Hadassah On Call: New Frontiers in Medicine

Sneeze, Itch, Cough: How Allergies Interrupt Our Lives

Pollen, food, pets and even light? How exactly do these types of allergies appear? When is it an allergy or something else? Is there a cure? We're talking all things allergy with Dr. Yuval Tal, director of the Allergy and Clinical Immunology Unit at Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem.


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About this episode

Yuval Tal, MD, PhD, is a specialist in internal medicine, allergy and clinical immunology and the director of the Allergy and Clinical Immunology Unit at Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem. Dr. Tal finished his PhD dissertation in the molecular biology department of the Hadassah-Hebrew University School of Medicine in 2004 after completing his BSc in Biology from Tel Aviv University and MSc from the Hadassah-Hebrew University School of Medicine.

In addition to national and international positions, Dr. Tal is the director of the Occupational Health Unit and chair of the Hadassah hospital off-label drug therapy committee. He teaches multiple courses at Tel Aviv University and is a consultant to the Israel Ministry of Health. A board member of the Israeli Allergy & Clinical Immunology Association, Dr. Tal leads one of the biggest clinical immunology units in Israel with extensive clinical studies and basic research. Dr. Tal has published in leading medical journals  on a range of topics within clinical immunology, from molecular immunology and immune deficiencies to autoimmunity and allergy. He has presented in multiple national and international professional conferences.

You wake up in the morning and have a stuffy nose. Is it a cold or is it one of the myriad allergies so many of us experience? Allergens are everywhere: Dust, grass, flowers, bee stings, pet hair and more. Some people have such an allergic reaction to cats, it can persist for up to six months in a room even after a cat has left. “Pollen is seasonal. In most cases, cats are not," said Dr. Yuval Tal, the director of the allergy and clinical immunology department at Hadassah hospital, who joined us for a wide-ranging conversation on the latest episode of the "Hadassah on Call" podcast.

But if you think you know all there is to know about allergies, think again. Dr. Tal's research interests run the gamut. Take, for example, a project he worked on with Harvard Medical School about the high mortality rates among Black Americans with COVID-19. A biologist, Dr. Tal zeroed in on certain proteins and discovered a molecular basis for the discrepancy.

This study was just one example of what Dr. Tal and many of his colleagues at Hadassah hospital believe is the future of healthcare: precision medicine. Instead of treating all COVID-19 patients the same, for example, care should be tailored to their specific needs. In this episode, Dr. Tal told stories of three patients: one with cancer, one who couldn't urinate, and one who had a rare allergy to light. With each case, the doctor honed in on the single over-productive protein causing pain in the patient and administered a drug specifically targeted to that protein."With the new generation drugs, this is our strongest ability we know to stop rare diseases from actually manifesting."

And sometimes, especially when it comes to allergies, the solution may be in the place you expect it the least. Dr. Tal has seen female patients who were experiencing extreme pain after sex. It seemed that they were having an allergic reaction to their partner's semen. "For the last 60 years, it has been described allergic disease," Dr. Tal said. "But I thought it couldn't be allergic." What he discovered was that the women were not allergic to the semen, but to a specific protein found in semen. What's more, when he gave aspirin to the men, it inhibited that protein and the women no longer experienced any pain. This was an instance of thinking outside the box: Giving medicine to someone other than the person experiencing the symptoms.

It's this radical thinking that has long served as the undercurrent to all of Dr. Tal's research. "You close your eyes," said Dr. Tal, "and you imagine the immune system, and you see there is a solution."

What else you’ll hear in this episode:

  • Are allergies genetic?
  • Are stress and allergies linked?

Further learning:

“Hadassah On Call: New Frontiers in Medicine” is a production of Hadassah, The Women's Zionist Organization of America. Hadassah enhances the health of people around the world through medical education, care and research innovations at the Hadassah Medical Organization. For more information on the latest advances in medicine please head over to hadassah.org.

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The show is hosted by Benyamin Cohen produced by the team at the Hadassah offices in both New York and Israel.

Read a transcript of this episode.

Watch the interview below.

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Our recent episode about joint replacements at Hadassah hospital:

If you're enjoying this episode, you'll want to check out our previous conversation with Dr. Gurion Rivkin, who heads the joint replacement unit at Hadassah hospital. We talked a lot about knee and hip replacements and how a new robot called the ROSA is helping them perform better surgeries. “The reason the industry, the medical industry, developed robots now and computerized assisted surgery before, was because with knee replacements, we had a problem,” explained Dr. Rivkin. “Our satisfaction rate is only 85%. And so you can say that's a big number, but that leaves 15% of unhappy patients. And when you have that kind of percentage on a surgery that is performed on millions of patients around the world, that's a big problem. And that's why we're always looking for ways to improve our results.” You can find that episode of “Hadassah On Call” on Apple Podcast, Google Play, or wherever you get your podcast. Or on the web at hadassah.org/hadassahoncall.

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