Allergy Update

“I’ve never seen your mom order the pizza before. I even brought lemons for her salad dressing” a familiar waiter at one of my favorite restaurants said to my daughter the other day. I guess that means I am a regular: he is used to my order (appetizer-caprese salad hold the vinegar, fresh basil instead of basil sauce, dinner-Mediterranean salad add grilled chicken no feta no olives no dressing, olive oil and lemons instead). I love eating at this restaurant because they actually have a few items I can eat on my no wheat, corn, eggs, and sugar diet. The problem is they also have brick oven pizzas that are really hot, fresh, thin crusts, homemade sauce, and have delectable toppings. I know this because someone in my family always orders one, and I almost always sneak a bite or two. This time was different. This time I decided to get the ‘Super Mario’ the equivalent of a meat lover’s pizza. I used to eschew such foods because of the belly ache and rash that ensued.

It’s been a while since I’ve written about eczema, my nemesis. The first allergist I saw was on Virginia, and he explained that allergies show themselves three ways: hay fever, asthma, and eczema/hives. Our immune systems are like buckets, and allergens full up the bucket until it overflows, and we have symptoms.

Up until a few months ago I was getting allergy care from my ENT (shots and antihistamines) and dermatologist (ointments for rashes). I’ve been diagnosed with multiple allergies, to environmental stuff like dust, dust mites, mold, cats, trees and grasses. Shots and nasal sprays helped and continue to help with the hay fever, but I kept getting eczema and hives. I got patch tested and was diagnosed with allergies to nickel, fragrance, and several other chemicals omnipresent in our society. I gave my house a makeover for dust mites and chemicals. I got my eyes tattooed for eye liner and switched to chemical free makeup, shampoo and conditioner (which are all very hard to find). Still I got eczema and hives.

I was tested for food allergies then told the tests are not reliable, and that elimination diets are the only way to know for certain. So I went on a major elimination diet starting in 2009 and discovered reactions (both digestive and rashes) to wheat, corn, sugar, and eggs. My skin clears up when I eat clean, but boy is it hard to eat that clean!

In April I started seeing a new allergist. I told her I wanted a tenth opinion because it’s so frustrating to be me. I explained my long history with allergies and treatments, and vented my frustrations about not being able to eat like a normal person. Her philosophy is to help people like me learn to live ‘out of the bubble’ by identifying intolerances vs allergies and by managing symptoms. Since I don’t swell up and drop to the floor with anaphylaxis, I think mine are intolerances, not true allergies. This is a good thing. Although the fear of the face rash keeps me from eating whatever I want.

Friends who suffer from eczema-listen up, this is the best advice I’ve received so far. It’s called the ‘seal and heal’ technique. Take several baths a day. She said her worst cases take three baths a day. She told me to take two a day (I had blisters and cracking skin). Then apply ointments while the skin is still wet. I use proactiv on my face and triamcinilone on my body. Bathing (vs showering) allows your body to absorb water at a deep level. Think about it, drowning victims are bloated when they are pulled from the water. Ourbbodies absorb water through our pores. Applying moisture and ointments with wet skin seals in the moisture from the bath. I only use a towel on my hair now, and the result is that my eczema has basically cleared up. The dishydrotic eczema on my hands and feet comes back periodically, and I revert to bathing and medicating.

While I’ve been able to eat ‘out of the bubble’ and not have any eczema erupt on my face, the digestive issues remain. Because of my intolerances, when I eat gluten and sugar I get really bloated. Since April, I’ve put on a solid ten pounds. It’s bad news but I’m also happy to have enjoyed some normal food. Whenever I feel uncomfortable with the extra pounds, I remember how good those cheeseburgers tasted, how cheesy the pizza was, and how much I hated eating ‘in a bubble.’

The jury is still out, but I think I might prefer the frustration of not eating like a normal person to the bloated heavy feeling I have after eating what everybody else eats. Let’s face it, the American diet is terrible!

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