I have seasonal allergies. And by seasonal, I mean three of the four seasons. My dad has them. My mom has them. My parents would self-medicate with pseudoephedrine almost daily when I was growing up. I’m pretty sure my dad still does. I remember my mom being absolutely miserable all spring and summer, to the point that she couldn’t go outside. Sometime in my middle school years, I remember her getting “shots for her hay fever.” I was a pretty self-centered kid, so I don’t remember for how long. All I knew is mom was getting shots which might make her less grumpy and not-fun, and maybe I wouldn’t have to be the one to cut the grass anymore.
My allergies weren’t that bad off the bat. But it seemed every year they got a little worse. I self-medicated with over the counter stuff. Then I went to a doctor and they started me on prescription allergy pills once a day. Then we added nasal spray. Then we added another prescription pill. Then we changed to a much stronger prescription once a day. Then we doubled it. Then we added eye drops. Then we added OTC pills for the really bad days.
In the end, I was taking two prescription strength Zyzal every night, using a prescription nasal spray once or twice a day, using prescription eye drops a few times a day, and taking OTC Zyrtec and Allegra. And I was still stuffy and coughing, and still had watery, itchy eyes, and still wanted to scratch my face off most days. So finally my doctor gave me referral to an allergist for a consultation and some allergy testing.
Allergy testing generally consists of a rack of sharp plastic sort-of needles (really just sharpened points on each peg) which are dipped into a variety of potential triggers, and then pressed against your skin, either the forearm (like I had) or the back. I had two racks, one on each arm. One was for food allergies, the other, for airborne and other allergies. The allergist dipped, poked, and pressed each one onto my forearms and said he’d be back in 30 minutes to check on the results. As he walked out, he said not to touch the areas or residual liquid on my arms, and definitely don’t scratch….at which point I started to itch.
A loooong half hour later, he came back in to check. Several of the spots on both arms were itchy and inflamed. Some were more red than others, some swelled more than others, some didn’t really change at all. He took his notes and let me wash off my arms before giving me the results:
I was allergic to “pretty much everything in the air.” His words. Pollen, dust, mold, cat dander, dog dander, mouse dander…the only things I wasn’t allergic to were rabbits and bees on the airborne/other arm. For food, I was allergic to green beans, tomatoes, potatoes, and carrots. Strange. I knew I had a pollen problem, and I knew I was sensitive to some types of dogs, usually ones with longer, coarse fur. But I’d never noticed a problem with anything else, and never had any issue with any food ever.
But, ok. That’s what the test and the doctor says, so it must be true, right? So I agreed to start the allergy shot therapy asap.
Now, allergy shots, if you aren’t familiar, is where someone in some lab somewhere makes a serum that is basically a cocktail of small amounts of all the things you are allergic to. The serum starts of really low, and as time goes on (my treatment was supposed to be a 3-year process), they slowly increase the amount of each allergen. I started with weekly shots for a month, then bi-monthly, then monthly. And when I say shots, it’s literally a shot in the arm. A nurse administers it, no appointment necessary. However, if you miss a shot, or have a bad reaction to a shot, they have to either repeat the same serum, or revert back a step or two.
The premise is the tiny amounts of allergen injected directly into your body are supposed to help your body, well, get used to them so that when the real allergen shows up, your body doesn’t overreact. This was something I could wrap my head around so I was completely on board, and hopeful.
The shots were inconvenient. As I said, it was once a week at first, then bi-monthly, but the clinic was only open on certain days at certain times for the shots and located an hour from my workplace. Scheduling became a constant stress for me. My job doesn’t always allow me to plan ahead, and I actually missed two shot days due to work conflicts, which of course put my treatment back a dose each time. The shots themselves were very uneventful. I checked in, got my shot, and sat in the waiting room for 15 minutes after to ensure I wasn’t going to react to the serum.
I have a friend who is going through the same treatment now, and she is having good results, but she has had a couple reactions. Nothing too serious, but enough to warrant backing off her serum a step or two for each one. But she reports that this allergy season has not hit her as hard as normal over all.
So the shots went on for about 6 months and things were pretty much nominal for the time of year… until they weren’t, and I was diagnosed with “adult-onset food allergies,” sulfite sensitivity, and Alpha-gal disease.