I wasn’t always allergic to life. As a kid, growing up in rural Pennsylvania, I tumbled through nature and its millions of spores, motes, and pollen on a daily basis, climbing trees and digging holes. And I never once had any allergies. We always kept pets in our house, and my tabby cat Tigger slept in my bed with me every night. I rode horses. I gardened. I was a child of nature.
Fast forward to age 12: All of that peacefulness screeched to a halt—or, came out as a sneeze, really. During the spring of seventh grade, I had such bad hay fever symptoms that my teacher would sit me in the back of class by myself, along with a box of tissues and a personal garbage can.
I was sneezing non-stop, eyes puffy and running. I felt like my throat had been replaced by a hornet’s nest. The only thing my mother knew to do was pump me full of Benadryl. But for me, the medicine was a coma-inducer: I’d experienced slurred speech, brain fog, and an immediate need to lay down and sleep the whole thing off. No joke.
At the allergist, they prodded me with 20 different needles, testing me for allergies to cat dander, tree pollen, dust mites, and much more. Nineteen of my 20 testing sites flared up in angry, itchy bumps, like mosquito bites with an agenda. The results were in: I was allergic to everything there was to be allergic to. (The one thing I was immune to? Bee stings.) Oh, and I’d developed allergy-induced asthma as part and parcel of the deal.
My doctor recommended immunization, a method of injecting small amounts of allergens into a patient to slowly immunize them to the supposed invader. I say “supposed” invader because that’s kind of what allergies are: Your body thinks that everything’s an attacking enemy, so it sends out distress signals, sort of like soldiers to the front line. Your body is constantly at war, but with nothing at all.
Along with the allergy shots, I was prescribed what has now become an over-the-counter treatment of loratadine, and then later fexofenadine, and a whole litany of other antihistamines. I also started using a rescue inhaler, slept with plastic bed casings, stopped cuddling with my cat, and limited my time outdoors.
The thing was, none of those treatments completely worked. I didn’t have constant hay fever symptoms anymore, but if I came into contact with any allergens, like cats or dust or pollen, my symptoms returned—often with hives and wheezing. We then tried isolating foods to see if it was a food allergy. It wasn’t.
Fast forward to my adult years. I decided I didn’t want to take daily allergy pills or immunization shots anymore so I started doing research on natural remedies. I went to the natural food store and stocked up on raw, local honey, which my doc said might work. I took a little bit of it every day.
The idea is that local honey comes into contact with the flora that is native to where you live, so by ingesting some of it every day, you’re slowly immunizing yourself against local allergens. I can’t say for certain whether or not it was the honey (research on using local honey for allergies is mixed), but my seasonal challenges significantly decreased over time. Plus, it tasted delicious.
I’ve stopped trying to avoid allergens everywhere I go, mostly because it’s nearly impossible! I still live with a cat, I go outdoors, and I threw out all the plastic bed casings that my doctor recommended earlier on (I don’t know if you’ve tried sleeping with a plastic pillow case under your cloth pillow case, but let me tell you, it’s ridiculously slippery and uncomfortable, and makes you feel like a hospital patient.) Essentially, I’ve re-introduced myself to the world.
So what’s the conclusion? Though my symptoms have improved, I still have allergies. I still get attacks, often in the forms of hives and wheezing, but they pass. If it’s really bad, I’ll take an over the counter pill and use my rescue inhaler. It’s not a terrible price to pay for being able to snuggle with my cat and take in a deep, fresh breath of air.