Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Allergy Season

They say, "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree." Well, I inherited many things from my late father. Good things, like my love of Shakespeare. And, not so good things.

Like my allergies.

Let's see ... I'm allergic to cats, hay, pine, cats, dust, pollen, feathers, cats. (Oh, did I mention cats?) I sneeze. I wheeze. My eyes puff up and water. Sometimes I get hives — nice red ones on my face and neck. I have seasonal allergies and situational allergies. For example, if in any season I'm in a situation where there happens to be a cat ... well, you get the picture.

Happily, I don't have any of those carry-an-EpiPen-in-my-purse-or-risk-certain-death allergies. I can eat peanuts and shellfish, although probably not together (yuk!). If I'm stung by a bee, it will hurt like hell but there's no need to rush me to the nearest emergency room. So, even though I should probably buy stock in the Kleenex company, I've always considered my allergies to be a nuisance (albeit, a big fat one), but nothing more.

My husband is not allergic to anything. Nothing, nada. So, early in our relationship, it distressed him to see me sniffling, scratching and rubbing my eyes. His attitude was, 'If it's broke, fix it!' He urged me to make an appointment with an allergist.

If you've never been to an allergist, here's what you're missing. Allergists use a very primitive and particularly painful diagnostic process called "the scratch test." I sat in a comfy chair and placed my bare arms out in front of me, palms up. A nurse (who, in my memory at least, is the definitive doppelgänger for Young Frankenstein's Frau Blucher) then "scratched me" with needles that had been dipped in 48 different allergens. Then, the fun really started.

Basically, the patient (that would be me) has to sit still for twenty minutes while the allergens take effect. My forearms almost immediately began to burn, itch and swell up. The entire purpose of the test is to gauge the reaction to each individual allergen, so it's important not to scratch or move, lest the results be compromised. Twenty minutes can be a long time. When mine were up, Frau Blucher returned. She took one look and hurried out of the room to get two of her colleagues, because — and I quote — "The pine hive is the largest one I've ever seen."

What can I say? I've always tried to be an overachiever.

So, now that my allergies were official, the allergist met with me to discuss a plan of action. He suggested that I control my environment (duh) — get a high quality vacuum and dust-proof mattress cover, stay out of homes with cats (I repeat, duh). He gave me a prescription for allergy medicine and asked me to call him in two weeks to report back on how well the new pills worked. When I called, I explained that the new pills didn't seem to work as well as the over-the-counter antihistamine I had always used. His expert medical opinion was that I should go back to my old pills. And, we were done.

Bottom line? 48 hives and $300 later, I was right where I started. (Although, I did have my new found fame as the record holder for the largest pine hive to keep me satisfied.)

When my daughter was born thirteen years ago, we wondered whether she would inherit my world-famous allergies or my husband's utter lack thereof. As she grew from baby to toddler to little girl to tween, we were thrilled to see no evidence of allergies whatsoever. She adores cats and has a knack for earning the instant trust of even the most timid ones in our neighborhood. Seasons come and go with nary a sneeze. And, she spends more time in haylofts than she does in her own room.

So, we assumed we had dodged this particular hereditary bullet. But now ... I'm not so sure. My daughter suddenly seems to have developed some allergies. I've been keeping a list and here's what she appears to be allergic to:

• Hangers, and in a related allergy, clothes hampers
• Getting out of bed in the morning
• Making that same bed once she does get out of it
• Anything for breakfast more nutritious than Pop-Tarts
• Listening to my radio stations in the car
• Listening to stories about me when I was thirteen
• Listening to pretty much anything I ask her to do

As I reflect on this list, I realize that there is a common thread here. Maybe my daughter is only reacting to one allergen. And, unfortunately, I don't think there's a pill for it. When she's a little older, she can control her environment (an out-of-state college looks likely). Until then, no scratch test required.

Just as I've had to learn to live in a world with pine and dust and cats, my daughter will just have to deal with the irritant that is her mother.


  1. My allergy misery went far beyond the scratch test. My parents ended up sending me to an allergist every week for 6 years. Each visit, I would have several allergens injected into my arm. Once the wheals emerged, my allergist would measure them and send me on my way. I'm resolute in my belief that my parents were scammed, because these shots did nothing to relieve my allergies. Fun times, indeed!

    Great blog, by the way!

  2. Don't be so sure about that out of state college. My little allergy sufferers are both opting to stay close to home. I guess I haven't irritated them quite enough!

  3. Thanks for the comments!

    Dear "Irish Cannot Cook" - that sounds terrible! It also sounds like a good prologue for a horror movie. The hero tracks down their childhood allergist, straps them onto an operating table and injects them with 6-years' worth of allergens. Death by wheal! Thanks for reading!

    Hi Stephanie. You're very lucky! I hope that my daughter will find it in her heart to stay close to her devoted mama too.