Allergic to it all.
October 13, 2005 8:28 AM   Subscribe

Allergic to this planet.

I've got allergies. I'm always congested. Occasional hives (one or two, not all over). I've had a RAST test done and scored in the 90s for every tree pollen, grass pollen, dust mite, and animal dander in my area. For extra fun, I'm also anaphylactically responsive to shellfish.

I've been on Clarinex, which helped for a while but seems to no longer be working. I've also tried Allegra, which seemed no more effective but made me sleepier.

I've heard of allergy shots, but I get the impression that they are more to combat a specific allergen, not my allergic-to-it-all situation? And that it can take years to even know if they are working?

What I need here is an immune system reprogrammer.

Anyone else in this unfortunate state? Did you find anything that worked?
posted by bitmage to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
my mom's allergic to dust, which basically means she's allergic to all kinds of things.
for a while she was getting allergy shots (she did that for about 5-7 years) but slowly her immunity got weaker and it didn't work that often (on top of having to visit her doctor once a week which was a grave inconvenience for her), then her doctor switched her to some kind of pill.

what kind of pill, you may ask? i have no idea, so i'll shoot her an email. she lives in japan though and not sure if the prescription is available here in the states.
posted by grafholic at 8:36 AM on October 13, 2005

Have you tried Zyrtec? My dad had raging allergy-related upper-respiratory issues every fall/winter for the last few years, with horrible coughing and congestion for 5-6 months. Allegra and Claritan did nothing, but Zyrtec finally did the trick; he's a big fan now.
posted by junkbox at 8:43 AM on October 13, 2005

Been there done that! Allergy shots turned out to be the best solution for me. I respond to the same allergens (though just sensitive, not allergic, to the seafood).

The shots are specific in that there is one for a major allergen (e.g. tree pollen), but not so specific as to turn into an acupuncture-quantity of needles (e.g. white birch, oak, poplar ... ). Dosages must be built up, so yes, for 6 months or so it can mean shots every week. After that, the maintenance phase should be one set of shots per month. Depending on the number of allergens, you might get up to six shots (at least, the policy here) out of the 20 or so sera.

About 80% of people respond to them, according to my allergist, and many can come of them in some years and still have improved conditions. You can tell if they're helping within a few months, but won't know their long term effect until much later, obviously.

For me, symptoms went from -constant- sneezing, congestion, breathing difficulty, itchy eyes, pre-shot to needing only occasional drugs now. Allegra for me did nothing, Claritin was sometimes effective, Flonase helped a lot but tastes awful, and Singulair was also beneficial. Zyrtec was great but then they took it off the co-pay plan here...
posted by whatzit at 8:52 AM on October 13, 2005

I was in a similar situation, and eventually broke down and gave the shots a try. I must be in the 20% that whatzit mentions, because after 6 months, I had seen no visible change in my symptoms.

All of a sudden at one appointment, I had a very strong, bad reaction to the shots. I had a full on anaphylactic reaction -- whole body itching and red, major trouble breathing. Luckily the doctors always make you wait 30 minutes after the shots before you can leave the office. The reaction was eventually fixed with an epi-pen to the thigh.

Needless to say, I have since stopped the shots and am now treating with over the counter and prescriptions as symptoms arise (I've always been more of a seasonal sufferer).
posted by gregchttm at 8:59 AM on October 13, 2005

I started seeing a chiropractor a couple of years ago and it made a drastic difference in my allergic reactions to pollen and fungus.
posted by archimago at 9:27 AM on October 13, 2005

Oddly enough, I was very allergic as a child, and seeing a chiropractor is what (according to my parents) cured me. Of course this is impossible, but it's weird that someone else has had the same experience.
posted by kindall at 9:39 AM on October 13, 2005

Your allergies sound too major for natural remedies, but if you can find a local raw honey and eat a spoonful a day it helps a little. It helps me a little anyway. It's got to be local and raw, though.
posted by small_ruminant at 9:41 AM on October 13, 2005

I'm in the same boat you are. Last year, my physician gave me a RAST test on 57 items (foods), and I was highly alergic to 55 of them. (Now if only I loved clams and arugula, I'd be in great shape!).

