Identify my histameanies
December 18, 2011 7:46 PM   Subscribe

What caused this allergic reaction?

Just spent several days without leaving my apartment or consuming anything unusual, i.e. had a seemingly extra-low-risk week, allergywise. Also, I have no known allergy to anything. Then went to hospital this morning suffering from some type of anaphylactic thing, which doctors attributed to an allergic reaction, although they cannot say to what. Apparently (according to the emergency room doctor) this is the case in "99%" of such incidents*.

He didn't tell me specifically that there was an allergy involved, but when they rotated shifts, I heard my name and my case being described to the other doctors as: "Patient kengraham, 24, severe allergic reaction". The symptoms described on WebMD correlate almost exactly with mine, so I think this is a safe bet. What I wonder is, how can I identify what caused the reaction? If it's so common for allergy-sufferers not to know their hives' and convulsions' provenance, maybe there is some procedure for figuring out the cause and avoiding it.

YANMD, but just brainstorm, here. What random things could have caused such a reaction?

*Actually, he said "99% of the time", so what I said may not be quite true if known-allergy incidents last longer ;-)
posted by kengraham to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
What did you eat in the last 24 hours? Have you used any cleaning products? Have you been bitten by any insects? Has the temperature or humidity changed much (either inside or outside)? What about dust? Or, maybe you have caught a bit of cold?
posted by KokuRyu at 7:51 PM on December 18, 2011

I recently learned that it is actually possible to have an allergic reaction to a virus.
posted by bq at 7:56 PM on December 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

A couple of years ago, I had a very severe allergic reaction to a medication that I'd taken at least a dozen times before. Our immune systems, they are weird.
posted by desuetude at 8:01 PM on December 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

You should follow up with your doctor and get some allergy testing done. People can suddenly develop allergies to things they've been exposed to for years.
posted by elizeh at 8:27 PM on December 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

Did you take any painkillers? I took Asprin for years and just last year I developed a serious allergy to it out of the blue.
posted by GilloD at 8:35 PM on December 18, 2011

Most allergic reactions that severe occur shortly after exposure and you realize that you have to go to the ER. This is not always true but most are immediate, for example, peanut butter and shellfish where itchiness, hives or difficulty breathing happen pretty fast. The first reaction to exposure can be mild but still usually occurs shortly after exposure.

Slow reactions can happen when it's a familiar product or a low exposure to a new one, like laundry detergent or cleaning products. They can slowly build up where you ignore symptoms until you realize it really is getting worse. A sweater that you wear all the time is suddenly itchy. Your underwear leaves welts. It can be hard to figure what's going on, is it something caused by the tights, the camisole, the sweater, wool, etc. or is it the lotion, soap or body spray.

I once became allergic to a favorite lipstick. I was surprised when the doctor told me I could become allergic to a product I used everyday. Also, product formulas change. In my case, my lips kept feeling numb. It wasn't ER worthy but is was doctor visit worthy as out of nowhere my lips would become numb everyday. I still wear lipstick but I avoid that particular brand.

Think back to when your symptoms first started, even if they were quite mild to begin with like a slight tingling, numbness, itching, shortness of breath. Food can always be a culprit and consider new brands of similar products, you usually buy brand A and this time you bought brand B.
posted by shoesietart at 8:43 PM on December 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

You don't say what you consumed, but do any of those items fall into the enormous spectrum of most-likely allergens? Tree nuts, ground nuts, shellfish, eggs, stone fruit (and I just learned this week that stone fruit like peaches or mangoes, tree nuts, and bananas are all on some particular spectrum of allergens)? Do you have any suspicious bites or wounds? Did you take any OTC or prescription medications, nutritional supplements, vitamins, etc? Did you drink tea or juice?

Anaphylaxis can creep up, but it's more likely to be something you consumed within a couple of hours of onset of symptoms. What were those things? Write it all down now while you're likely to remember everything.

