Friday, January 27, 2012

I am just a little bit sensitive.

Actually according to the allergist I saw, I am more than just a bit sensitive.  I over-react to a lot of things.

As you may be aware, I have been feeling a bit blah over the last year or so.  Always feeling tired and as if I was coming down with a cold.  I just thought it was perhaps a million reasons, one of which was that I was getting old.  That was until I had a bizarre reaction to some trail mix.

The background story is that about 3 weeks ago, I was driving to my local climbing gym and as it was around lunchtime I grabbed a couple snack bags of trail mix from the cupboard.  Just enough to keep me going.

I was driving along quite happily, munching through my second packet, when my lips started to itch.  My tongue felt like it was swelling and my throat felt sore.  I carried on driving because I wasn’t really sure what was happening to me.  In a couple more minutes my eyes started to water and my asthma flared up.  Things were going downhill rapidly. 

Luckily I spied the local food store and I knew it had a pharmacy, so I stopped off and picked up some anti-histamines.  After about 15 minutes, the reaction had died down and I felt a little yucky but I was okay.

I mentioned it to the Family Doctor later that week, as I have never had a food allergy before and he referred me to an allergist.

The allergist did a few tests – the usual pin-prick test and a breathing test to see how my asthma was doing.  My asthma has been good for years; so much so I have only been taking the reliever when it is cold or I was planning a long run.

After being used as a pincushion – it’s not a nice series of tests -- and lying on a massage table, looking at the floor for 15 minutes, the doctor comes back in.

His first comment, “That’s impressive”, was quickly followed by, “and you only occasionally use Benadryl?” 

I knew my back was itching, it wasn’t until he handed me the paperwork after the appointment,  I realized my whole back was a mesh of welts and redness.

It turns out that I had a severe reaction to:

Birch, Oak, Grasses, most household moulds, Dustmites (this was the largest and it left a welt on my back measuring 4 inches) and Cats.  I had an allergic reaction to a handful of other allergens and a mild reaction to a another handful. Lots a lot of red spots on my back.

It took 2 anti-histamines, a whole whack of cortisone cream and 90 minutes before I could put my bra back on!

The tests for Nut allergies were all negative. So why did I react to the trail mix?

It turned out the Birch allergy was the bizarre cause.  I have a strange and surprisingly common reaction called ‘Oral Allergy Syndrome”.  Usually it doesn’t produce the severe reaction I had, but it can in some cases cause Anaphylaxis shock.   In layman’s terms – and I am layman in this --this means that the proteins in certain nuts, raw fruits and vegetables can cause an allergic reaction if eaten, but NOT on the skin prick test.

Two of the nuts (Almonds and Walnuts) that are in this bizarre syndrome were in my trail mix.  So problem solved… but then I look at the list of other foods in this syndrome: Apples, Celery, Peaches, Cherries, Kiwi, Pears, Tomatoes, Carrot, Pea’s, Peanuts and Sunflower seeds.  Lets not forget potentially Melon, Orange, Banana, Cucumber and Cantaloupe.

The strange thing is that when the items are cooked (apart from Nuts and celery), I’ll be fine.  It’s something to do with the protein bonds and heat.  To be fair, I only have to be extra wary if I have had a huge reaction -- so almonds and walnuts are out.  The rest I just have to be very careful with.

The thing is I have probably been suffering a mild reaction for years.  I have long cited “citric acid” as one of my allergens; thinking it was that tart, sour, taste you get with lemons and certain fruits.  Seems as if it wasn’t the acids in the fruit but the proteins. I have only really been a big nut and raw veggies eater in the last year. Who knew being healthy was bad for you?

So the yucky, ‘feel like I have a cold’ feeling may have in fact, been food allergies.  In my attempt to eat better, I may have been making myself feel worse

The other issue that came to light, was that I am in a permanent asthmatic state.  In fact this state has been probably going on for years as well. To me I feel fine, but in reality I am only operating at about 80% of my flow rate capacity.  With relievers that figure increases to about 90%, but it still way short.  I never realized, I thought my asthma was under control.  As the Doctor pointed out, I probably never knew a different way to be.  As a kid I was so asthmatic I was excused PT at school because I couldn’t make it to the end of the court without collapsing, short of breath. 

So I asked the doctor what effects this would have when I was running.  You guessed it, very high-heart rate.  So it looks like we have an answer to my inability to do low heart rate training.  My body is trying to get the oxygen it needs to make me move by letting my heart beat like crazy.

I suppose in some way, this proves anecdotally, the efficiency of good form running.  If I can run a 9 min mile for 13 miles on 80% lung efficiency, just think what most people could do with good running form and 100% of their lung power.

The outcome? I have a new medication schedule for my asthma, we have to buy a decent vacuum and steam cleaner. We have trip to the store to buy new bedding and covers. I have to abandon all time goals on my running (which is great for me), for at least 6 months. Oh, and I have to be contentious about my housework.  I knew there would have to be a serious down-side somewhere.

The last week has provided some answers.  Of that, I’m glad.  Just means that 2012 maybe a slower year (running wise), than I had planned.  I needed to smell those roses anyway – although not too much, knowing my luck I am probably allergic to them ;)


  1. Interesting post. BTW, wearing a bra is overrated. I'd have left mine off!

    Your post makes me want to go get my asthma tested. I have been training for years and still consistently have a high heart rate. I think my asthma is under control, but perhaps its not. Something to think about. I don't want the pin pricks though!

  2. Wow! That is quite a bit of things! I had a similar test done a couple years ago. I'm allergic to (amongst other things) Grass!!! And I have asthma as well. But don't worry you'll be able to conquer this little bump. Glad you found some answers

  3. Damnit. Housework is the pits. No chance for a maid, I suppose?