Ahh springtime, a season of rebirth, of love, of flowers and trees, of horrific allergic reactions…
As someone who has always had sensitive skin and hay fever in early spring, I wasn’t surprised at the beginnings of hives on a particularly bright and pollen-y May day. I’d had small reactions like this before, even once in high school getting hives all over my hands (BFF Jess promptly convinced me that I had, and was dying from, bird flu).
It started early in the day, my eye watered, my nose itched, then the itching spread to my neck and torso, my arms, my legs, all over my hands. By lunch, I was feeling pretty terrible.
And such is the life of a teacher, this was about the time my assistant principal chose to drop in for an evaluation. No matter, I pressed on. My face itched and my eyes were driving me crazy, but I pressed on.
We talked about Nixon! We discussed executive privilege! We broke down the first amendment! We paused for a moment as two students looked up at me and, with quiet horror in their voices, asked “Becca, your face is really….are you ok?”
I told them I was fine, I smiled at the AP, I hoped I was imagining that my vision was closing in.
When I finished the lesson, I went to the bathroom and checked out the damage that the horrified faces of both my AP and my students had been reacting too. My eyes were swollen, patches of hives had moved up onto my face.
But I held it together, popped a benedryl, and finished the day.
Unfortunately it kept getting worse. Suddenly benedryl wouldn’t touch the hives, they stopped disappearing and coming back. They weren’t playing games. They were here to stay. The next morning, I woke up and my eyes were nearly swollen shut.
I stayed home from work and made a doctors appointment. In deep disguise of sunglasses and a scarf, and every inch of my hive-y skin covered despite the May warmth, I ventured to the doctor.
Everything moved very quickly, faster than it ever had in a clinic before. The nurse checked me in, saw my face, walked into the hall and said “we need the doctor. Right. Now.” The doctor came in about a minute later as the nurse checked over my arms and neck. He looked at me, walked into the hall and said “do we have an epipen?”
Luckily I didn’t really need the epipen, the doctor instead decided on a high dose of prednisone right then, followed by low doses for ten days. Progress! Yes! Hurrah!
The nurse gave me the shot and I immediately felt…well, nothing, because I passed out, falling back on the exam table.
These poor medical professionals.
After many struggles to find an allergist and check-ins with the doctor, one of the nurses recommended a new allergist, one who she claimed had saved her daughters life. I made an appointment.
The hives were more manageable but they persisted. Every day I had a few on my arms of legs, one here or there and I’m bad days I’d get patches of them. They stayed off my face though which I appreciated.
The allergist put me on a low dose antihistamine and suggested we test to see what was causing this. And now we’ve finally gotten to the actual story of allergy testing.
There are two types of allergy testing, blood testing and skin testing. My allergist is adamant that blood tests do not tend to catch everything and are often inaccurate, so we did skin testing. There are two types of skin testing within this bracket. When I arrived for my testing, the tech explained that he would first use skin prick testing and the use inter-dermal for any testing brackets that were inconclusive.
The skin prick tests were easy and pretty painless. The tech coated several small needles in common allergens by family. Each family had roughly 10-20 different common allergens. He then lightly tapped the needles against my skin and marked which area had which sample family. We tested for 110 allergens, both food and environmental with this method. We waited 20 minutes for any reactions
Several of the environmental allergens showed inconclusive reactions, meaning some caused reactions but other in that family didn’t, so the tech decided we would test another 21 allergens using a more specific inter-dermal testing.
Inter-dermal testing uses small injections of certain allergens to test for specific allergies. A few drops of each allergen are deposited under the skin and you’re left for 15-20 to see which ones cause a reaction. Before the tech left he told me most people react to 2-3 out of the 21.
15 minutes later he came back to check our progress and I had reacted to…all 21. So our verdict was suddenly very clear: I’m allergic to most types of deciduous trees, grasses, mold, and basically being outside. Ironically the only allergy that had really come up in the past, cats, was a mild reaction.
The tech sent me home with a sheet that listed the severity of each reaction and the scientific names for the allergens and families. I’m on allergy meds now that help most of the time but I get hives of some sort everyday. There’s more to this story, but we’ll get to that another day.
Have you experienced crazy allergies and allergy testing? I want to hear your stories and questions in the comments below!
Best of luck