  • Helping you heal from infections and swelling

These benefits can seem a bit New Age-y, but professionals have been given plausible reason to believe that purring can at least stimulate some healing.

4. You’ll rest easier with them nearby.

Due to a cat’s therapeutic abilities, it makes sense that many studies have found that people tend to report sleeping better with a cat than a human.

Having a feline friend close by as you sleep can help you feel less lonely, anxious, or depressed. This companionship can even help you when you’re having sleep troubles. Like many animals, cats tend to enjoy napping near your head or feet. So if your future cat ends up enjoying settling down to sleep at the same time that you do, you’ll be able to take comfort in the added benefit of them acting as a living, breathing weighted blanket. This benefit has been proven to reduce the amount of time you need to fall asleep and to promote healthier sleep cycles.

5. Your kids will likely enjoy their presence too.

You’re not the only person who can benefit from owning a cat. Your kids can too!

According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, children who are raised in a home with multiple pets, such as two or more dogs or cats, are less likely to develop allergies to pets and other common allergies, such as ones to dust mites, ragweed, and grass.

It is important to note, though, that the cat parasite, toxoplasma gondii, while usually harmless and not likely to produce symptoms, can be a threat to young children. However, you don’t have to worry too much because health officials note that simply changing your cat’s litter box daily and keeping your cat indoors should keep you and your kids safe from allergies.

In short: consider adopting a cat!

A cat may seem uninterested in earning your affection at first. But over time, they’ll prove to be caring in their own feline way. And you’ll find that they not only provide you with a furry friend, but they’ll also provide you with several health benefits.

Intervention: A Show Worth Intervening?

On the ethics of sensationalized reality shows cashing in on dysfunction.

In one episode of Intervention, a young woman rocks back and forth on a couch in front of the camera, cigarette in hand. Nonchalantly, she speaks: “I smoke crystal meth. Mostly on Tuesdays.” In another scene, she’s curled up on the ground crying. But just moments before, she was roaming aimlessly around a parking lot, lashing angrily with nonsensical phrases of nouns and verbs. Trapped in a methamphetamine-induced psychosis, she’s 19, wearing dark skinny jeans with a black hoodie, and covered by a head of wild, curly brown hair. But it’s her eyes that grab you the most — as blue and beautiful as the sky on a sunny day, these aren’t the eyes of a senseless lunatic. They’re the eyes of a kid who likely danced in front of the TV on Christmas morning or of one who brought back an A+ on her spelling test to her mother, beaming with pride.

Such stark scenes from the American reality TV show Intervention have been running since 2005, and the show continues to enjoy immense popularity from a dedicated cult following.

Heavily dramatized with quick scene cuts and ominous music, the show documents the lives of drug abusers and their families, who stage a televised intervention for them to seek help. The drugs discussed during these interventions have included everything from alcohol and heroin to eating disorders and autoasphyxiation.

By delving into these stories for 45 minutes at a time, you come to know both the addicts and their families. Tragedy is frequent. Abuse is rampant. Happy endings occur, but so do relapses.

There’s something strangely addictive about watching a show like Intervention. I admit that I felt compelled to binge-watch some episodes on certain nights. Motivations aside, fans all over enjoy the show. Frequent comments on YouTube videos echo this sentiment. “I need an intervention for watching Intervention!” is an oft-repeated phrase.

What draws people to the show in the first place?

I often wonder what makes Intervention so entertaining.

Mind you, this post was written by a person with minimal health problems who comes from a relatively well-adjusted, middle-income background.

Watching Intervention, I’ve always felt a small shadow of guilt at the edge of my mind. It’s like I’m doing something unethical by getting a kick at watching other people’s suffering. Still, I would rationalize it: well, this show is educational; well, thanks to this show I’m never going to try heroin; well, thanks to this show I’ll be a lot more grateful for the circumstances I was born into.

Still, I don’t understand the source of the rush that comes with watching morbid entertainment like this. Perhaps it is a form of reassurance that no matter how difficult my life gets, it’s not going to be as bad as that. Maybe it’s a way of reminding myself that worse things can happen.

Is it just morbid curiosity?

Perhaps my feelings are not so excusable. Perhaps it’s similar to the feeling you get from watching shows like Maury or scrolling through the r/trashy forum on Reddit, a sort of schadenfreude. There’s a pleasure — a sense of relief — that comes from watching others’ misfortune. Perhaps I like the feeling of being able to point at someone and say, “At least I haven’t failed that hard in life!”

