Allergic to everything. Desperately need remedies.
June 14, 2006 2:07 AM   Subscribe

The new girlfriend seems to be highly allergic to everything (pollen, pets, smoke, etc). She hasn't seen an allergist and takes virtually every OTC product already with poor results. Is there some remedy I can entice her with to see an allergist? What else can be done?
posted by donmayo to Health & Fitness (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
As someone who is suffering big time from hayfever this yeah..i'd love to hear some suggestions as well.

As a side note, i've found that wearing sunglasses/glasses helps keep my eye irritation down, and when things get unbearable i lay a damp cloth over my face for amazingly instant relief.
posted by lemonfridge at 2:57 AM on June 14, 2006

Something that can alleviate hayfever is exposure to local honey. It has to be local. It can be eaten, or you might find a local craftsperson that makes soap with it.

I personally used to make soap with honey. I don't suffer from hayfever, but my soap helped somebody that did.
posted by veedubya at 3:13 AM on June 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

Hopefully she isn't highly allergy to you :) Jokes aside, must-see-competent-person, visit one allergologist that will administer proper tests to discover what is going on with your gf. Consider that allergy, if taken lightly, can lead to death : for instance if you are allergic to some food, eating it may kill you, no matter how small the amount you eat.

Obviously when one knows what the allergies are, avoiding the food/cat/whatever causes the allergy will insure reduced sufference and take the prospect of death away.
posted by elpapacito at 3:52 AM on June 14, 2006

I suffered with bad allergies for a long time before seeing an allergist three year ago. He gave me the test with the pin pricks to figure out what I'm actually allergic to (dust mites and a couple grasses) and then recommended a course of allergy desensitisation therapy. This is where they actually inject you with the stuff you're allergic to, and eventually over time it stops bothering you. I started off getting a tiny dose every week, and then the doses gradually increased along with the intervals. Two years later, I'm up to .5ml once a month. (According to my doc, this would've killed me at the beginning.) I wouldn't say I'm "cured" yet; I was told to expect the process to take up to 5 years. But there have been some benefits. I used to have to take a Zyrtec EVERY SINGLE DAY just in order to function, and those damn things are expensive! Like a dollar each. Now I'm down to maybe 2 a week. The only drawbacks I can see are that you have to not mind getting a lot of injections. The only side effects I've experienced are a little localised swelling and itchiness where I get the shot - like a mosquito bite - but every time I get my injection, I have to wait around at the doctor's for half an hour afterwards to make sure I don't go into anaphylactic shock. So there is a danger there...
posted by web-goddess at 4:15 AM on June 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

This guy claims that you can completely cure allergies by infecting yourself with hookworms. After reading his story, I'm not so sure that I would recommend it, though. (Also, I wouldn't read it if you are eating or have a weak stomach).
posted by jtfowl0 at 4:45 AM on June 14, 2006

Your girlfriend should go to an allergist. She won't necessarily be forced to get allergy shots if this is her fear. They have a course of treatment called sublingual drops. It's the same mixture as what you're given via the shots, but they're taken by placing drops under your tongue. It's the same desensitization therapy as the drops are made specific to you after going through the tests. I don't know how widespread the use of drops is yet as I went to a health center that was open to alternative practices. I've heard that drops are more prevalent in Europe.
posted by Constant Reader at 5:49 AM on June 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

She could try a Neti pot. It's uncomfortable and makes you feel like you're drowning, but some people swear by it. But she should definitely see the allergist. He'll have better meds, including FloNase and drops and pills.
posted by onepapertiger at 6:22 AM on June 14, 2006

I'll second/third/fourth the allergist recommendations.

That said, I was allergic to EVERYTHING as a kid. Pets, pollen, food (citrus fruits, bananas, chocolate, strawberries, even corn chips). I've outgrown almost everything -- to the point of being able to have two dogs.

So there is hope. There are a couple more things you can do. Hardwood floors help tremendously -- carpet holds a lot of dander in. If you do have carpet, invest in a high-quality vacuum. We have a Rainbow, with the water filter. That helps a lot.

