PEOPLE often come to the doctor in the winter time complaining of hay fever. What is this condition that makes noses run and eyes itch at a time when trees, grasses, and weeds are all tucked into their winter beds? It really is the same as hay fever, except that as the language has grown up, “hay fever” is reserved exclusively for symptoms due to pollens. It is therefore necessary to call these out-of-season cases by some other name, which the medical profession does with characteristic gusto, such as “vasomotor rhinitis,” “perennial allergic coryza,” “atopic rhinitis,” and others. The subject of hay fever would not be fully covered if these cases were ignored, but the causes are so numerous that only a general picture of the field can be described. There are three types of causative agents inhalants, foods, and bacteria.
It is in the group called inhalants that most of the causes of trouble are found. Pollen belong to this group. The inhalants are those multitudinous minute particles which are always floating around us in the air but which we are seldom aware of unless we happen to see a beam of light bring them into sharp reliefor unless we happen to be sensitive to them. And of all the inhalants, the one people are most often troubled by, the one which is facetiously said to keep the allergists alive, is house dust.
THE HOUSE DUST ANTIGEN
Fantastic? Yes, but true. And what is this substance which we speak of as house dust? It is what comes out of your carpet sweeper and the bag of your vacuum cleaner. Of what is it composed? The sloughed off skin and hair of humans and animals; decomposed vegetable and animal life of all kinds; road dust; jute and various hairs from rugs and furniture; pollen; glue; wood. The list can go on and on and still it is not actually known what the active substance is in house dust. Some of its chemical properties are known. It is evident that there is a difference between house dust and hospital or hotel dust, because people who are sensitive to house dust are commonly not sensitive to the others. There must be a difference between house dusts, because occasionally a person is sensitive to the dust of his own house but not to that of other houses. We know how to immunize people to dust so that we can minimize the symptoms they get from it. In fact, we can do everything with it that we can do with pollen, except to tell. you what it is.