A Little Allergy History…

I am currently recovering from an ‘allergic’ reaction and all that entails… I’ve decided to write down my experiences in the hopes it might help others all posts are filled under “Living Life ‘Highly Reactive'”

As a child I had typical ‘hayfever.’ I was not asthmatic and allergies were mostly seasonal annoyances. My sister suffered much more with excema and a corn allergy, my father had been asthmatic as a child. Allergy does run in families but it is not the same in each member! In my early teens we learned I was allergic to aspirin and kiwi. I have many friends with children who have peanut, nut, soy, and other allergies and I have been blessed in not having such severe allergies as a child and having a child who does not have such severe allergies.

It wasn’t until moving to Connecticut and living here for 2 years that I started having more severe problems. By introducing new allergens to my system, my typical ‘hayfever’ evolved into asthma, food cross reactions, and daily migraines. Food cross reactions, also known as oral allergy syndrome, occur when the immune system finds proteins in our foods similar to the proteins in pollens we are allergic to and reacts to them. A good resource for learning about related pollens and foods is Calgary Allergy. Keep in mind your body will NOT react to ALL similar proteins and EVERYONE is different! Do not look at this and fear you will end up cross-reacting to everything! If you are a hypercondriac you probably should not dive into this, if you are a scientist like myself, it is very interesting to see the protein families.

Eventually the reactions got to the point where I knew I had to see a doctor. I went to my assigned primary care doctor who ran an RAST test on me and even after the RAST showed extremely high IgE antibodies to multiple pollens only offered me additional antihistamines because he felt the wheezing on the particular day I went in wasn’t significant. The antihistamine he gave me was Allegra – I had a common adverse reaction and his solution was to lower the dosage. I called to see a new doctor! Before I could get to the new “allergy/asthma appointment,” I went in for my annual female appointment and was having considerable difficulty breathing. I asked the doctor seeing me to please help and did she ever. She prescribed me Singulair which was a wonder drug for me AND she got me out to an allergist. In return, I requested she be made my primary care doctor.

I’ve mentioned several medical terms here which I should explain…

RAST test – A RAST or radioallergosorbent test is a blood test used to determine what substances a person is allergic.

When your body is exposed to certain diseases, your immune system attacks and creates antibodies against that disease. In an allergic person, the body’s immune system is attacking proteins within a particular pollen/food/drug and just as with diseases, your body creates antibodies to the proteins it is attacking. These antibodies are called IgE antibodies.

The RAST test takes a persons blood serum and combines it with various pollen proteins (allergens). If persons blood contains the IgE antibodies to the allergen, those antibodies will bind with the allergen protein. A radiolabeled (radioactive) anti-human IgE is then added which binds to any IgE antibodies already bound to the allergen protein. The amount of radioactivity is then measured and is proportional to the serum IgE for the allergen.

RAST tests only test IgE responses! Allergic reactions can also create IgA and IgM responses. IgE is considered “immediate hypersensitivity” or Type I hypersensitivity. It is this response that can be the most life threatening in that it can cause anaphylaxis. A reaction which 0.05-2% of people are estimated to experience at some point in their life. I’ve experienced it several times and each time it gets worse.

Once I got an allergist, I was able to learn about the allergens my body could not tolerate and try to avoid them. I was also able to undergo allergy shots or allergen immunotherapy where you train your body not to react to allergens by having an allergist create a special allergen blend which is administered in controlled small amounts which gradually increase. Not all individuals benefit from allergy shots. My doctor and I knew I was a good candidate because my body already showed evidence of desensitizing itself from my dog (who I’m also allergic too). The process was slow but after 8 years I was able to graduate from shots and slowly wean myself off of the allergy medications as well. I finally weaned myself off of both zyrtec and singulair in July 2012.

I was not expecting the new allergic reaction in September 2012! Luckily I had continued with my doctors and I knew and trusted my doctors and my doctors knew me. My PCM knew this was a new allergic reaction and not something like shingles etc – her words were “if it were viral or bacterial you’d be more sick.” This was a new allergy, it was time to up antihistamines get on prednisone and watch and see. That patient/doctor trust and knowledge has to be a part of everything though!


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