I’m a dork, so I took pictures of my allergy tests. Some of you are dorks, so I know you want to hear all about it. (I know you want to hear about it not because you’re a dork, but because you emailed to say, “Please, I want to know what happens when you go to the allergist.”) So consider this a chapter in “It’s Not So Scary.”

Here we go.

These are my arms. This is what it looked like before the tests started. I should mention that I don’t have a fear of doctors. I’m not trying to avoid going because I have a phobia, I avoid going because I often think of myself as too busy, because that makes me feel like it’s okay I’m not going to the doctor. It doesn’t make sense, I know. One of my doctors scolded me today for not coming often enough, joking that she had to move her practice closer to my house. The thing is, I totally scheduled my appointment once I saw she moved her practice closer to my house. What? Encino is far!

Anyway, my allergist is a really nice guy, who started with lots of questions that were reminiscent of a scene from House. He wanted to know what my living conditions were like, how old my house was, what happened when I ate jam. He asked about my parents’ allergies, anything I reacted strangely to as a child, including inoculations, and then asked if I’d ever had any surgeries or blood transfusions. Then it was on to blood pressure (diagnosis: awesome) and pulse (diagnosis: even more awesome) and weight (which he said was good and then i argued with him because i’m neurotic). One thing I do like about seeing the doctor is when I get praised for things I’m doing well that I don’t even think about, like my blood pressure or my resting pulse. He said the low resting pulse is probably due to all the running I do, but the freak in me is sure it means I need to ask my primary care practitioner about my thyroid. Anyway, the doctor said, “You’ll live to be a thousand,” which is also what Josh told me last week, which makes me immediately think, “God, I hope somebody’s there with me.”

So. Back to my arms. By the end of this week, I’ll have had 220 different drops of goo on my arms and we will have narrowed down the allergy field from everything on the planet to a ridiculously long list. After that it should go down from a manageable amount of things to avoid to finally, this is what was making me feel like shit.

The first day I was selective about what I wanted on my arms. I’m not doing that any longer, as I learned that some of the things I didn’t put on the list because I don’t think I eat them very often are what caused an allergic reaction. I only eat those things occasionally, so if I felt sick afterwards, I didn’t connect it to a food allergy because I’m so used to having allergic reactions to lots of things in my life (perfume, cold air, cats, chin stubble burn).

Here are the drops of food essence (Take that, Lucinda, “I am waiting here to swell. I am waiting to itch like hell…“). After each food is dropped on the super-scientific chart they’ve drawn on my arm in red pen, they prick the bubbles with a syringe, thus exposing my raw skin to the food.

Like this.

Then, I wait for twenty minutes.

Like this.

And then it happened.

That red swelling on the lower left hand side of my arm happened almost immediately after the scratch test started. It felt like I’d been stung by a fire ant. I had to sit there for another twenty minutes, not scratching and not moving because I couldn’t disturb all the little food bubbles sitting on my skin. The doctor wiped away the drop, but the damage had been done. My face started itching, the roof of my mouth was itching, and I could feel my eyelids starting to swell with irritation.

This is me trying not to chew my arm off. Everything in my allergist’s office looks like it was snatched off the set of The Cider House Rules. While I was waiting today I heard them typing on a manual typewriter. The kind that dings. From the past.

Yeah, it really sucked. But it’s one welt closer to finding out what’s going on.

So, I tried to distract myself from the itching.

I remembered that this is all for my own good, and I’m very lucky to have health insurance. So here’s my brave face.

The doctor then wipes off all the food dew and feels each place to see how much of a reaction I had. He puts a corresponding number based off of the size of welt that formed. That big, angry hive on my arm wasn’t from wheat. It was red bell pepper, an item I didn’t even ask to test at first, until the doctor asked how often I ate salads.

