Health — May 17, 2019 at 9:00 am

‘Tis the Sneezon!

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By Melanie Robitaille, Sr. Staff Writer

Like the sound of a robin’s song or the sight of crocuses in bloom, a sure-fire sign of spring is the first sneeze of allergy season.

For those of us with environmental allergies, it often means regular allergy shots, pills, puffers and eye drops. We don’t dare leave the house without tissues at the ready, and when we gather, we share our various antihistamine regimens like most talk of the weather. There are also the looks; the ones from everyone who just assumes because we look so horrible we must have some highly contagious disease.

My truth about allergies and asthma is that I’ve tried many of the ‘Band-aid’ solutions available, but both remain. They’re both hereditary as well as developed, and though I’ve heard of people outgrowing them, mine have only started to worsen with age.

My story starts growing up in a smoking household, a habit that I wish I could eradicate from this world. I suffered chronic ear infections as a result, and when I faced subsequent hearing complications, a doctor recommended ear tubes. Soon after that surgery, I was tested for several allergies; everything from environmental pollens and hay, to animals, and dust. Yes, that’s right, dust. This made for a somewhat unpleasant childhood as I couldn’t have any pets, stuffed animals were packed away, and carpeting in our home was a no-no. Then I started receiving allergy shots and my symptoms lessened enough to get my teddy bears back, but I wasn’t exactly cooperative about getting the needles.

Known as immunotherapy, patients receive injections containing minute amounts of all the things that trigger their allergies. So, what started as an avoidance action plan turned into an exposure plan. We even bought our first family dog, a little black Cocker Spaniel named Pepper. The occasional flare up was treated with pill form antihistamines.

Then, during my teenage years, I foolishly left a case of the flu unchecked. It turned into a lung infection, and when I finally did go to the doctor after cracking a rib while coughing, I was told that I literally gave myself asthma. For those who know me and my propensity for talking, you might say I’m full of hot air, and when my asthma is at its worst, I actually am. My body continually tries to cough out the fluid trapped in my lungs and I’m unable to fully expel the air I inhale, leaving me hacking, bloated and easily winded.

I went from being a track star and competitive dancer in my elementary and high school years, to increasingly sedentary and overweight in my college years and adulthood. I now struggle with several lung infections each flu season, especially in spring and fall, and rely on steroid inhalers or “puffers” to help me; a preventative one if I’m going to do something that will aggravate my condition, and another for emergencies to shock my airways open.

I’m unable to jog long distances, and I cough a lot after exercising. I wasn’t able to do Lamaze during my two pregnancies, but yoga has been paramount in helping with techniques to better control my breathing. I’ve even resorted to singing a few times, to help me fully exhale.

Other draw backs are my eczema flare ups or “contact dermatitis”, which goes hand-in-hand with my allergies and asthma, as well as my reaction to severe temperatures. When I touch certain allergens my skin reacts, and with fluid in my lungs, breathing heavily in the extreme cold causes me problems, as does the heavy humidity on the smog alert days of summer.

Living with both conditions, I’ve become adept at listening to my body and learning what works and what doesn’t…like one-ply tissues. It means having to change my antihistamines as my body learns to tolerate each new strength of each new brand, and continually exposing myself to my triggers in small doses. It means keeping my home super clean by vacuuming with a HEPA filter and damp cloth dusting, removing harsh chemicals from the cleaning process, paying attention to household air quality, and always cleaning and gardening with gloves on. It means constantly working toward achieving a healthy body weight, maintaining a low stress level, and certain dietary considerations like lowering my dairy product intake. I also need to be mindful of growing and harvesting seasons for my hay fever and pollen allergies.

With no cure in sight and the number of sufferers continually on the rise, believe it or not, I’m one of the luckier ones. Although my reactions are worsening, they’re still tolerable and under control. My allergies and asthma have never sent me to the hospital, I don’t need to carry an EpiPen® or wear a medical alert bracelet. I don’t need an asthma mask; I don’t have to reduce my contact with the outside world or severely limit my activity.

Recently, I’ve started seeking out naturopaths and acupuncturists for alternative medical treatment advice, as I now watch my eight-year-old son struggle with the genetics I’ve passed onto him. I saw all the signs from his infancy, as he still struggles with eczema flare ups today and was prone to croup every fall and spring in his toddler years. He tires when he’s playing, and coughs after serious physical activity.

When he started sneezing after coming into contact with the family cats, it was time to take him for testing. We had to wait until after the age of four, and the process hasn’t changed much over the years. Just as my parents took me, I took my son in for a “scratch” test where the skin on his back was pricked or “scratched” in a grid pattern, and then various triggers were applied topically to each section to gauge a reaction.

Seeing him follow in my footsteps, makes me step with even greater care when it comes to my health and wellness journey. I’m ever thankful because it could’ve been worse with my family’s asthma history, but I’m hopeful that we’ll find a new treatment that will allow him all the stuffed animals he wants, and a fun-filled physically active childhood no matter the season.

The statements made in this article have not been evaluated by Health Canada or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. None of the information presented is intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease. This is a personal account and individual experiences may vary. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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