Basically me. [Image Credit: Wellcome Collection]
Recently I went to get my very first skin allergy test. You’d think in 23 years of having allergies I would have done this by now, but no – that’s what responsible people do. I am not one of them.
I gathered the basics of what was going to happen from looking at helpful/terrifying videos on YouTube: The person in the lab coat would draw a bunch of lines on my arm and then prick me with small amounts of allergens, specifically inhalants. Then we’d wait and see how I reacted.
Since I’d never gotten a test like this done before, I had no idea what kind of reaction to expect. I have pretty severe seasonal, food, and pharmaceutical allergies, but they’d never actually been diagnosed by someone who, you know, diagnoses allergies. Maybe nothing would happen and I’d just been making it up this whole time. Or maybe by the end of the day my arm would be covered in so much hydrocortisone cream they’d never let me back for fear of running out.
In just a few minutes, the answer was pretty clear: I am allergic to everything. Trees, grass, dogs, cats, friends, happiness, the outside world in general. My body hates all of it. Within a minute of the first pinprick, my arm was already starting to react with burning red splotches. Five minutes later, those familiar little raised bumps began to appear. And then they got bigger.
The nurse felt so bad for me that she brought me an ice pack for my arm and then kindly reminded me I had another 10 minutes to go. Great.
Mercifully, the doctor brought me into her office early and began to take notes on my reactions. “You’ve won the prize this week!” she said in a tone that I think was supposed to make me feel better. It was pretty clear that my worst reactions were to trees, grass, and pets. So let’s never, ever go for a picnic, okay?
But the doctor told me a few other interesting things. First off, she confirmed my suspicion that my food allergies were really just symptoms of something called oral allergy syndrome (OAS). In OAS, the body basically mistakes fruits and vegetables for seasonal allergies. So, if you have OAS, you can predict what groups of foods you’ll be allergic to based on whether you react to ragweed or grass, for example. I’m allergic to both. So, in addition to the annoying itching I get from tomatoes and avocados, I’ll go into anaphylactic shock if I eat a piece of cantaloupe.
The doctor also told me I might not be allergic to penicillin like I thought I was. I’ve been told since I was a kid that penicillin will kill me, but apparently that allergy is just ridiculously over-diagnosed. I’ll be going back to be tested for that, which is apparently a pretty involved process that requires a series of successively higher doses until you see a reaction. So, stay tuned for that.
Days later my arm is still itching. And Caitlin Q. Davis, my colleague and blogging partner in crime, will be getting her allergy test done in a few weeks so we’ll be able to compare our results! I wonder if hers can top mine…