At the end of day two of testing, here are the list of things I am to avoid for the next three weeks:

wheat, in all forms (including fillers, which means no hamburger, sausage, or meatloaf.)
turkey
almonds
celery
broccoli
peas
walnuts
avocados
safflower seed
red pepper
asparagus
soy bean (yeah. now you try and eat. no wheat, no soy. i have nothing left in this world but brown rice.)
cashew nut
black/white pepper
cinnamon
green olive (so much for my vodka martinis)
horseradish
mustard
paprika
poppy seed
chili pepper
[no Mexican food or Indian food. this is very sad. everything with the word “pepper” in it got a reaction.]
chicory
pistachio
buckwheat
tangerine
baker’s yeast

Back at Mencia, when the allergies were so bad that people were actually calling me “Miss Blotchy” (yes, they love me), I thought it was due to the large amount of wheat we had to eat every day with our two choices: pizza or Chinese food. But when I was trying to avoid all of that so I didn’t get Office Ass, I would grab the only healthy snack in the building — a handful of trail mix. In that trail mix was almonds, walnuts, cashews and raisins. It is possible that I was giving myself a shock of nut allergies every day (because I don’t usually eat trail mix in my life), and that’s what was causing my body to revolt.

If the “coffee” bubble had caused a welt I would have thrown myself out the window. Other good news: not one meat (other than turkey), seafood, fruit or dairy item made me itch.

So, the doctor said to me today, “This doesn’t mean you’re allergic to all of these things. Your skin reacted to these things, so that’s how we know it’s something to look at. We’ll slowly put these things back into your system after you haven’t had them for a while and we’ll see what it is that triggers a reaction. You might not get hives after eating asparagus. You might get an asthma attack after eating buckwheat crepes.”

More tests on Thursday, which will include pollens, pet hair, insects, and all things nature. Looking over the list of allergens I’ll be getting made me have to say this unfortunate sentence: “I don’t want to know how you got the essence of cockroach in that bottle.”

But after all of this, I’ll be feeling better, which means I won’t look like this:

Dr. House would be so proud of me.

42 thoughts on “warning: reading this might make you itchy

  1. I got a battery of allergy tests like that in high school. Then I got an allergy shot a couple times a week for about two years. Yeah, years. But! Now I don’t even have to take Claritin anymore except when the Santa Anas are really, really bad.Good luck.

  2. I thought peppers, at least the hot ones, were supposed to cause a reaction… the whole, watery eyes, burning throat bit. That’s why we like them, right? So naturally it would cause a reaction on your skin. But red bell peppers? I’m hoping, for you sake, that the list gets narrowed considerably. :)

  3. I had the scratch test done in college, but it was all on my back.I’m curious what the doctor thought of you snapping pictures throughout the test. It sure made this all more interesting. And it was already interesting!

  4. It’s so strange how it seems that allergens are much more the culprit as to what’s wrong with us nowadays, as say, back when we were growing up. I don’t remember any kids in my class, or friends in the neighborhood, being allergic to peanuts or milk or tomatoes…Actually, I was the only one that I knew of–allergic to (what we now call) tree nuts, as opposed to peanuts, which we now know are legumes. But at least we’re getting an education as we get more allergic to everything we ingest! You’re gonna have a degree in organic chemistry by the time you’re done…Hope your testing helps you find the right diet for you soon. I’m sure you’re going to love and appreciate how you feel once you’re on it.Thanks for keeping us all updated. It actually helps us, the over-30 crowd, to see that other people are going through physical mystery maladies as well, and that there ARE solutions.

  5. Oh, man. I’ve never wanted to give a virtual (almost) stranger a hug more than I do right now. *L* I hope they find what it is soon. If it makes you feel any better, you still look really cute, even though you are suffering. ;)

  6. Hmmmm…. Up here in Seattle they just draw a couple vials of blood and send it off to a lab and they can test all the allergens. I didn’t know places still did scratch tests…. OUCH!!!

  7. Oh I remember these. I was given pollens and animals etc.. you should have seen the big CIRCLE OF DOOM that flared up on my arm from the cat ‘drop’. Ew. I love my cats and will never give ’em up, though. I just take a daily Razene. Ahhh.I’m such a druggie.

