Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Off with their heads! Clear cut the planet...I'm allergic!

I'm suddenly and painfully allergic to many things. I have had extensive allergy tests, and have the results. My top allergens are trees (most), grass (most), mold (all) and peanuts. I try to be careful but still, sometimes I don't know what I got into that is causing me to have an allergic reaction.

Like right now. The reaction started a couple of days ago and I've gone over and over that day in my mind as best I can. I can't figure it out. Something I ate? Something I inhaled?

The most likely scenario is that it's like the melons and chamomile. I'm not actually directly allergic to either, but my body receives their proteins the same way it does things I am actually allergic to, especially if I am already reacting. It's called cross-reactive allergies. And whether you are "actually" allergic to these things, or cross-reactive reacting to them, it feels the same.


So I'm reacting right now. It goes on for days. It makes me tired, crabby, and hurt, not to mention the physical symptoms like bloating, sore throat with welts, peeling lips, burning eyes and sinuses, and so on.

I have to carry on, but what with trying to keep two small children happy all day, mostly inside since it is too hot to go outdoors (which, by the way, is apparently toxic to me), keeping a house in order, and doing a full-time load of can imagine I'm really beat by the evening.

You know, the evenings when my husband gets home and I say, "Hey honey here are the kids....hope your day was nice...see you in the morning, I'm going to bed." Except I don't see him in the morning because my night-time allergy medication makes me really tired and I have a hard time waking up.

Allergies really are a chronic disease that can be quite debilitating. I'd never understood that before. In the past, they'd been a minor seasonal mild annoyance, a day here and a day there. However in the last year, they've escalated, once to a throat-pinching, labored breathing scary-run-to-the-ER level.

I often ask, why? How did I end up here, with this type of poor health? I eat well, exercise, try to live healthy. Stress, physical and mental, might be a factor. I have had a very interesting last couple of years, including pregnancy, childbirth, and nursing, as well as pneumonia (immediately after birth...caught from the hospital most likely). Change of environment. I did move halfway across the country to a place well-known for its allergens and toxic air.

All my efforts to manage my allergies, however, are personal. That is to say, I don't expect anyone around me to do anything different. I try to manage them within myself.

I do ask that we rip up all the carpet in my house and put down hard flooring---which is no hardship to my husband, trust me. I don't ask you to do the same.

I will probably not adopt more pets. I don't avoid pets, though, or houses with them.

I take lots of drugs---about 10-12 medication doses---a day. You're welcome to join in this one. ;)

I watch what I eat. I watch what I do.

What I don't do is lobby to remove all my personal allergens from my immediate environment. I have no lawsuit in court to clear cut all the trees and bushes, remove all the grass and concrete my neighborhood, for example. Nor do I require the city to remove the heat and humidity that create mold (although I might if I could LOL).

I'm still learning about allergies. It's complicated, and it's dynamic (they cycle every seven or so years). Allergies have practically hit the level of myth they are so fraught with ignorance and so misundertood.

And it's that upon which I ponder when I hear that the town of Milford, CT has agreed to chop down three hickory trees in deference to a peanut allergy.

Emily Bazelon in Slate opines that this is over-reaction. She explains that peanuts aren't even nuts; they are legumes. She also discusses being smacked on the hand by her son's school for sending granola bars and Annie's cheese crackers for snack since these items---which didn't actually contain peanuts---have labeling that say they were manufactured in a facility that does use nuts.

Have you looked at a label lately? That warning is pretty much SOP on practically everything. It's the CYA du jour. It's also probably the reality. How many companies will use the peanut version of kosher to manufacture food? How many parents live the sort of life that grabbing a pre-packaged bag of goldfish crackers is more realistic than hand-making a fresh food snack? And anyway, how many schools are okay with hand-made fresh snacks? I know my daughter's school forbids it. All things must be store-bought in sealed packages with labels.

See the news story about the trees falling in Connecticut at the New York Times.

In short, a young boy with nut allergies spends time at his grandmother's house. She has a pool in the backyard and has previously asked the town of Milford to remove the trees in deference to her pool. When denied, some time later, she requested that the trees be removed from adjacent to her property or her severly nut allergic grandson would die. The tree warden and the mayor disagreed resulting in the tree warden stepping down. The mayor, and the lawsuit, concurred with the woman and agreed to cut down the trees.

I'm a parent. I understand the urge to bubble my children from all harm. I'm allergic to things and know how much it sucks. I understand the urge to bubble one's self.

But where does "reasonable" begin and end?

Today it's the hickory trees adjacent to her property (where the boy only vists and doesn't even live). Where tomorrow? Public parks?

I've been wondering this question in general lately anyway: when and how do we qualify which need trumps another?

Sometimes allergies are that severe and in my opinion, the right to live pretty much trumps any other right, such as peanut butter crackers.

Still, I it okay to sterilize the world to accomodate a few rare cases?

As Emily Bazelon writes:
Food essentially becomes a version of secondhand smoke: It has harmful effects for people who aren't ingesting it. The difference, of course, is that secondhand smoke hurts most of us, while airborne food particles are a hazard only for a minority: An estimated 3 percent of elementary-school-age children and 2 percent of adults have food allergies, and the number who are radically sensitive is a sliver of those groups.

Taking precautions for the radically sensitive, however, means asking a lot of people to change their behavior. Peanuts are among the most lethal allergens, and since the mid-1990s, serious reactions to them have been rising.

I'm that 2% of adults. I'm allergic, but not life-threateningly so at this time, to peanuts. I sat in a closed vehicle with my mother and step-father as they ate peanut butter. I live in a mold-ridden environment (in the top 3 as well of my allergens).

I take precautions for myself, but I don't ask that others around me alter to accomodate me.

Is this my mistake?

Or is this reasonable?

I'm not sure what I am advocating.

Wait, I am advocating for a few things.

I am advocating that we learn more about allergies, especially more about sudden onset, increasing severity, and so forth. I'd like a cure, something besides spending $10,000 for several years of immunotherapy (that is, three shots, couple times a week, with office visit and serum coming out of my pocket since insurance doesn't pay---they'd rather pay for a lifetime of expensive medication than pay for a cure).

I am also advocating for increasing awareness of what allergies are and what it means when someone has allergies. For example, it's not just some sneezes and a runny nose. It's also not "be near it and die." It's a spectrum (don't we learn as we age that pretty much everything is a spectrum?).

But as for what to do when someone does have allergies...I'm not sure what I am advocating.

The bottom line question is where do my rights begin and end?

In my opinion, they end when they begin to trample your rights.

To that end, I'm not asking that any trees be cut down.

Edited to add: There have been many comments in the Fray---Slate's reply board---for Bazelon's article. Many opinions, many sides. I encourage you to go and read the article and the responses. I wrote:

I can't---nor can you---possibly create a "safe zone" that eliminates all of my severe allergens. It's my responsibility to be aware of my allergies, and take precautions to keep myself safe and healthy.

It does require that I curtail and alter my own behavior. It does require that I medically treat my allergies.

It does not require that you become an expert about allergies in general, and my allergies specifically.

I'm not too sure about this whole "cut down trees" and "no foods made anywhere near allergens" rule.

I think we do need to accomodate others.

I think right to life is a big one, that usually trumps others.

But "allergy safe zones" IMO creates a false sense of safety, and might lead to over-reaction, misunderstanding, and a false sense of security.

By Julie Pippert
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