How many times have you driven by a car accident and been tempted to stare? You want to know what happened, possible grisly sighting be damned.

Are humans just naturally nosy animals that delight in the misfortune of others?

Where does this morbidity come from?

When I was a kid, I was told by every adult that doing drugs was bad. That the kids who did drugs were bad. Which led me to believe that anyone and everyone who did drugs was bad.

When you think about a drug addict, what comes to mind? A millennial dressed to the hipster nines who’s coding for a start-up? A frazzled mother head bent over her children, ushering them impatiently onto the bus? A professor sitting on a park bench with one leg over the other, reading a novel? No, you likely think of a gaunt, dirty character — most likely male — with dishevelled hair and stained, mismatching clothes, walking up and down the highway meridian brandishing a sign that reads ANYTHING HELPS.

We’re so keen to conflate drug abuse with failure, but if you watch a show like Intervention, you’ll learn that very rarely do they involve characters like the guy with the sign. Many drug abusers are intelligent, come from middle-class families, were incredibly ambitious as young people, and accomplished great things. They’re attractive and beautiful with soft voices and bell-like laughter. Of course, there are a few people here and there that match the stereotype, but they tend to be in the minority.

You begin to learn the reasons for their addiction. Most of the time, it’s not their fault, at least not entirely. Broken families. Abusive parents. Death of a sibling. Or simply, because it runs in the family. Your feelings of disgust begin to change; if at first they were directed at the abuser, you begin feeling disdain for the enabling boyfriend, the abusive mother, and the sister in denial.

Contrary to popular belief, drug abuse is seldom the consequence of bad parenting or a lazy character. It has a strong genetic component. Addicts beget addicts. This doesn’t mean that certain people are doomed per se; this only means some people are naturally more vulnerable to addiction than others.

Should we change our perception of drug abuse?

What of the people who had no reason to try a drug but did so anyway for kicks?

Consider the Redditor who went to the local junkie park with the intention of buying weed but ended up trying heroin for the hell of it. He ended up getting addicted, and his life — once relatively normal — spiralled out of control.

There’s another thing people get wrong: sometimes, the drug is simply stronger than you. Even if you had the strongest human willpower in the world, if you make just one mistake, you can tumble into the greedy clutches of a substance.

This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t hold people like the Redditor above unaccountable — after all, they did make a bad decision to “just try.” It simply means that perhaps we should get off our high horse and stop assuming that we’re better than them.

That guy on the meridian? You don’t know how he got there.

What’s your heroin?

Most of us have an addiction.

It might not be heroin or cocaine, but it might be sugar, coffee, cigarettes, video games, or cheeseburgers. Benign as these addictions may sound, some can (and have) ruined people’s lives. For instance, experiments on rats have shown that a sudden withdrawal of sugar can cause withdrawal symptoms similar to heroin. Of course, some things (i.e., heroin, cigarettes) are more addictive than others (i.e., weed, ice cream), and not everything gives nasty withdrawal effects if you try to quit, but the psychological mechanism is similar. Irritability, short-temperedness, restlessness, and even boredom seizes your day when you can’t get your fix. You’ve probably tried to cut out a junk food thinking it would be easy, only to think about it more times during the day than you’d admit.

So, how does ethics fit into all this?

Back to Intervention: to watch or not to watch?

Ultimately, it’s up to you, but do ask why you watch the things you watch, and slow down throughout the day to think about how it affects you, your emotions, and how you see the world. Media is powerful. We think of TV and film as things to relax to at the end of the day, but in reality, they reach far into our psyches and influence the way we think, feel, and act. Subconsciously, what we consume directs our perspectives and our perceptions, our opinions and ideals.

Perhaps that’s your intervention: to question yourself. Next time you see a drug abuser writhing in psychosis, teeth chattering, eyes wide as dish plates, remember the story of the girl you saw on TV who says she “smokes meth. Mostly on Tuesdays.”

The Dog Who Saved Alaska

During a diphtheria outbreak in 1925, teams of sled dogs saved lives by transporting life-saving serum through harsh arctic conditions to Nome, Alaska. The most famous of these dogs was a husky named Balto.

A Frozen Town

Imagine living in a remote town landlocked by ice, in a time where communication was limited to the radio telegraph and the nearest train was more than 600 miles away. In this town, where temperatures dropped way below freezing, your most reliable form of transportation was a sled pulled by dogs.