  8. Hi, it’s me again, worrying about your stomach ;). I don’t mean to be a pain — or, more likely, a lunatic — but I thought I’d point out that you can both be allergic (or NOT) to wheat, and have celiac disease. It’s not an allergy, so this kind of testing wouldn’t catch it, but the kind that would is reallllly simple. As I said (stalked) before, though, the other testing has to be done before you give up wheat/gluten completely, or else false negatives are incredibly likely. After this I’ll leave you alone, but let me know if you want to know more or if you want links to some solid resources.

  9. Oh, Pamie. Nashville is praying for you. If the doctor handed me that food list, there would be a resounding chorus of “Not!” from this Southern girl. (Chicory???) Should I air-mail you some pulled pork barbecue and beans? I’m not sure if you could eat cornbread…Anyway, keep your head up. Hopefully the peppers get themselves back on the approved list soon!

  10. During my testing to find out whether I was properly “allergic” to red meat or just “sensitive” to it, my allergist discovered that I was also “sensitive” to two other allergens:catstomatoesOh, modern medicine. You scamp.Good luck with the food ban!

  11. My allergy testing managed to come up with this absolutely brilliant diagnosis: “you’re not allergic to anything. You’re just highly irritable.” I don’t know how many times my family has managed to used that diagnosis against me. Officially “highly irritable” mmhmm

  12. Alright, finally you’ve caught me and I must comment. THANK YOU. I’m getting myself psyched up to do the allergy grid thing and having a voice I’m familiary with (I guess) go through it and talk about it totally rocks. It’s like my own little “Sack up, hoss” talk. I’ve been putting it off because allergy attacks only happen now and then but seriously, it’s time. So: thanks.

  13. Annie: That’s why I’m still off the wheat, even though my skin didn’t react to it. As long as not eating it makes me feel better, I’m not eating it. The scratch tests aren’t the end of this; just the beginning. But thanks for your concern. And yes, I still have your email and I truly appreciate the information.

  14. I, too, have been thru that battery of tests. And I lost 10 pounds on my “hypo-allergenic” diet of rice, romaine lettuce, and tilapia for a month. The best part of the testing is when they had to give me a shot of adrenaline because they thought I was going to go into anaphalactic shock from the grass testing. I’m allergic to ALL grasses in an angry way. Good luck, and remember to drink POTATO vodka (no grains).

  15. Ooh, careful with the vodka all around- most brands use wheat in the fermentation process. I had a friend w/Celiac Disease (gluten-sensitive stomach problems, to drastically oversimplify) and the only vodka she could drink was Grey Goose. So, at least now you have an excuse to go totally top shelf.

  16. I had a battery of scratch test done when I was 13 – only they did it all in one fell swoop. Both arms – one covered in food dew (ew! but apt) the other in the pollens/pets/bugs/etc. The swelling – it was ridiculous. They couldn’t even accurately measure waht was happening because reactions were running into reactions. The fun part came after it was over and I was waiting for my Mom to get back to the doctor’s office. (She had to run carpool that day.) As I was reading a 10 year-old copy of Redbook or the like, I started wheezing and feeling lightheaded. I tried to ignore it, but when my throat started closing up I figured I better mention it to someone. I stumbled over to the nurses’ desk only to find I couldn’t make words any more. I grunted and pointed and tapped on the desk until she figured out I was in respiratory distress. I was whisked back into an exam room and shot full of something. I dunno what. Adrenaline? Electricity? I was 13 and 65% passed out by that point. Mom returned to find out I had gone into anaphylactic shock but was bouncing right back. I was fine. Mom was just glad it happened in the waiting room and not the car on the way home. Later I found out they could have just done a blood test. *shrug* That’s life right?I ended up being highly allergic to:Every tree, grass, and leafy thing on planet EarthCeleryScallopsOrange JuiceandNewspaperThere were other things but these were the big time winners.So anyway kudos to your doctor for splitting it up into two rounds of tests. Of course, it might not hurt to spend some quality time with a 10 year-old Redbook afterwards – just in case. Good Luck!

