The Dreaded Allergy Test

So you think you may have allergies, but how can you be sure?  All of which I describe below may not be the perfect solution for you, so be smart and make sure to contact a professional asthma and allergy specialist before tackling allergies on your own.

At ANY age you can develop or outgrow allergies.  Sounds crazy!  But as we grow older our immune systems may become oversensitive.  While doctors have not yet found an absolute cure for allergies, they can help you with preventative solutions, and no I do not just mean recommending pills that you can get over-the-counter.  Two common solutions are nasal sprays and allergy injections.  If you are eligible for the latter, this is the most effective (and the route I took as a child).  After approximately three years of shots occurring as often as once a week, the process helped my body build up antibodies/strengthen my immune system so my allergies would be less severe or be vanquished completely as I reached adulthood.

Next step: either a blood test or skin-scratch test are your best go-tos.  I have been told the blood test better displays food allergies, while the skin-scratch test is sufficient for testing environmental allergies.  However, I have been tested for both with the skin-scratch test.  Do not get tested again within three years of taking one of these tests.  To ensure complete accuracy, you must NOT take any preventative medicine, such as Benadryl or Allegra, within the week of your test.

The blood test is somewhat self explanatory as it is akin to getting blood drawn, but the skin-scratch test can be intimidating if it is your first time.  A drop of the allergen, which can be a microscopic amount of anything from peanuts to pollen, is placed on your forearm or on your back.  If the test is positive, aka you are definitely allergic, the drop will swell up and become itchy and red.  If the initial test is negative, the intradermal test will be performed, during which a small amount of the allergen is injected into your skin (seen left).  A positive reaction looks the same during each test.

These tests are quick and are mildly uncomfortable… I mean the biggest pro is that you might find out that something you were allergic to as a child may be something you can enjoy for the rest of your adult life! Another less common option when testing for food allergies when in the doctors office is to ingest a small amount of the food.  Thus if the worst case scenario occurs, as in you go into anaphylactic shock, your doctor will be there.

I have found success in these practices and highly recommend them to you!  Additionally, the Asthma & Allergy Center in PA can answer many questions you may have if you’re still curious: http://www.aactx.com/Faq/#45.

WHO IS TO BLAME?

Early January, seven-year old Ammaria Johnson died of “cardiac arrest and anaphylaxis” due to eating a peanut on her school’s playground.  Shortly after eating the nut, Ammaria made her teacher aware of discomfort she felt in her throat, and was thus taken to the school nurse.  She was pronounced dead when eventually arriving at the hospital in her local town.

The drama and controversy due to this tragedy cannot be overlooked.  Essentially, everyone (including her mom, the school, the system, etc.) is responsible for this death; however, no one being or entity is completely at fault.  The fault should be put on the way in which “WE” educate others on allergies, especially those of children.  Lack of education, while a seemingly boring, topic and lack of proactivity are crucial factors that lead to Ammaria’s accidental death.

The innocent, young boy or girl who unknowingly gave his/her classmate a deadly snack should have been given a way of knowing that such an act would’ve lead to the worst possible result.  The teacher should have made all of her students repetitively aware (almost to the point of exasperation) that any “funny business” with nuts or other food items could have consequences.  The mom should have put an emergency bracelet or necklace on Ammaria so all others knew she had a problem.  Teachers in general should have equipment on hand and proper training regarding ways to immediately react to allergies.  However, should haves aren’t going to bring her back.

Allergies are on the rise, so we must to be more proactive than reactive when it comes to such life-or-death situations.  Most allergy reactions caused by nuts can be avoided, yet they are still happening everywhere: on airplanes, in restaurants with buffets, in dining halls, in bakeries, on the school playground.  If we start educating each level in the chain of command on what to do with those who have allergies, then these tragedies can vanish.  Allergies are a disability; if a school had no ramps or elevators and a wheelchair-bound boy fell off his wheelchair while trying to get to the second floor via the stairs, would we kick him while he was on the ground? No. We have means of helping those who cannot fully help themselves in order to give each individual the most normal life possible.

As thousands have already responded to Ammaria’s story, I would love to hear your feedback.

