Friday, February 12, 2010

The allergy report

I think I mentioned that I was going for an allergy test. This Tuesday was the day. I had never visited an allergist before, so I really didn't have much idea of what to expect. My allergy symptoms were mostly not that bad, though I did have some troublesome dizziness last spring. In the last few months, though, things have gotten worse. I have scabs all over my arms and legs from scratching them in my sleep. I was blowing my nose several dozen times a day. I was tired of feeling tired all the time. Plus, I thought, since my thyroid issue is autoimmune and an allergy is an autoimmune response, I might be able to keep my body from attacking my thyroid if I could get my allergies under control. I thought I'd pass along what I learned in case any of you are considering doing the same.

Before I even got there, I had a huge pile of forms to fill out about my symptoms, medical history, family history, etc. There were a bunch of symptoms listed: Watery eyes, itchy skin, runny nose, headache, etc. I found myself marking many of them and being surprised that some weird things I'd noticed, like itching ears, were allergy symptoms. I was instructed to stop taking any antihistamines for a while before the appointment to make sure that the allergy testing would be accurate.

Before I saw the doctor, the nurse took my stats: Height, weight, blood pressure. I was unhappy to learn that instead of 5'6" like I thought I was, I am actually only 5'4.75" tall. My weight was higher than I see at home, but of course I had clothes on at the doctor's office. The blood pressure must have been in the normal range because the nurse didn't say much about it.

Then I had a histamine check. The nurse poked my arm with a little plastic stick dipped in a histamine solution and marked the spot with an H. Then she did the same with saline solution and marked that one with an S. The histamine mark got appropriately itchy so they knew my histamine response was not suppressed. If it had been, the allergy test wouldn't have worked.

The doctor and a medical student came in and discussed my symptoms with me. The doctor thought the scabs on my arms and legs and my symptoms both indicated allergies of some sort. He told me to keep my fingernails very short because of all the scratching. He asked if anyone smoked in my house. I said no but that both my parents were smokers so I grew up around secondhand smoke for most of my life. He looked disapproving about this. He explained everything he was seeing on me to the medical student, so I felt like I got a lot of information. He then looked into my ears and nose. In my nose, he saw lots of broken blood vessels and small scabs and told me to put KY Jelly into my nostrils with a Q-Tip before bed to help soften up the skin and let them heal. I didn't laugh but the thought of putting a sexual lubricant in my nostrils was pretty funny.

Then the nurse came in and did the scratch test. She gave me a sort of paper vest with an open back and had me change into it. Then she came back and started the test. First, she marked out sort of a grid on my back with numbers. She complemented me on my butterfly tattoo. Then she poked each one of those spots with a little blue plastic stick with a different allergy serum on it. I got tested for allergies to trees, grasses, crops, dust, mold, animals, and foods. I could feel a few of the spots start to itch right away.

I am allergic to three kinds of trees, especially walnut trees. I used to have a walnut tree right in front of my old house. No wonder I felt a little better when I moved here. I am allergic to most kinds of grass. I am allergic to most of the crops grown in this area. I am not allergic to any foods, which surprised me because I am mildly lactose intolerant and I wondered if I might have a gluten allergy because of the thyroid condition. I am, like most people, allergic to dust mites. I don't have a mold allergy. The worst news was that I was allergic to cats, since I have two. I am also allergic to rabbits, not that I care much about that. The funny thing about this was that the doctor then knew I had a pet rabbit at some time in my life, and that I had lived near farms. You can't be allergic to anything you were never exposed to. "Allergies are like tattoos," the doctor said, "they tell us where you've been." I wondered what my butterfly tattoo told him about where I've been, but didn't ask.

Sitting there with only a paper vest on while the doctor poked at the different spots was a little weird, especially when he touched a part of my back that felt squishy. I kind of wished the sort of dishy med student wasn't there to see the doctor poking at my back fat.

What I liked about this doctor was that he was realistic. He asked how old my cats were and whether they were healthy. Since I've had both of them for more than 10 years, he didn't even suggest that I should get rid of them. He suggested keeping them out of my bedroom, and washing my hands after petting them. I told him it would be hard to keep them out of the bedroom. My one cat sleeps next to my head at night. He said I should have my husband clean the litterbox (great idea!) and to make sure we have filters on our furnace to keep the litterbox dust out of the rest of the house.

Then he explained that allergies are cumulative. If you are exposed to a little bit of an allergen, you might not react, but the more stuff you pile on, the worse your symptoms get. He compared this to a bucket -- when it overflowed, you start to have problems. This made sense to me. He gave me a booklet allergy-proofing your bedroom by a company that makes dust mite covers for mattresses and pillows (now I'm wondering why everyone doesn't use them, dust mites seem disgusting) and said I should get some. He suggested using all fragrance- and dye-free soaps and lotions and gave me some samples. I have prescriptions for two different meds, something to stop the scratching habit and Nasonex spray.

I shopped around online and ordered the dust mite covers from a place that had a package deal. We spent the afternoon decluttering and dusting the bedroom. I picked up my prescriptions from the pharmacy and also bought some KY liquid for my nose. The next day, on a friend's advice, I went out and bought an air cleaner for the bedroom and have been running it with the door closed during the day (with no kitties inside). I also bought a neti pot and started using that in the mornings before I take the nasal spray.

I have noticed a slight difference. I'm still catching myself scratching my arms, but I'm breathing a lot better and blowing my nose less. I'm still tired, though. I haven't gotten the dust covers yet but I imagine they will help. I'm doing what I can to keep my bucket from overfilling.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, very informative! So sad to hear that you're allergic to your cats! I would be devestated about that, but Im glad that the doctor was realistic and didnt expect you to get rid of them.

    How was the neti pot? My boyfriend tired it and loved it, but I just dont know if I can do it!


"Count your calories, work out when you can, and try to be good to yourself. All the rest is bulls**t." -- Jillian Michaels at BlogHer '07