  17. Oh Allie G, my sympathies -especially for the newspaper. I had a scratch test done a few years ago, and dust was the big winner for me. I was glad it wasn’t cats (although there was a reaction there) but you can only do so much about dust mites. But I’m starting to wonder if we foolishly assumed food wasn’t a culprit.

  18. My first allergy test was administered when I was 4. I had just celebrated my 4th birthday and our neighbors had given me an old doll – one of those freaky ass dolls with the eyes that open and close depending on whether they are in a reclined position or up and walking around your house plotting to kill you in the middle of the night.My mom says the doll was covered in dust, and within 20 minutes of playing with the doll I was wheezing and turning blue. They rushed me to the hospital and diagnosed it as an asthma attach. So, allergy testing soon followed and they diagnosed me as allergic to mold, dust mites and cat dander.I took allergy shots for 14 years and they were wonderful. I’d have maybe one asthma attach a year (usually when the seasons would change), and then I moved to Colorado Springs – where it is so dry mold is not an issue and neither were the dust mites. So, I went off of allergy shots and lived an asthma free life until I moved back to the South.Within three months I was waking up in the middle of the night because I was having trouble breathing. So, they sent me back to the allergist to find I was still allergic to mold, dust mites and cat dander – 22 years later and I hadn’t “outgrown” my allergies. I had the same reaction as Allie G – lungs tightening, lightheadedness . . . I wish I’d known they could have done a blood test.Now I’m on Advair and I don’t have any symptoms and the bonus is I don’t have to use my inhaler anymore before I exercise.I guess I’m just sharing, and to say I was bummed to find out that allergy shots don’t “cure” you. At least, they didn’t for me.Pam – I hope you get to the bottom of your allergy search.

  19. Sorry you had to go through all that. I’ve had the allergy tests three times in my life. They did the test on my back when I was 4 because apparently you can’t stop a four year old from scratching her arms. Then we moved to Ohio from Mississippi and they tested my arms at age 7. Then they did it again when I was 20 because I had my first asthma attack while on vacation in Hawaii.Luckily, growing up and moving to California did wonders for my allergies. I was the kid that always had to get special treats made for me whenever it was someone’s birthday in my elementary classes. Why? I was allergic to CHOCOLATE. I think I’d rather give up wheat.

  20. I thought I was the only one allergic to the Earth and everything that there is to eat. If you don’t mind a little hocus pocus, get yourself to an acupuncture doctor. I have no idea how it works and I giggle when they use words like “chi” but it IS working and I can now eat wheat again. Dairy is coming back into the diet too. Good luck.

  21. I had to do similar testing as a kid, but instead of little scratches I was injected with a syringe just under the surface of my skin with a thin thin needle. My mom reacted so strongly to oats that she felt like she was drunk, couldn’t walk straight and was slurring her speech. I was super sensitive to cottonwood trees, strawberries and peaches, peanuts(who isn’t?), cats, dust mites and ragweed. We did EPD for treatment 10 years ago, which is Enzyme Potentiated Desensitization http://www.food-allergy.org/epd.html http://www.dma.org/~rohrers/allergy/epd_faq.htm#5.1, and had to drive 2 hrs one way to Independence, MO to get it done. For a few days before and after the EPD treatments we’d have to go on this incredibly strict diet: we could only eat a few veggies, and they all had to be cooked until soft, the only meat allowed was venison, lamb, rabbit, swordfish and shark. No grains, end of story. We also had to use special super hypoallergenic soap, shampoo,etc. and brushed our teeth with baking soda.It was a pain, but after 4 treatments we all saw marked improvement and now my allergies are almost gone. Cottonwoods still get to me but not to nearly the same extent, and I can’t eat fresh peaches, but in any other form they’re fine. Everything else disappeared, and I now have 2 cats and eat strawberries a pound at a time! It’s a hassle but in the end it is so worth it.