Growing Up Allergic, Plus

Maybe I’m a problemed individual?

Growing up with both severe allergies and asthma, I went to the hospital at least 6 times before the age of 6 because I either ate something I was allergic to or because I couldn’t catch my breath. While “everyone’s got issues,” I’ve got issues to deal with on a daily basis–no matter what. But maybe I’m not the only one with health problems that are on the defense at all times? After recently reading an Everyday Health article, which has both interesting yet mostly obvious suggestions for anyone who already understands asthma, I was told of ways asthmatics should deal with breathing issues in cold climates, I found myself asking myself questions. Who else is in my shoes? Is this a situation of what came first–the chicken or the egg? Like, are these diseases related?

Thankfully Google came to the rescue. What I discovered, without getting too technical, is that about 5 years ago scientists discovered that persons who genetically lacked filaggrin (a protein found in the outer layers of one’s skin) almost always have severe asthma. Lack of filaggrin is a genetic defect that decreases the skins ability to keep “foreign organisms [like irritants and allergens] out.”  I then went on to learn that “one in five of all peanut allergy sufferers has a Filaggrin defect.”

Essentially, my questions were answered after 10 minutes. Whether or not my quick search is the all-mighty truth, that asthma and peanut allergies often come as a pair, I believe there’s a reason I have both in such a severe way.  And clearly I’m not alone, poor kiddos!  Maybe one day a little tiny pill or the snap of one’s fingers will magically fix it all. But until then all we can continue to do is understand and monitor it as best as we can.

Eating Fish Avoids Heart Problems, But Not For Us

Today an article reminded me that I have been evading my duties as an active blogger.  To all my followers, I apologize!

An article by Steven Reinberg from Everyday Health noted the importance of eating fish.  In the recent past, Danish scientists discovered that “eating fish once a week may substantially reduce risk [of heart disease], compared to eating no fish” (http://www.everydayhealth.com/heart-health/1205/fish-may-cut-threat-of-heart-disease-in-young-women.aspx).  News like this isn’t so shocking because a countless number of people take fish oil supplements during their daily vitamin routine; however, this article struck a nerve.  Let me know if this comment makes you feel slightly less great about yourself, “women of childbearing age who never ate fish had 50 percent more cardiovascular problems than women who ate fish often.”

I exercise, get a normal amount of sleep each night, and eat a decently balanced diet… but to know that all this effort to stay healthy may not all be enough because I don’t eat fish really bothers me!  I CAN’T eat fish; I’m allergic. (Coincidentally as I write this I eat Goldfish.. oh the irony.)  So what are we, my allergic-to-fish sistahs and brothas, suppose to do to lower our risk of cardiovascular disease?  This was not mentioned in the article, and this is what inspires me to do this blog.  I even went as far as reaching out to Mr. Reinberg to hopefully follow-up to this post and find out if he or the Danish discovered more about other ways to avoid heart attacks and such.  Hopefully this is just part one!  I leave you to decide other ways to keep heart-healthy.

Atlanta tried to kill me, I swear!

Visiting Atlanta for the first time this past summer, I went out to eat three times.  Two out of those three times, my allergies were put to the test.  At diners such as OHOP, a.k.a. the Original House of Pancakes, I typically get pancakes, eggs, bacon, & juice.  However this simple order wasn’t so simple.  If my friend had not noticed that on PAGE 3 of the menu a small warning notice that mentioned the inclusion of peanut oil only in the pancakes, then I would’ve been a goner!  Atlanta couldn’t stop me that time, buuuuut the next time it did.