This was life in Nome, Alaska in 1925. To add to the harsh, unforgiving climate, the small town’s only doctor had just diagnosed diphtheria in a patient. A highly contagious disease, diphtheria would be especially dangerous to the local Inuit who had only recently recovered from a measles outbreak. Fortunately, effective treatment existed in a life-saving serum. Unfortunately, this serum was a thousand miles away in Seattle.

An Extremely Contagious Killer

Diphtheria is a bacterial infection spread through respiratory fluids like coughing and sneezing. The bacteria that cause diphtheria emit a toxin that causes weakness, fever, sore throat, swollen glands around the neck, and destroys respiratory tissue. This dead tissue then forms a thick, grey pseudomembrane that blocks airways, making swallowing and breathing painful and difficult. If the toxin enters the bloodstream, it will also cause serious damage to the heart, kidneys, and nerves. Other complications include nerve damage, paralysis, and pneumonia. About 10% of victims will die.

Today, diphtheria is prevented by vaccination and is now rare in countries with sophisticated healthcare systems like the USA. However, this was not always the case. In 1925 Nome, diphtheria quickly spread among its residents, who were likely living in very close quarters to stay away from the cold.

A Dog Breed with Exceptional Prowess

The Siberian Husky is not your average dog breed. Developed thousands of years ago by the Chukchi people of Siberia, they had been used for transportation and companionship for generations, and were highly respected in Chukchi culture for their hardiness. The breed remains beloved today.

Huskies are unique in that they can run seemingly forever. In fact, in terms of distance running, huskies will outrun every other animal. (Interestingly, humans are in second place, thanks to our unique ability to sweat). Unlike most mammals, huskies can change their metabolism to burn fat and protein without glycogen. This allows them to run for extremely long periods, and they express similar vitals when they finish a journey. They also don’t require extensive downtime to recover.

A Town Saved

The closest train station to Nome was in the town of Nenana. Between Nenana and Nome was 674 miles of treacherous terrain. The two towns were connected by the Iditarod Trail, which becomes the only route of transport during the winter season. If you needed to a package to be delivered from Nenana to Iditarod, it would take approximately a month. The package would be passed from dog sled team to dog sled team in an unbroken relay until it got to you. In 1925, the package that required delivery was the life-saving diphtheria serum, and it was transported to Nenana in a mere 6 days. This meant dog sled teams traveled, on average, 6-9 miles an hour.

Leonard Seppala and his lead dog Togo were responsible for perhaps the most dangerous leg of the race. Today, their contribution remains overshadowed by Balto’s. Unlike Balto, Togo was a more experienced sled dog and was able to safely lead his team across the frozen ice of Norton Sound just three hours before it broke.

Musher Gunnar Kaasen and his team, led by Balto, completed the last, critical leg of this relay. At the time, Balto was an inexperienced team leader, and if Kaasen had anticipated the stormy journey they were about to embark upon, he may not have chosen him as lead dog. However, Balto quickly proved his worth. The team endured vicious attacks from Mother Nature; at one point, Balto refused to go forward, saving the team from freezing in the Topkok River. At another point in the journey, the sled and team were lifted off the ground by an extremely powerful gust of wind.

Balto’s team had originally been assigned the second-to-last leg of the relay, but when they arrived at their destination, the next musher was sound asleep. So, they decided to mush the rest of the way to Nome, making the length of their journey total to around 53 miles.

Aftermath

The dogs were lauded as heroes around the world. Unfortunately, after a series of disputed financial dealings between Kaasen and filmmaker Sol Lesser, who produced a documentary with the sled dogs, Kaasen had no choice but to tour a vaudeville circuit with his dogs to make ends meet. Two years later, Balto was found in inhumane conditions at a “dime” museum by a businessman named George Kimble. Kimble, who had sympathized with the dogs’ heroic story, was rightfully outraged. To buy and rescue the dogs, he had two weeks to come up with $2000, a lot of money at the time.

Thanks to fervent advertising, the money was quickly raised by donors touched by Balto’s story. Kimble was able to bring Balto and six other dogs back to Cleveland, where they lived the rest of their retirement in better conditions at the Brookside Zoo.

Balto died in 1933, aged 14. His body was taxidermied and remains displayed today at the Cleveland Museum of National History. A statue of Balto was erected in Central Park in New York City to honor the serum run, with Balto himself present for the unveiling.

The heroic story of Balto and the “Great Race of Mercy” remains an inspiring tale of cooperation between humans and dogs. Today, “The Iditarod” is a race of over a thousand miles between Anchorage and Nome, undertaken by enthusiast mushers and their dogs. To learn more about Balto, you can refer to the Cleveland Museum of National History brochure here.