Most people are not born identifiably allergic to most common allergens. It comes on over time, as our biochemistry changes, so something you've always eaten with no recognizable issues suddenly crosses the threshold of No Longer Okay. You don't really want to fuck around with anaphylaxis, so unless you can narrow it down to an insect or environmental factor, you want to see your doctor pronto for an epi-pen prescription and referral for allergy testing.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:57 PM on December 18, 2011

My chocolate allergy sneaked up on me like this when I was 15. This is after growing up with bitter chocolate and/or snickers bars as treats. It can totally happen.
Even now, within about an hour or so I will get that feeling if I eat something that has cocoa in it.
posted by Tchad at 10:12 PM on December 18, 2011

Do you have any family history of allergies or a specific allergy? Walnut and strawberry allergies tend to run in my family, and a couple of times they've manifested later in life for various family members. My brother has had a walnut allergy pretty much since birth that after multiple exposures has reached anaphylaxis levels of serious. Earlier this year, I used a face scrub with walnut shell powder that I've used off and on for years with no problems that made me break out in hives. My uncle has a had a strawberry allergy for years, and my mom developed one too just a couple years ago.

As serious a reaction as anaphylaxis is nothing to mess around with, so I echo the advice to get an epi-pen prescription, and keep that epi-pen on you for the foreseeable future, especially since you don't know what you're allergic to yet. I know allergy testing is a pain, but I think the peace of mind would be worth it to know what you're reacting to.
posted by yasaman at 10:39 PM on December 18, 2011

Fellow emergency physician here. Concur. Of all the allergic reactions I see (ranging from itching to hives to facial swelling and wheezing to GIANT TONGUE CAN'T BREATH ANAPHYLACTIC SHOCK), I'd say <5% (1 in 20) have a readily identifiable cause. I tell patients that people will drive themselves crazy trying to come up with what they were exposed to, but never figure it out. I ask a bunch of screening questions (New shampoo? New foods? New drugs? New vitamins? New moisturizing? New makeup?) but don't really get too bothered if I can't figure it out either.
posted by gramcracker at 8:26 AM on December 19, 2011

Is not leaving your apartment for several days normal for you? My allergist told me to make my bedroom as allergen-free as possible to give my body time to recover from / process all the allergens I'm exposed to every day when I'm out and about. If you weren't changing your allergen scenery (so to speak) maybe the allergens that you normally live with, but get a break from, built up enough to cause a reaction in your system.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 9:36 AM on December 19, 2011

I had a similar reaction a couple of years ago, and never figured out a source. I carry around an epi-pen, just in case. My allergist didn't know what it was for sure, but he said low thyroid levels can trigger an unknown allergic reaction. You can go to an allergist to be tested for allergies, but they may still not pinpoint what caused this specific reaction.
posted by annsunny at 11:12 AM on December 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thanks very much, everybody. Here is some more information/questions:

Not leaving my apartment for several days is fairly normal. In this case I had a lot of work to do, and this is a quiet place to do it. This happens fairly frequently.

As suggested, I've gone through a list of everything I consumed that day. The only things I can think of are:

(1) I take vitamin C in the winter. I'm not sure if this really helps prevent colds, but I've also never heard that it's bad, so I figure I may as well. I had bought a different brand than normal the previous day. Maybe the new tablets have something weird in them.

(2) I did eat peanut butter around 8 pm (and hives started at 11 pm, and trouble breathing/passing out stuff was around 5 am). Now, I've been a vegetarian for six years and therefore eat a lot of nuts. I eat peanut butter several times a week with no effects. For this to have been the culprit, it seems like I would have developed an allergy literally over the course of ONE DAY. Is this possible?

(3) I had not eaten or slept very well all week. Is it possible to have stress/anxiety symptoms that mimic a serious allergic reaction?

(4) I've favourited annsunny's answer because the doctor mentioned that a blood test showed my thyroid hormone level to be kind of low, but not abnormal. I will, as recommended, get an epipen prescription and some allergy tests and have the thyroid tested again.
posted by kengraham at 12:32 PM on December 19, 2011

I found out my allergy to pistachios that last time caused severe nausea and cramping can morph into an anaphylactic reaction over time.

My cousin took over a year to discover that her migraines, numbness, and losses of consciousness were caused by chocolate.

The different brand of vitamins could do it, or maybe even a bug bite in the night. But I'm going to submit that it could very easily be stress. I was admitted to the hospital with all the signs of anaphylaxis (including passing out in the shower) and it was really a severe panic attack, even though I didn't actually feel terribly anxious, except about the symptoms I was experiencing. Also, these symptoms are always exacerbated for me if I'm not eating or sleeping well.
posted by catatethebird at 6:47 PM on December 19, 2011

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