“Divide each difficulty into as many parts as is feasible and necessary to resolve it.” ― René Descartes
If there is one thing in life I’ve known since day one, it is living with allergies.
The Itchy, Sneezy Allergy Life
I was the baby who had red, chafed cheeks, and the child who had bloodied inner elbows and knees. I couldn’t stop scratching. My grandmother used to prepare orange peel and oatmeal baths, and started me on the habit of slathering with Vaseline. And still I itched.
I love being outdoors. Every spring and summer growing up, I sneezed non-stop, and lived with constant bronchitis, a sinus infection, or walking pneumonia. I always itched and sneezed, and tried hard to power through it.
But powering through allergies isn’t always the best way to live.
The Need for Treatment
In college, when I felt as if I’d broken my leg, a doctor showed me the scarlet line running from my toes to my knee and labeled it a blood infection, severe enough for him to toss out the terms “near-miss” and “amputation” in a single sentence. The infection had started at an itchy spot between my toes where eczema had taken root.
Eleven years ago, I threw a party for my husband’s thirtieth birthday (can’t believe it’s been that long ago!), which was at the end of May. We had the party outside in the gardens, lush with spring blooms. It was a beautiful evening, but within five minutes of the party starting, I sneezed and sneezed until I couldn’t see. One friend’s wife was a physician, who suggested I get tested for allergies. Suddenly, I couldn’t think of why I hadn’t done it already.
My Allergy Treatment
The first time I had the back skin-prick test, several of the allergens swelled far past the doctor’s standard measuring card. Mine, instead of being 3 cm diameter of redness, were 33 cm, forming circles of redness which covered my whole back. I was a little bit off the chart.
It was then, with confirmation that I had an allergy problem that no medication could help, that I made the choice to do something, finally, about my allergies. I began with allergy shots (immunization therapy), one in each arm, two times a week in minute doses. It was a lifestyle change, almost a part-time job. But it was worth it.
After following the shots regimen of increasing the dose weekly to the maintenance level, the following spring, I experienced no allergy symptoms, and took no medication. I was allergy-symptom free for the first time in my life and I felt great.
Allergies in Europe
I’ve had to stop and restart twice since then, because of my move to Prague for four years. In Europe, allergists approach immunotherapy differently than in the U.S., yet my doctor there was one of the best, most positive surprises of my expat years. We had no air conditioning to escape to in Prague, and my allergies were in check. It felt like a miracle.
I have settled in to the fact that I will likely be taking allergy shots for the rest of my life. And that’s okay.
Living with Eczema
My eczema has not improved with allergy shots, but it has been manageable. I’ve learned to follow a very careful skin care routine, though it’s minimal: Vaseline, Eucerin or Lubriderm lotion, and a Cetaphil facial cleanser. I can only use certain makeup and one sunscreen, and default to Clinique.
Though immunotherapy and ointment have helped me tremendously, I think other habits help in managing the allergy life even more:
- drinking endless glasses of water
- eating carefully (I have Celiac disease as well, which I think someday doctors will find is related)
- sweating out toxins through regular exercise
The one thing I know for sure is this: when we suffer, we learn to fully appreciate what it is to be well. I am deeply grateful to feel 100% and live well, in every day that comes. Health is a gift.
I often talk with friends and try to share my experience to help them and others (why I’m writing it here, too). I don’t suffer from food allergies, though two of the men in my house do. Food allergies are becoming more and more prevalent (an excellent article in the NYTimes here, if you’re interested).
In the comments below, please share your experiences with allergies and options you’ve found to help. I’d love to hear them, and others would, too. Thank you! To living well in 2015.