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Monday, February 10, 2014

feeling like me again - food allergy update

On January 2nd I woke up in the morning and the tips of my ears were INCREDIBLY itchy.  I don't just mean a little tiny bit itchy.  I mean like I wanted to rip them off my head itchy.  They were really red and it took everything I had in me not to scratch them to death.

I put cortisone cream on them and there was no relief.

A couple of days later the itching was even worse (which I could not have imagined until it happened) and had spread to my entire ear, not just the tips.  They were swollen, itchy and burned like crazy.  I joked to my family that someone must have really been thinking about me because my ears were burning, but honestly it was just so uncomfortable.  Within a couple of days the itchiness spread to my head, neck and face.  I went to the pharmacist that weekend and was advised to take Benadryl at night and Zyrtec during the day.  She didn't think the cortisone cream was helping because to her it seemed like it was probably a systemic reaction - to something I was putting in or on my body.  I did a mental checklist of all the products I was using - face cleansers, makeup, hair products, lotions, laundry detergents, etc. and tried to think of anything that might be new or different.  I had joined a new gym recently and thought maybe their shampoo and soap could have impacted me or possibly even the detergent they used to wash their towels.  About a month earlier I started a new face soap, so I stopped using it.  I also had switched my women's multivitamin to the generic Whole Foods brand - I didn't think it was much different from the one I'd taken before but I was helplessly trying to figure it out.  Nothing improved, and was actually getting worse, so I went to see my doctor after about a full week.  My doctor put me on a 7-day stretch of prednisone and told me to continue to take the allergy medicine and to stay away from the vitamin.  I also had a swollen lymph node under my left ear that was rather large, so she wanted to keep an eye on that.  She told me I would "feel like a brand new person" within 48 hours on the prednisone.

No such luck.

During the week on the prednisone I felt worse and worse every single day.  My itching spread to other parts of my body and was so intense that I could hardly stand it.  Taking hot showers killed my skin.  My joints felt puffy and stiff - especially in my fingers.  I was congested and so, so sleepy at times of the day that I usually had lots of energy.  And the swollen lymph node grew larger.

The day after I finished the prednisone I had a snack of apples with peanut butter (something I often eat) and later that day I had some peanut butter cups (another favorite treat).  That night I noticed my eyes were swelling up and were itchy.  I felt miserable and took two Benadryl before crawling into bed.  It honestly did not occur to me that the peanut butter was causing this.  It did not even cross my mind.

I had a horrible night sleep that night - itching like crazy, tossing and turning and feeling as though someone was gripping my neck and almost strangling me.  When I got out of bed at 4:30am I felt like I had been in a brawl.  My eyes were swollen and sore, my neck was tight and painful and the itching all around my head, neck and face was nearly unbearable.

i think i actually look better than i felt!
I went to the doctor first thing that morning.  She called in another doctor to take a look at me and together they determined that I should see an allergist as soon as possible.  They also took blood so they could run some tests related to my swollen lymph node.  It was over a cm in diameter and she said any node that size that is persistent over a period of time will need to be checked out.  I drove straight from their office to the allergist after getting my blood taken.

My allergist could not have been nicer.  We talked through what I had been eating and ingesting and putting on my body over the last several weeks.  She wanted to do testing but we had to wait because I had been taking antihistamines for a few weeks, and you need to be off them for a good 5 days to get accurate test results.  She put me on a food allergy elimination diet (basically I was to eat rice, carrots, beets and pears for a week and drink only water!), gave me some prescription steroid creams for my itchy skin and an Epi Pen prescription.  She told me that I was experiencing a food allergy reaction and that basically my system was really freaking out.  I have to admit I was sort of beside myself with all of this.  I was a severely asthmatic child and have tons of seasonal allergies, two of my three kids have asthma, one of my children has severe food allergies, many of my nieces have food allergies and my mom and two of my sisters also have bad allergies ... but still for some reason this whole experience was really jarring me and stunning me!  I would do anything to feel better though - it had been weeks of going from bad to worse and feeling helpless and so uncomfortable.  I needed to get to the bottom of this and figure it out so that I could feel better.

swollen, itchy, helpless
So that week I followed the allergy elimination diet, used my creams and did NOT take any allergy medication.  Within less than 2 days I felt like me again.  I had some random itching here and there, but I was SO. MUCH. BETTER.

starting to feel like ME again - day 2 day of elimination diet
I knew then that the doctor was right.  Something that I had been eating on a regular basis was the culprit, but I didn't know what yet.  I went back to the doctor 5 days later - free of any antihistamines in my system - and got my skin tested for food allergies.