Installing one of those fancy air cleaner things onto your heating/air system's probably out of the question, but there are some good air filters on the market. 3M makes three or four kinds, I noticed an improvment when we bought the $20 one (I think it's purple). Change it frequently.

I'm not a doctor/allergist by any stretch, but I'm convinced that slow, repeated exposure to certain allergens allows you to build up a tolerance. I was allergic to every nut under the sun. Since we've run our bakery I've been able to acclimate to cashews, pistachios and almonds -- things I couldn't eat before. I'd take a small bite every now and then of one -- not even eating a whole one at the start -- and now can eat them with no problem. Walnuts and pecans are still rough, though.
posted by Atom12 at 6:27 AM on June 14, 2006

I hate to sound like a total creep, but the sociobiologist in me wants to say.... are you up for a life that contains constant issues relating to allergy? They can be persistent and can involve innumerable accomodations over the years. Mate choices should involve more than simple attraction. I know it sounds cruel, but if the new GF is not capable of dealing with something that is apparently very serious on her own, having a BF is not going to change things. Five years from now, you won't have a cat, be able to grow daisies in the garden, travel to New England in the fall to see the leaves, eat cheese, or go to Denver during bad air season unless your allergist is a god and you have a mind for excruciating detail and observation.

I'm not an allergist or doctor either, but my late wife dealt with food issues for two decades before she died and it was super stressful on both of us. I am somewhat informed on the difficulties of living with a compromised / hyperactive immune system. Starting out a relationship with major problems doesn't sound all that auspicious.
posted by FauxScot at 6:41 AM on June 14, 2006

Has she talked to her regular doctor about this? The efficacy of prescribed medication is much higher than it has been in the past and it sometimes takes no more than saying "hayfever" to your doctor to get a prescription.

I haven't been to an allergist but a couple years ago at this time I was taking the same regimen of OTC stuff when I now am able to get by with considerably fewer issues with minimal medication. That can be a good starting point and her doctor should know when to refer her to an allergist should medication not help. In general, women go to the doctor more often than men (recommended yearly) so it's not like you'll have to push her to get an appointment.
posted by mikeh at 6:52 AM on June 14, 2006

I was like this - I've been plagued by allergies my whole life and saw an allergist as my primary doctor for years. On my own, I didn't go back.

Until my boyfriend made me see a doctor for my sniffly head. It wasn't allergies. I had a terrible sinus infection.

Once it cleared up, I'm 100% better.

The point is, you never know. Sometimes it really is as simple as getting an infection cleared up or cleaning up* the house or trying a new prescription medicine. What is she afraid of? Feeling better?

* Cleaning up refers here to making the house much more allergen-free. A doctor can help you better with this, but it includes putting dust covers on things, getting a HEPA vaccuum, etc.
posted by agregoli at 7:08 AM on June 14, 2006

Well, hmm. My life was a living hell, or my nose was at least, 4 months of every year until I finally saw an allergist. I did the pin pricks thing, which told me I'm allergic to dust, and cat hair, and trees and weeds. This information isn't particularly helpful outside of predicting when your worst times of year will be, which I already knew anyway. My allergist was enthusiastic about the desentisization therapy, but told me it's only effective for some 30% of patients (and it's a LOT of visits) so I never tried it.

What did work was the nasal steroids he prescribed. My symptoms are reduced 90%, and after 8 years I've noticed no side effects (outside of my enormous, weight lifting nostrils).

It's made a huge improvement in my life. She should go.
posted by carterk at 7:22 AM on June 14, 2006

I suffered from allergies (pollen, grass, dust, cats) all my life and this summer was especially bad until I went to an acupunturist. I haven't taken any allergy medicine for over a month now and leading up to my first treatment, I was taking three or four pills a day.
posted by blim8183 at 7:26 AM on June 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

Is there some remedy I can entice her with to see an allergist?

It sounds like she is reluctant to see an allergist for some reason. If so, perhaps she would be persuaded by numbers? Total up her costs for all the OTC medications, vs. the cost of seeing a doctor + regular allergy shots[*]. I would bet that the doctor/shot combo is cheaper in the long run. ("In the long run" may be several years.)

