Allergy Tests & Piece of Mind

I’ve had allergies my entire life. Sneezing, wheezing, itchiness from hell – you name it…but I literally couldn’t. For years, I lived with an underlying sense of dread because I could not tell you precisely the things I was allergic to. That is, until now.

My parents and doctors have always assumed that I could be allergic to anything from pollution and pollen to rug fibers or animal dandruff. Trying to figure out exactly what the causes were was never much of a priority though since all the members of my family have undiagnosed allergies. How did we deal, one might ask? Inhalers, antihistamines, poultices, steam through the nostrils, scarves over the face and nose, medicinal creams, aloe vera, health supplements, etc etc. Even though my family could not pinpoint the origin of their discomfort, there was always a “I heard taking/doing _____ could help.” Sometimes the suggestions did help for a bit, other times, these “cures” were simply a waste of money.

Tired of playing the “oh, I might be allergic to this” and the “so maybe I should be doing this” guessing game, I made the decision to sign up for an official allergy test at a local allergy center (thank you insurance!). I went in for a consultation and was told to return after not taking any allergy pills for seven days. I had taken a sleeping pill four days before, otherwise I’d have been able to do it then. This is because sleeping pills have diphenhydramine (Benadryl), a sedating antihistamine.

Over the course of the seven days, I was advised to avoid scented laundry detergents, dryer sheets, and moisturize as much as I could after a shower. Additionally, I was warned that if I had the slightest inkling of a food allergy – think tingling of the mouth after eating anything – that I should let the facility know for them to test for that, too.

Test Time!

The seven days were up and I returned anxious and oddly excited! I found how systematic it was fascinating. The assistant wrote numbers on my forearms (she did offer to do it on my back instead, but I wanted to see the results). I was to be given 74 scratches (not shots) by what looked like sharp plastic tube things that were soaking in solutions of various allergens. Each scratch was numbered according to its corresponding solution testing common things such as plants, dog hair, and even cockroach!

If any of the 74 did not show results, they would inject the sample under my skin to make doubly sure. I really hoped that wouldn’t be the cockroach. In my case, I had to have 14 additional shots as some scratches caused nothing on my arms after about fifteen minutes. I chose not to ask if one of the 14 injections was the cockroach. However, about another fifteen minutes later, my results were in!

I’ll put photos at the bottom of this post for anyone curious about how it was done, but be warned it is gross. I’ll share my results here in case anyone would rather skip the graphic photos:

My Results

First off, it turns out that I’m allergic to the great outdoors! Well, namely all the grasses and trees they tested – which equates to nearly everything in my mind. Both red and white mulberry trees seem to be the worst out of all the plants for me, but mostly the red species. This is ironic, as one of my posts to this blog a few years ago was about frolicking around Lishui, Zhejiang, China picking mulberries. I cannot remember any adverse side effects, but there probably were some as any outdoor plants make me itchy apparently.

“Many people assume if that product is sold in the United States of America, somebody has inspected it, and it must be safe. Unfortunately, that’s not always true.”

U.S. Senator Richard Durbin 

A sobering note about Mulberries: a congressman’s wife died yesterday from taking white mulberry leaf diet supplements. PSA: Please avoid taking unregulated “health supplements.”

Segueing into the topic of food, my results revealed that I ought to steer clear of the mushrooms that grow on corn (also known as Huitlacoche, a delicacy in Mexico). Truthfully, I’m disappointed about this one. I love cooked mushrooms and always wanted to try some after seeing my Maryland Mycology fb group go gaga anytime someone finds them.

Speaking even more on food, my doctor shocked me by also mentioning to avoid raw apples and other pitted fruit like peaches! She stated that a lot of orchards are cross-contaminated with other trees, so to reduce negative effects, she recommended not even peeling the fruit to eat raw. Instead, she said that peeling and cooking the fruit is said to break down the allergens. However I think I’ve been fine eating them raw for years. Only peeling and cooking my apples seems a bit extreme.

Living with dog allergies:
Baby Stephanie and Princess I McChord ABF, Washington c. 1994

Other things to avoid include feathers (farewell my comfy down pillow!), cockroaches, mice, and dogs.

Side story, my mom has a black lab/pitbull mixed dog named Princess III that the whole family is allergic to. Everyone adores Princess and she’s super friendly, but no one can pet her for long before sneezing or breaking out into hives. So when my husband, Mark, comes to visit, you can tell her joy goes through the roof. He’s the only one really able to really shower her with snuggles, and Princess would stick to him like glue, poor thing.

What most surprised me is that the results said I’m not allergic to cats!! I am taking this as a sign to be more vocal about wanting to adopt one.

Princess III at White Sands National Park, New Mexico

And the winner of the largest allergic reaction I had goes to….DUST MITES. Of course it had to be something microscopic that is literally everywhere! It has been over a week since I had my test, and my shoulder where the mite shot is still red and itchy. All the other shots and scratches have disappeared. Thankfully the swelling and redness has gone way down on the mite spot, but I guess that just emphasizes how bad it is. This is as good an excuse as any to keep deep cleaning the apartment, but I’m still bummed about the diagnosis. Plus, not using my humidifier is going to make for an interesting winter. As I left the allergists, I was given a prescription of Flonase and Allegra to go with my usual inhaler, and I have noticed a big difference in congestion, especially at night!

Reflections

Overall, I am glad I finally made an appointment. Why did I wait so long?? Seriously, everyone should go get allergy tested! It’s really not as bad as it sounds, and it feels so good to know for sure what to avoid if you have allergies.

Trigger Warning: Photos of skin pricks and hives/reactions below.

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Prepping the Samples

The scratch tray!

Reactions

Yikes, right? It feels so validating and freeing for me to know these symptoms are not just in my head. Being able to pinpoint what causes them is such a load of my shoulders!

Steph ❤

One Comment Add yours

  1. Penny Simpson says:

    Very interesting, Steph! Nice your new drugs are working. I think Philip uses both those, too.

    >

    Liked by 1 person

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