El Taco is a lively, Mexican eatery where people have the potential to win menu items every hour.  Before the meal even actually started, self-served chips and salsa were an option that my friends and I darted at immediately.  There were only five or less ingredients in each salsa, and I read them all CLEARLY—so I thought.  After about three minutes, I noticed maybe something wasn’t right, but I kept going.  After a few more minutes I really was feeling sick.  But with just chips and salsa in front of me, I could not put a finger on what was the cause of this awful feeling.  After walking quickly to the bathroom, I asked a waiter if there were nuts in anything we could’ve been eating (thinking the chips were probably cooked in peanut oil).  He mentioned there were peanuts in only one salsa.  I’ve heard of peanut butter in chili to make it thicker and peanut oil in pancakes due to OHOP, but nuts in salsa was completely new!  Thankfully Benadryl saved me again, but I’m curious why my allergy attack wasn’t more severe—I only felt like getting ill for 15min or less.  Moral of the story: if you have allergies, READ THE INGREDIENTS at least three times.  Just because food doesn’t seem like it has nuts doesn’t mean that’s true.

4, 3, 2, 1.. Happy NUT Year!

Starting the New Year out with a nutty situation seems to be a trend for me.  This Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, I was reminded of the fact that you can never trust a drunk woman (or man) with telling you the actual ingredients of food she made earlier in the day, when she was not drunk.  No matter how tempting apple pie may be, unless you have every ingredient typed out in front of your face, do NOT eat dessert without knowing its components.  Reassured by a more-than-tipsy guest at my cousin’s feast for the New Year, I was told there were no nuts in her apple pie, but there were.  Walnuts, to be exact.  Needless to say, Benadryl once again came to my rescue that night, and after a few minutes of separating myself from the situation I was an okay-but-very-sleepy version of myself.

This Jewish New Year reminded me of New Year’s Eve a few years ago.  Over-confident and potentially tipsy, I ate cookies made by caterers at a friend’s house party; I didn’t even think to ask the caterers what the cookies were made of.  BAD CHOICE.  To make a long story short: I ate one bite of a cookie, immediately realized it contained nuts (macadamia I think), ran upstairs to calm down, took two Benadryl, ran back downstairs to take a shot of vodka, suddenly felt like I was going to pass out, and then dove into a bed in my friend’s guest room at her party that I was about to ruin.  Going in and out of consciousness, I couldn’t gain control of my body or the situation.  I knew I needed my EpiPen, which would shoot epinephrine into a fatty body part of mine and ultimately control the allergy attack.  One of my best friends decided to be the hero and stab me with the EpiPen.  However, EpiPens are not that simple: you need to be aware of which side the shot will come out because until it hits your skin the shot is not visible!  With a 50/50 chance of either giving my leg the shot or giving her thumb the shot, my best friend did the latter of the two.  While practically unconscious, I remember her turning as pale as her yellow top, and unfortunately the ambulance was the only thing that could save me.  I’m sure the other guests weren’t happy that the night ended less than one hour after the clock struck 12.  With one New Years Eve party ruined and one friend with a thumb full of epinephrine, I was okay.  But I will never forget that night and never eat cookies from “strangers” while tipsy ever again.

Benadryl Surprises

Recently in my office, ways to solve everyday allergies became topic of conversation.  There was some bickering about which is better: Claritin-D versus Allegra-D, but then the conversation took a turn.  One of my coworkers said “I don’t take allergy medicine anymore because I can’t stay awake at work after I take it.”  This shocked me, especially because I know for a fact Claritin D has caffeine in it!  He said he would take Benadryl and it would make him SO sleepy.  I laughed out loud thinking how ridiculously hard it would be to focus on the job after taking Benadryl, which doctors sometimes prescribe to their patients as a means of helping them fall asleep.  But then it occurred to me—I too probably needed a brush up on my knowledge of Benadryl.

In my research, I was first reminded that Benadryl is typically prescribed by allergists on a reaction basis.  So only if you ingest a food item that swells your throat, touch poison oak that makes you itchy, pet a cat whose hair makes your eyes water, etc would you take Benadryl POST such an activity.  Then, I discovered something shocking: some Benadryl contains lactose!  According to multiple online sources, Benadryl capsules (not caplets) contain lactose.  The way you know it contains lactose is because one ingredient is “whey,” the liquid remaining after milk is strained or curdled.  I assumed Benadryl could be a source of relief for an individual who is lactose intolerant or allergic to dairy.  Shocking, right?

If you have any funny stories regarding Benadryl or remember any ways your friends/family/co-workers surprised you with their thoughts on a related topic, let me know!  Share your voice.