After seeing my allergy test, my MD had a flash of insight. She ordered up a battery of cortisol tests. As it happened, I had *no* measurable cortisol. Even though cortisol is best known as a "stress" hormone, there is a normal baseline level. As an experiment, we tried supplementing my cortisol up to a "normal" biologic level (15mg 4x daily)

Now, I can eat just about anything I want. I also have much more energy and robustness. It might be worth looking into for you as well.
posted by curtm at 9:53 AM on October 13, 2005

kindall, I wouldn't say that I was cured by chiropractic, but I don't think it is implausible that it could help, given a good chiropractor. After all, all of your nerves are connected to your spine. I also used to get head colds at least three times a year, and I can't even remember the last time I took a sick day since I started seeing the chiro.
posted by archimago at 9:53 AM on October 13, 2005

Note to those who have insurance issues with Allegra: when I refilled mine a few days ago the pharmacist informed me that a generic (prescription) version has just become available. It works as well as the real thing for me and has only a $5 copay on my insurance...
posted by mmoncur at 11:22 AM on October 13, 2005

Yes, all of your nerves are eventually connected to your spine, but I haven't seen any evidence that allergies have anything to do with your nervous system. It's a histamine reaction. I cannot imagine how chiropractic could possibly help in any way.
posted by kindall at 11:35 AM on October 13, 2005

I cannot imagine how chiropractic could possibly help in any way.

Placebo effect!
posted by trevyn at 12:29 PM on October 13, 2005

I have many horrible allergies - after the tests, the allergist said it would be much quicker to go over the things I didn't react to. Medication never worked well for me - Claritin, for instance, is supposed to be non-sedating. It didn't make me feel sleepy, just made me feel squashed.

So I went with the shots. You have scratch tests to identify the major allergies you have. The test was uncomfortable - not because of the scratches, but because of the horrible itchy reactions. The information from the test is used to make up your allergy serum, and you get a mix tailored for you and your allergies.

Even if you have many allergies, you may only end up with one or two actual needles - some of the stuff can be mixed and some can't. I started off with two shots (one per arms) three times per week three years ago. Then they slowly increase the dose, and once it's up to a certain amount, they start reducing the frequency. I had been on every two weeks for the past year, then they tried to switch to once a month in late March. Oops. Back to every two weeks, and can maybe try to taper off again after we get a hard frost. But these do seem to have done quite a but to control most - not all - of my major respiratory allergies.

However, they're expensive (especially if you include the cost of the testing), and they don't work well for everything. The word from the allergist was that they're pretty good for pollen, mold, dust, etc., not so great but sometimes effective for pet/animal allergies, and no use at all for food allergies. And there is the risk of a serious reaction with them - anaphylactic shock is a real possibility. I still take them.

When I was looking into the shots, I never could find a really good source of information, but this is from the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology.
posted by dilettante at 2:30 PM on October 13, 2005

I've been taking allergy shots for years. And I'm just about symptom free.

Best advice I can give: find a GOOD allergist! Talk it over with him/her and together make a plan to help alleviate some or all of your symptoms. It's a process. So don't expect immediate results.

Here's are some allergy tips: if pollen and other outdoor allergens are a problem: at the end of the day (or before if necessary) take a shower and wash it all off of you. If you are allergic to dust mites, make sure you keep a clean filter in your air conditioner or heater.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 10:35 AM on October 14, 2005

Allergy shots worked wonders for me once upon a time. I don't get them anymore because I just found it impossible after I moved to Charlotte. I guess all the allergists in town are at the same practice, and that practice only gives shots Tuesday-Friday, 8:30-5 p.m. After you get the shot, you need to wait at least 20 minutes so they can check to see if you're having a reaction to it. I have to be at work at 9 and I work until 6, and the office is too far to get there and back at lunch, so I'm SOL.

The moral of this story is to make sure you'll be able to work getting the shots into your daily life before you decide to go that route.

FWIW, if you're congested, I recommend Mucinex, which is an OTC guafensein expectorant with extended release. Guafensein is the stuff in OTC cough syrup, but Mucinex has a much higher dosage.
posted by Jaie at 10:46 AM on October 14, 2005

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