Health: allergies, triggers, and treatments

As you know, I’ve been battling some health issues for the last few months. It all started as regular sinus and allergies. But eventually, those allergy attacks would turn to chronic sinus infections. These infections involve all three – ears, nose and throat.

Over time allergies can have a serious impact on your overall health. If you’re constantly getting sick without reprieve, eventually your immune system becomes non-existent. You feel tired ALL the time – no matter how much sleep you get. And other health problems that weren’t present before start to pop up.

After a while, you might start sounding like a hypochondriac. But no. Trust me. As someone now lives with breathing problems and newly diagnosed asthma, I can confirm that this is all real. It’s not just in your head.

Your body is starting to wear down.

Allergies vary from people to people. I have friends who have severe food allergies. There was one friend who became very ill if she ate certain kinds of meat. It got to the point where anything she ate caused her to become sick. We watched with concern as her weight dropped to a point where several us took her aside and asked if everything was okay.

Now she knows what her triggers are and she avoids them. She’s healthy, happy and living a full life out in Iceland. She’s living the dream. And oh, how I wish I could be like her.

Types of Allergies

There are different types of allergies that range from food, drugs, insects, latex, and mold.

Seasonal allergies include things like dust, pollen, grass, dirt – spring and fall tend to be bad times for folks with seasonal allergies. Especially as the winter snow melts and the mold is exposed.

Environmental allergies can be found in the home and in the work place. Things that trigger these allergies include pets, dust mites, rodents like mice or cockroaches, harsh cleaners and chemicals. And of course, second hand smoke. This is my killer. I get sick every time I’m around it.

Common cold or allergy? What’s the difference?

Allergies can come and go throughout your life. Some develop later in life when you are exposed to them over a long time. Second hand smoke is a killer for this. Being exposed to second hand smoke over a period of time can do a lot damage to your body – things like asthma and COPD are serious illnesses that can have great impact on your daily life.

Knowing your symptoms: for me, if I walk into a home that has a cat or two, my eyes immediately start to water, swallowing becomes difficult and my skin becomes itchy. Sometimes little red bumps appear on my skin. I know now that I can’t sleep in a house where there are cats. I’m okay around some dogs depending on how clean they are and what kind of fur they have.

Get to know your triggers

Keeping a journal of symptoms is crucial when it comes to determining what triggers your allergies. Over the years, I learned that smoke was an instant trigger for my migraines. Some smells would make me ill, like hospital cleaners or even carnival food stands. The combination of loud sounds, foreign food smells and flashing lights were enough to make me want to crawl into fetal position. I’m not even exaggerating.

Symptoms of allergy attacks

Symptoms of allergy attacks range from person to person. For me, when it comes to smoke inhalation – it can feel like my lungs are drowning. I often come home at the end of the day when exposed to smoke and “cough up a lung.” The coughing has done some damage to vocal cords. And this is why I no longer sing.

Other symptoms for seasonal or environmental allergy attacks may include:

  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Persistent dry cough and hoarse voice
  • Itchy or watery eyes
  • Dry and itchy skin
  • Red bumps or hives on the skin
  • Headaches or sudden onset of migraines that weren’t present before
  • Chronic fatigue
  • And in some cases, like with smoke – swollen legs

Diagnosing Allergies

Diagnosing used to be a painful and tedious process. I remember as a kid my mom took my into see a specialist. Of course this was the early 80’s and medicine was still pretty primitive compared to today. I remember crying as they shoved about 50 sewing like needles into my lower arm. My mum held me and fed me M&M’s as in comfort.

I just realized that my odd craving for M&M’s must come from that. Thanks mum – I miss you.

At the time, it was determined that I was allergic to smoke and 50% whole wheat bread. What? What a weird thing to be allergic to. Over the years, my allergies developed soon I was allergic to fur, dust, dirt and most environmental irritants.

Today the diagnosis for allergies is much less painful. Yes, it involves needles – but compared to what I experienced in the 80’s, it is nothing. The important part of diagnosing your allergies is documenting everything.

Treatments

Treatments will vary from case to case and symptoms. Some things you can talk to your doctor about are:

  • Inhalers if you’re struggling to breathe or experience wheezing
  • Antihistamines can help reduce some of your symptoms
  • Allergy shots

If you suffer from allergy related migraines there are alternative treatments out there:

Cranialsacral therapy is a type of massage that targets problem areas like the head and neck.

Botox injections for migraines. I’ve had friends who swear by this – but the catch is – it’s very expensive and painful.

Acupuncture is an ancient Asian tradition that many people swear by. But if you’re like me and you’re not a fan of needles, this may not be the best treatment for you.

The importance of a medical diary

Keeping track of your symptoms is a crucial part in diagnosing your allergies. Invest in a paper-bound journal or use an Excel template to track the dates of your attacks. Write down what you did that day, what you ate, how you felt. Most importantly, remember to track your symptoms.

Keeping a diary of my migraines through this blog (mostly single) helped me to look back on dates and learn my trigger points. I know now that I can no longer drink red wine, or most wines unless I want to suffer the next day. Most alcohol in general is an instant trigger – which often makes me sad. I don’t drink much – but on special occasions, it would be nice to share a drink with friends. Smoke is also a hard no.

The importance of Self-Care

Self care is important if you find that you are constantly getting sick from your allergies. Talk to you doctor about treatments that are available to you. Don’t lose hope. It takes time to get to know what your triggers are. Documentation is crucial – I cannot stress this enough! This will help your medical team to determine the best course of treatment for you.

Join a support group and surround yourself by positive people who understand what living with a chronic illness is like. There’s nothing worse than being around people who constantly nag at you to “stop being sick” or “stop smoking” – when you don’t even smoke.

I’ve been in a few doctor’s offices when I started hacking – and each time they would look up at me in surprise and say, “Do you smoke? It sounds like a smoker’s cough.” I would laugh and say, “No, this is just how I sound. I’m highly allergic to it.”

Second hand smoke is a killer. Try to avoid it when possible. If you are a smoker with allergies — you need to QUIT! I mean it. The smoke will wear out your lungs and the damage will be irreparable.

Follow your doctor’s orders when it comes to your treatment. Keep up with your medicine. Keep your inhalers and epi shots with you at all times – this can save your life.

If your allergies are life threatening – consider wearing an identification bracelet or carry a card with you that lists your allergies.

For more tips on self-care – check out some of my older posts.

The importance of self-care

The Art of self-care

Resources for allergy sufferers:

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