Allergy Apathy

I’ve encountered a certain subset of people over the years – people who have allergies or who might have allergies and don’t care. I’ve seen family members, friends, acquaintances, and strangers who seem almost apathetic of their allergies or possible allergies. As someone who suffers from rather severe but atypical allergies, it’s a bit disconcerting. The allergy apathetic tend to fall into one of the following camps:

  1. They have mild allergies and don’t bother avoiding their allergens
  2. They have potentially serious allergies and accept the consequences rather than changing their lifestyle
  3. They have health conditions that could possibly be solved by testing for and avoiding allergens but don’t want to bother

I do understand most of these attitudes. If your allergies aren’t bad, you don’t want to go through the hassle of changing your life. Avoiding allergens can be a lot of work. If you’re only experiencing mild symptoms that you can live with, why do extra work? If you are experiencing more moderate symptoms and feel you can live with it, same thing. If you have difficult-to-diagnose health conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, lupus, lyme, etc, you’ve probably been to see a numerous doctors, many of whom didn’t believe you. You’ve probably had dozens of tests done with no definitive answer. You now have some form of treatment that doesn’t make the problem go away but makes it bearable. You’ve had anxiety. You are tired and fed up. I’ve been there. I get it.

Nevertheless, these attitudes make me sad. Why? Because I hate to see people suffering. I know that every time I think I’ve successfully avoided my allergens I find something else and a small change makes me feel even better. I know that a pound of avoidance is worth ten pounds of cure. There may be nothing I can say to convince you that allergy testing is worthwhile, but I’d like to try. Consider the following:

  • Allergies are known by doctors to worsen over time, and sometimes very rapidly. Consider a bee sting allergy. You might be fine the first time, but the next time you’re stung you swell up. The time after that, you’re rushing to the hospital because you can’t breathe. The same can happen with a food allergy, and this process can occur even faster than that. It can also happen very slowly. Continued small exposures to allergens can cause allergies to develop, and worsen, over a period of years. When it’s that gradual, you might not realize the symptoms build, until it’s too late and you have a severe allergy.
  • The inflammation caused by these allergen exposures can also make your body more susceptible to developing other allergies. Why give your body a chance to develop more allergies when you can stop it at one?
  • You may have allergy symptoms you don’t even realize are allergy symptoms. Believe it or not, contact with an allergen can cause nonspecific intramuscular pain and nerve problems. Eating an allergen can cause gastrointestinal distress, gassiness, cramping, rapid food evacuation, skin issues, and even sinus problems. The symptoms don’t always appear in the location you expect, leading you to discount those symptoms as just “the way you are,” or an entirely different condition. If you never have full allergy testing, you may never know.
  • Most people with conditions that are not directly diagnosable (only diagnosed by process of elimination), like CFS, lupus, fibromyalgia, etc, are not actually fully tested for allergens. They may have had a skin prick test for environmental allergens, had a blood test for food allergens, and even had testing for celiac, but most haven’t had patch testing, which tests for contact allergies and sensitivities to chemicals, a huge group of products that isn’t included in any of those other allergy tests. Chemical contact allergies are some of the least well-known, but becoming more and more prevalent all the time. If you can swap “management techniques” for prevention, you’re now preventing yourself from ever experiencing those symptoms in the first place, rather than trying to cope with them day to day. Your quality of life improves.

I know that there are more people out there who will ignore this post than push their doctor for more testing and answers, but as someone who has lived through allergy symptoms that also fall under every single one of these conditions, who has seen my life go downhill so drastically and then seen more symptoms than I even knew I had disappear, I have to try. There is a doctor out there who will listen. You are worth it. You are worth the effort and expense it takes to be well. Your health and wellbeing is worth skipping that store-bought cookie, if that’s what it takes.

Be well, all of you.

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