Saturday, February 16, 2013

Sniffing Out the Truth

We all encounter things every day to which we pay little attention. With our busy schedules we miss a lot.

After encountering a series of bouts with respiratory problems, I recently learned the source of my problems. I was referred to an allergist and underwent a session of so-called scratch tests. The answer was simple -- I have developed some dandy allergies.

My wrestling with allergies dates back decades to my life in the Arizona desert. Each spring I would tear up, choke up and sneeze, like many others who live in the Sonoran Desert. It was allergies and I underwent a series of shots to help my immune system stop freaking out as the calendar changed.

People used to joke about all the allergy sufferers who lived in Arizona. "Oh, I thought people used to come to the desert to avoid allergies" was a commonly spoken line that provoked laughter. The growth boom after World War II brought newcomers from all corners of the country to the Sun Belt. Many of those people just could not bear to be without their beloved grass lawns, traditional trees and bushes.

And so the art of irrigation took root as folks with an appreciation for desert landscaping (native bushes and cacti) lived next door to those who made every effort to replicate the lawn they had in Dayton. The result was plants and greenery of every description, some of which were in bloom at any given time. Those of us who suffered with allergies no longer had a period when we were symptom free.

Since then, I have lived in other parts of the country, each time accompanied by some type of allergy. One doctor told me that it usually takes 7 years to develop an allergy after moving to a new environment.

My more recent problems seemed a bit different. Gone were the old runny nose and itchy eyes. I would go into full-blown respiratory infections complete with wheezing. What brought about all this?

Thus the referral to the allergist.

People are allergic to all sorts of things to a variety of degree. I have a friend with a peanut allergy who can sniff out peanut oil on a salad at 50 paces. I once saw a little boy react to eating a peanut which required an injection of epinephrine. Others are sensitive to foods including walnuts, fish, and eggs or molds, feathers, and pet hair. In short, there are plenty of variables out there.

My tests resulted in identifying those items to which I am highly allergic: grass, ragweed, corn pollen, and weed mix. These are hard to avoid entirely but are limited by the change of seasons. So taking steps like "covering up" when working in the yard and then changing clothes before re-entering the house can make a difference.

When the doctor asked me if there was a source of possible allergies that I was suspicious about, I told him that dust has always bothered me. And it turns out that I am highly allergic to dust. Ten of the last 15 years I worked were spent in buildings that were either extremely dusty or which had minimal janitorial service. I could tell that I was experiencing breathing problems within a very short time of entering such an environment. Of course, I thought I could just ignore the dust and go about my business.


It is surprising how much a "dirty" and dust-filled environment impacts all of us. I now look around when entering a store, shop, or restaurant to see if there is accumulated dust. Having a love for antique hunting, I often encounter situations which are less than pristine where the owner/operator has made no effort in this regard.

Tolerance to outside contaminants can change with age and moving to a new location. If you or someone you know has experienced repeated and previously unidentified breathing problems, you might want to consider meeting with an allergist. That doctor is trained to help identify what might be causing the problem. If the issue is not related to allergies, he can certainly direct you to another professional who may be able to assist. The testing process -- contrary to the warnings of others -- was no big deal. There was no discomfort and it took about 10-15 minutes to confirm problems I had lived with for decades. A simple problem now under control.

Too bad I didn't pay attention earlier.

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