  22. I recommend, if you haven’t already tried it, the Sans Gluten Free brand for wheat-substitute products; their white sandwich bread tastes great if a little dry, and I am seriously addicted to their bagels. It might have something else you’re not supposed to eat but I doubr it. Also I am blanking on the brand names now but if you hit up your nearest health food store (you live in LA, it can’t be that hard to find) there are tons of surprisingly tasty wheat-free goodies available (look for: apple cinnamon waffles, oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, and these really amazing kit-kat like wafer snacks that are maybe even better than kit-kat because they don’t have the weird, cheap-chocolate aftertaste). (of course maybe you’ve already done this and I am just redundant… but whenever I find another wheat-free person I like to try to ease the transition).

  23. No Indian food or Mexican food? Now that’s not fair. I hope they get this all sorted out quickly, because brown rice gets old fast.Can you have corn? Barbara’s Puffins are wheat-free and the cinnamon ones are pretty tasty.

  24. So, so sorry to hear your list of foods to avoid is that long! That is some crazy stuff. I did the environmental ones last year, (go here if interested in results: http://nellymom.livejournal.com/14223.html). Mine were on my back and all I wanted to do was rub myself on the doorframe. The nurses were impressed with my reactions, and applied several coats of Caladryl. I think the shots I get now are helping, but I’m still on Claritin. I wonder about foods, because I had a general food test that was all negative, but sometimes I get a very itchy tongue (and no, I’m not doing anything dirty with it). Also: my daughter has a life-threatening peanut allergy. I certainly hope you have nothing like that.

  25. I’ve been living off Puffins.Although they make me sing the Mary Poppins song: “Feed the pam, Puffins a bag.” It’s stupid, but it’s all i can hear while i pour my cereal.

  26. That is some seriously interesting stuff, Pamie. I’m not kidding. I sat there and read every word. When you wrote about bubbles and so on I was completely engrossed. I didn’t know they did this to people.

  27. All you people with allergies – my deepest sympathies! I seem to have developed a bit of an intolerance to processed sugar (which isn’t so bad – it just makes me eat healthily), and the symptoms sucked, so I can’t imagine having to deal with what some of you have described.Pam, your list made me hungry! I hope they get to the bottom of it soon, and actually leave you with something nice to eat!

  28. I too took the scratch test. I was 12 years old, and it was a pretty traumatic day. I’m one of those “avoid the doctors at all costs” kind of people, and I was terrified. The scratch test came up with several things, but they had to give me several shots a few days later to confirm the allergies. The needles were enormous, and I almost passed out because of my crazy fear of shots. Final diagnosis: no milk products, onions, peppers, pineapple, and dust. A weird combo, but there you go.

  29. Red bell pepper (and all sweet peppers) are a member of the nightshade family. Other members of the nightshade family are belladonna, potatoes, tomatoes, and eggplant. you should seriously get tested for those as well since what you could be senstitive to is whole nightshade thing.sorry. welcome to my world. have you tried _not_ eating french fries with ketchup for the rest of your life? yeah. exactly.

  30. Holy crap – I’ve had similar tests. I’m allergic to milk which, while it’s always been with me, only manifested itself to the point where I had to stop eating dairy about five years ago. Sucks.I’m also allergic to wheat but I continue to eat it because if it’s giving me symptoms I don’t know what they are. I thought about trying the cut it all out and try each one seperately thing to see what, if anything, it does to me but…I’m also allergic to pretty much every grass, flower, and tree in Kansas (and I’m sure everywhere else too), as well as our wonderful dog Mable. So in order to test for food allergies I’d have to go off my allergy medicines which would mean a world of hurt. So forget that.I’m sure the day will come when I can’t eat wheat anymore. That will be a sad day. Bread is my next favorite thing to cheese. Sad.It was fantastic to meet you in Topeka today. I hope you come speak in the area again sometime soon.

  31. Pam, have your doctors test your cortisol levels – a common cause of rosacea, celiac-type symptoms and other allergic reactions might be because your adrenal glands are tired. I was in the same boat doctor to doctor to figure out why it felt like my body was attacking itself. Best wishes!

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