September 26, 2011

a tale of darwinian selection at work

this is not news to anyone on twitter (or anyone who knows me) but i have some wicked allergies. none to food, as far as i know - for which i am incredibly grateful, since the other thing you may know about me is how much i love eating.

i take an antihistamine religiously every single day, and use my dear, dear friend the netipot regularly. i can't take most decongestants (sudafed and the ilk) because i'm allergic to them, HA HA OH THE IRONY. (ok, technically i'm not allergic to them, but psuedoephedrine - aka sudafed - gives me heart palpitations. so, you know, not something i should take daily.)

anyway. things had been getting Even Worse lately. terrible, crippling sinus headaches that were affecting not just my ability to do fun stuff, but my ability to work. sinus infections all. the. time. i finally decided that i would go see an ENT and see if they had any advice or suggestions.

WELL. that was a sort of hilarious visit, starting with the doctor not really taking my vague complaints very seriously... until she took a look into the ol' schnoz, and, no shit, gasped.

(as we know, this is never good. and keeps happening.)

"oh my GOD," she exclaimed. "can you breathe? like, right now?"

"i.. um.. yes?" i answered, confused.

"i mean, i've seen some pretty big turbinates before, but yours are, like, OUT THERE. IN MY FACE."

i had no idea what that meant, but she sounded impressed. i told her uncertainly that i didn't actually feel congested right then, that i'd consider this a good day on the breathing scale. her eyebrows shot up, and she ordered a ct scan for my face. she also prescribed me a nasal steroid spray and suggested i get allergy tested.

the ct scan revealed pretty much the same thing she had already said: i have GIGANTOR turbinates on the right side of my face. turbinates are bony protrusions in your nose & sinus passages that are covered with helpful tissue that lets you filter & humidify the air you breathe through your nose. i looked up what normal ct scans look like, and... yeah. i'm not sure how i can breathe through the right side of my face, either. i've also got bone spurs on my septum, which is partially deviated. the doctor suggested surgery to get rid of the bone spurs & reduce the size of the mutant turbinate - although it's completely up to me if i want to go ahead with that.

next up! the allergist. i've "had allergies" since college, but never knew to what, exactly. when asked, i just sort of shrugged and explained they were "seasonal." i couldn't explain why i seemed to have them in ALL seasons, but whatever. i'm not a doctor.

so off to the allergist i went. and in short order found myself injected with the preliminary (!) 40 shots to see how i reacted to a slew of pollens, molds, and animals.

"by the way," the allergist had explained as she was administering those first 40 shots, "some people occasionally find their symptoms might get worse during the testing."

within minutes of being injected, i had several welts developing on my forearms. very, very itchy welts. "wow!" she exclaimed while measuring the size of them a little while later to record on her clipboard, "we sure won't have to retest you for a bunch of these, huh!"

all the shots that didn't initially react - or had smallish reactions - were retested on my upper arms. where they pretty much all turned into itchy bumps, to go along with the still agonizingly itchy welts on my forearms. i think i ended up with a total of 75 shots in the end.

the itching, however, was certainly not RESTRICTED to my arms. one hour into the testing, i couldn't stop scratching my face, scalp, neck, legs - anything i could reach, basically. i also started sneezing and quite suddenly sounded as if i'd developed a cold.

by the time the testing was concluded, she was rubbing cortisone cream on my arms and urging me to take an antihistamine ("i keep these on hand for people who react like you!" she explained cheerfully) to try and reduce my leper-like appearance before i headed into work for the day.

and at the end, she pulled out my results sheet for me. "i'll just highlight the ones you're allergic to," she explained as she uncapped a marker.

ah. so... all of them, pretty much.

"i guess i should have just highlighted the ones you WEREN'T allergic to," she admitted. "'re DEFINITELY a candidate for allergy shots."

(she did explain that i actually AM allergic to all seasons, interestingly enough. seeing as i'm allergic to what appears to be every pollen on the planet, that covers plants that pollenate during the spring, summer, AND fall. and in the winter, i'm covered by dust mites and the two furballs i live with. i win!, wait. i don't think that's right.)

so! to sum up, i am allergic to ALL THE THINGS.

i also need to decide if i want to get sinus surgery, try allergy shots (or drops - has anyone done these? they're the same serum as the shots, but taken sublingually at home?), try both, or just continue to do nothing, which is obviously the most attractive option.

except that i'm home sick today because my sinuses currently have me resembling a leper with consumption. so. yeah.


  1. That is quite the list. Looking for a (slight) silver lining, though, do the dust allergies mean that you don't have to be responsible for cleaning at home?

    Just a thought. Good luck with the allergy shots!

  2. You and my husband could be allergy BFFs! Actually he "lit up" even more than you. Those 9/25 and 10/25 that you have - his highest were more like 25/30, and he had several of them. It SUCKS. He did allergy shots. Lucky him, he was in the 25% that don't respond. At that time he was working as a RN at an allergy clinic, and they used a VERY aggressive shot therapy. We switched him to my insurance (Kaiser) and they use a much weaker therapy. He started that about a month ago. Fingers crossed that it helps him. It is so time consuming to get them. He has asthma too, so the allergies are really bad for him. I'd be happy to connect the two of you if you'd like. He knows A TON about all of the options.

