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Nosing Out Help With Allergies

May 15, 2000|MARLA BOLOTSKY

My family has been battling the symptoms of springtime allergies--runny noses, watery eyes and clouded heads--for about two months now, so I finally decided to confront these demons by checking out some allergy Web sites. I had found some relief through medications, but, as allergy sufferers know, there are drawbacks to allergy drugs, especially long term. And the medication options for my children are limited because of their ages.

The following three sites helped me get a better handle on the types of allergies faced by each family member, and I learned ways to make us feel better besides just reaching for an antihistamine.

* Gazoontite (http://www.gazoontite.com): This site, relaunched last month, is a combination retail operation and allergy, asthma and breathing information center. It's the Internet version of a bricks-and-mortar business with locations in San Francisco, Costa Mesa and New York.

You can purchase a wide variety of products (more than 1,000) to cope with asthma and allergies, and to promote "better breathing"--from pure cotton tissues (regular ones made from wood products can scratch your nose) in very stylish bright boxes ($5 for three boxes of 24 tissues) to a considerably more expensive room air purifier (about $400). You can also compare items by features and price. Looking for something the site doesn't have? Partner PlanetRx can fill in the blanks and even help with prescription refills for that matter.

But gazoontite.com is more than a shopping experience. There are five newsletters, online communities, a glossary, articles, and a breathing forecast that factors in weather conditions, pollutants and allergens in your area. You can also register for e-mail to be sent when the next day's breathing index registers at a "trigger level."

Plus, a registered nurse is available daily (9 a.m. to noon, Monday through Friday) to answer your questions. The nurse was helpful, giving me a thorough answer to my questions about how long allergy medications should be taken. The site's backers and "experts" are named, with bios on each.

Gazoontite.com is beautifully designed, in shades of clear blue sky and sea, with scattered photos of the retail shop. Got a question? Just call the toll-free customer service line at (get this) (800) 4-MYNOSE. Finally, although there's plenty to like about this site, you gotta love its name (and spelling) if nothing else.

* Allergy Learning Lab (http://www.allergylearninglab.com): A reader suggested this site to me last year, and I found it to be a great basic-training site for identifying and dealing with allergies. Here I learned that dust mites (the millions of microscopic creatures that live in dust) trigger many people's allergies.

The site's design resembles a lab or health center waiting room, and you can click on the reception desk to register for membership. It's free and doesn't ask for much--just a few questions about your symptoms and allergies and your e-mail address. (But note that when you return to the site, you'll get a personalized "daily memo" and a request to fill out a personal diary on your allergy symptoms. Just skip it if you're not up for sharing.)

After you have registered, you can select a floor--general information about allergies is on Blue, treatment options on Red and tips on preparing for a visit with a physician are on Purple--and start exploring. On each floor you are greeted by name by a perky cyber health professional.

You'll find tips on how to talk to your doctor about your symptoms, daily pollen levels and air quality predictions for the following week. You'll also find allergy symptoms commonly not labeled as such--feeling grumpy, antisocial and disconnected for instance.

But the site isn't as comprehensive as it could be. I tried to search for information on children and antihistamines, and came up empty. (Note: You'll find the search engine by clicking on the lobby link, but only after you've entered the site with your password.) Narrowing my search to children returned 14 articles, but only two had a significant amount of information on children and allergies. You'll find the content general, but cleverly organized and informative--such as how to tell if you have a cold or allergies.

Allergy Learning Lab has no advertising, no sponsorships and, disturbingly, no stated ownership. I sent several e-mails to the feedback address listed on the site, but they all came back as undeliverable. Not good, folks. I did find bios on the medical advisors, so I contacted one. He told me that the drug company Schering-Plough, makers of the antihistamine Claritin, sponsors the site. That's the kind of information that ought to be clearly stated. (But now I know why the site isn't chock-full of information on allergy shots or holistic remedies.)

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