It turns out that I am highly allergic to some foods that I was putting in my body on a constant basis - wheat and peanuts.  I almost fell off my chair in the allergist's office.  I am also quite (but not as) allergic to sesame, soy and shellfish.  Usually doctors give you an allergy level of 1+ - 5+.  1+ being the lowest and 5+ being the most severe.  My wheat and peanut levels are both 4+ and my sesame, soy and shellfish allergies are 3+.  I also tested positive at 1+ and 2+ for some other foods - eggs, chocolate, almonds, hazlenuts, corn.  My lymph node was still just as swollen at this point and my doctor told me to just avoid anything I tested positive for until my system had a chance to totally calm down.

Last week I went back to my regular doctor because even though I am feeling SO MUCH BETTER, my lymph node has not shrunk.  My doctor thinks this could be due to my allergic reaction - she said my liver function numbers were elevated which basically indicated my body was fighting something and most likely it was the allergies we know at this point.  She thinks the node could just be stubborn and is having a hard time draining, but because it has been swollen like this for more than a month and because it is only on one side of my body she wants me now to see an ENT for further testing.  She told me they may want to do a CT scan and biopsy on it, to be thorough, but told me not to worry.

the node!
This morning I wen back to the allergist for more allergy testing and got to meet with the head of the practice.  He could not have been more kind or professional.  We did more skin testing and determined that I am not allergic to any MORE foods which is AWESOME.  He also told me that all those things I am a 1+ for I should absolutely be able to eat safely, which makes me extremely happy.  I have missed chocolate.  And I love almonds.

On Wednesday I go to the ENT to talk with them about my swollen lymph node.  I actually really think it is shrinking - like I really, really do! - and feel confident that they might not even think it's necessary to do the CT scan or biopsy on it after all.  I will happily have them do it if they think it's smart though, because being thorough with this kind of stuff is certainly important.

It's been a crazy month and half, you guys!  I'm so thankful to be figuring out what was causing me to feel so awful and to now be able to move forward putting things in my body that make me feel GOOD and help me stay strong.  I'll keep you posted on what happens with the ENT.

Onward and upward!!

Do you have any food allergies?  Have you ever dealt with a health "mystery" like this, and had to make changes to what you were putting in or on your body to feel better?

8 comments:

I had a similar reaction to a pain medicine after I had surgery. I was crazy itchy and actually scratched myself so much I started bleeding. Luckily it only lasted about 48 hours. Happy to hear you're feeling better :)

Oh wow!! I am allergic to Methol- like in Vick's Vapor Rub [Random, I know] but I just get a rash. I am so glad you're starting to feel like you again!

oh my goodness!! jess!! the pictures!! so glad you are feeling better...but also so glad you can have chocolate and almonds-at least you can have some of the treats. and I feel like you are so lucky that you are already familiar with will's diet. i just have stomach issues-and not sure if it's food related or not.

Oh my word! That is insane! I'm not an allergist, but as a pharmacist I often see the aftermath of an allergy as patients either come in to pick up rx's or ask me for advice. That's serious swelling. With that much facial and neck swelling, you're lucky you avoided impaired breathing. I'm sorry you'll have to make dietary changes, but I bet that at this point you're just happy for a solution. Glad you're seeing the light.

OMG, that is scary!! It must have been soo painful! I'm glad they figured it out and you are feeling a lot better! Yeah for good doctors!

I am concerned that I also had food allergies. Did your allergies just appear out of now where? I have been gaining weight like crazy and certain foods give my body a horrible reaction. I am going to schedule an appointment with an allergist, but I thought it was weird that these allergies seemed to come from no where?

I have a low tolerance for Vitamin C/Citric/Ascorbic Acid since I was a child. It's gotten a bit better since I was smaller, but full body hives and throat swelling are my signs that I have had too much. Food allergies are no fun, but I hope that you are feeling better!

I did not completely read your story but my husband recently developed a mystery allergy. It turned out to be an allergy to mammal fat. If you get anaphylaxis for the first time in your life make sure it is not this: http://www.cnn.com/2012/06/20/health/meat-tick-bite-allergy/

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