  3. Wait, I'm looking at your card again. Why are so many things highlighted that are 0/0? If those only came up positive on the second round of testing, you might want to leave those out of your shot bottles (if you do shots). My husband is hypothesizing that the shots made him sicker since they went for everything under the sun. If you can at least reduce your worst offenders, that should help a ton. Good luck!

  4. Tia - the 0 ones are the ones that had smaller reactions so got selected for the next round of testing. so the 10/35 johnson grass, for example, took up like half my forearm and didn't require secondary tests. but most of the molds didn't result in a welt larger than 5mm in the first prick, so she redid those on my upper arm. the rest of the sheet is cut off on the right side, but the results from the secondary testing is off to that side.


    And... I think I need to have allergy testing done. This has convinced me.

  6. Surgery.


    Why be miserable if you don't have to be?

    Also, start giving the furballs baths. I used to have to do that for mine. They don't exactly enjoy it, but it's not completely horrendous. YMMV depending on the cat.

  7. 40 shots????? Stop it! That's awful dude!

    And you are allergic to johnson grass? That's very specific.

    AND, and if I were you, get the surgery AND the shots. My husband just has seasonal allergies and he takes a pill everyday in the spring and fall. I've seen him without his pill and I couldn't imagine. So I DEFINITELY can't imagine you being a million times worse than him and not using the intervention!! You'd be crazy not too! I bet you'd come out a whole new person.

  8. You are allergic to more things than I am! Quite a feat. I'd say if you can swing the procedure and your insurance will cover/help, go for it.

  9. Oh, and this might seem a little odd but I'd love a run down on your neti pot :)

    I'm dying to try one but I don't know how to do it, what exactly it helps, correct results, that would be kind of awesome for me.

  10. Oh my. You are allergic to basically everything.

    I too got those allergy shots to find out what I am allergic to specifically. For me, it's dust mites, which are basically everywhere, and feathers. So no down comforters for me.

    I'd find out what the risks are for the surgery and if it's not too risky and your insurance will help cover it, do it. Why suffer if you don't have to?

  11. As someone who is not allergic to anything (knock on wood!), this sounds terrible. I'm so sorry you're suffering! I would get the surgery and get the shots just so I could feel human. I say this as I ignore on-going knee pain (I am afraid the doc will say I need surgery which means I can't dance and that I will get fatter (that's how my brain works)).

  12. Oh my god, Alice! I hope you can find some relief soon, allergies are horrible. I get pretty severe "seasonal" allergies, but it doesn't sound anything close to what you have.

    A friend of mine is horribly allergic to Ragweed, which I see is on your list. Many white wines have ragweed in them, which she discovered the hard way. Unfortunately they don't label it, so she just chances it, but when it's in there she starts wheezing and sniffling immediately. Ugh.

  13. yikes!! I think I would definitely try the drops - they sound easier and if they are as effective I say, why not?

  14. My sister had an awful time with sinus problems and she had the surgery right before she started college. I don't think she's had another sinus infection since, and it's been two years.

    I'd also look into the shots (or drops) because like someone else said...why suffer so much when there's treatment available?

  15. Hey! YOU ARE ME!


  16. Bless your heart!! I hope you get some relief soon!!

  17. I believe I'm also allergic to All The Things -- and the weird thing is my allergies weren't bad until about 2 years ago. Maybe it's something about this city.

    Either way, now I have to take my glasses with me to work since sometimes my eyes will start watering so bad that my contacts just fall out while i'm driving. sounds safe, no?

  18. The good news is you've got options for treatment. The bad news is, holy moly do you have a lot of allergies. I'm kind of shocked you're able to exist with cats in your house!!! Here's hoping that now that you're in the know, you can now figure out how to best tame the beast!

  19. Yay, not allergic to feathers! (My list is "Not allergic to timothy grass." YAY for getting to roll around in timothy grass, whatever that is!)

  20. THAT'S IT! We're taking out your sinuses!!

    Feel better friend!

  21. holy shit alice!

    so how we gonna fix you?

    is it surgery?

  22. I was allergic to EVERY. SINGLE. THING. they tested for. And yet oddly, I have no nasal symptoms. Just strictly itchy skin.

  23. A friend of mine got allergy shots for his cat allergy, which seemed to work very well for him. I have no idea what getting shots for all your allergies would be, though.
    My dad conquered his recurrent sinus infections by swimming daily - the chlorine knocked out the bugs.
    I'd say, get the surgery and the shots, that way you won't have to take the antihistamines daily. Hopefully.

  24. Oh wow. This post makes me so glad that I don't have allergies. A boyfriend a while back used to get weekly allergy shots and said that they worked. Other than that, I'm not much help. But hopefully whatever you do, it gets better!

  25. Good Grief!!

    On the bright side, you aren't allergic to dog hair or feathers...

    Better living through chemicals. That's my motto!

  26. WOW!! And I thought *I* had bad allergies... you, lady take all the prices, not that it is a good thing. Ouch. My big questions is, most of my worst allergies are caused by cats, and most people with breathing allergies have allergies to cats.... No.... and you have a kitty, right? How does that work?

    In any case, ouch, that sounds horrible, sorry...