There is a special place in [your afterlife of choice] for allergists, IMO. Waking up in the morning without a pounding headache is life-changing.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 9:34 AM on June 14, 2006

[*] Was going to add something, and took it out. Delete this in your mind, please.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 9:35 AM on June 14, 2006

She could try a Neti pot. It's uncomfortable and makes you feel like you're drowning, but some people swear by it.

It's uncomfortable the first couple days, until you figure out the right head positions and salt-water mixture (I use four pinches of sea salt per pot), but then you're fine. I've had pollen and dander allergies my whole life. I started with the Neti this winter to help with snoring (the wife says that if I don't neti before bed I sleep on the couch). My allergies are lessened quite a bit. Not gone, but much better.
posted by booth at 10:31 AM on June 14, 2006

Best Thing Ever about seeing my Allergist: Free Samples. She can try out the prescription stuff for FREE!!! Including eye drops (fabulous for me, as I get the WORST itchy, watery eyes with my hay fever), nose sprays (which have come a LONG way in the past decades), pills, etc. Maybe she just needs to see how much better the full-dose drugs are? The OTC stuff is not as strong (even if it's Claritin) as the Rx stuff.

And seconding what SuperSquirrel says about doing the math. They now have generic (read: cheaper) versions of Allegra and other Rx drugs, so she should call her pharmacist and find out how much a month's supply would actually cost her. It might be less than she thinks.

Another thing: has she had any shortness of breath or wheezing after prolonged exposures (esp. of pets and smoke)? She may have allergy-related asthma. This is not something to mess around with, so she should see a doctor (an allergist will know what tests to do). There is this great medication called Singulair, which is a pill that you can take every day to prevent asthma attacks from happening. Lots of folks I know say that it has made their life much easier.

This is all assuming she has insurance, of course. The only thing to be wary of with the allergy shots is that the insurance coverage may be different (due to the required office visit) than if you were to get pills. Good luck to both of you.
posted by sarahnade at 11:11 AM on June 14, 2006

I have middling-serious allergies to a wide variety of environmental stuff like pollen, pet dander, dust, etc. I saw an allergist, who worked as a general practitioner but had a speciality in allergy stuff, when I was in university and he recommended the needle therapy others have mentioned above. It made a huge difference - before I did it, I was using daily nasal steroids (yeah really), afterwards I didn't need to use any medication for about three years, unless I touched an animal. That was about a decade ago and I am almost back to where I was before - I typically take two Reactine/Zyrtec (same thing, different names in different countries) daily, which is twice the recommended dosage. I am probably hurting my liver. I have been putting off going back for another set of needles because I am a bit needle-phobic.

Summary: it can be an amazing cure but it isn't always permanent.

Things you can do to decrease symptoms: First you have to know exactly what you're allergic to. See a doctor or allergist (make sure it's actually allergies, too, since the same symptoms are sometimes caused by other things).

Assuming we're talking about pollen/dust/dander allergies:
  • Buy a really good vacuum cleaner (we have a Dyson) and use it at least twice a week if you have carpetting.
  • As soon as you can, move somewhere with hardwood or parquet flooring, or some other type of flooring that isn't carpet.
  • Wet-mop or static-cling-dry-mop your hardwood floors whenever you notice dust piling up in the corners.
  • If you have a dog, bathe it regularly. I lived with my sister and brother-in-law and their crazily-shedding corgi mix for several months in a house with carpetting, and between vacuuming twice a week and shampooing the dog (who luckily for us loves to be bathed) at least weekly, my allergies weren't much worse than usual.
  • If you have a cat, the same might apply. I've never lived with a cat. Cat-owning MeFites can weigh in here.
  • If you have pets, get the non-allergic person to groom them regularly - that way their hair (and the dander on it) is disposed of in an orderly fashion rather than being randomly shed all over your place.
  • Find one medication that works and stick with it. Your body develops resistance to medications taken regularly, so taking a hodgepodge of drugs means none of them will work adequately. Choose one, then when it starts to work less well, switch to another. I tend to alternate bewteen Claritin and Zyrtec and this works well for me.
  • Talk to a doctor about getting a presciption. Even if it's for the exact same stuff she's taking OTC, it'll be cheaper. Chances are she can take a higher dosage than what's available OTC.
  • Think about the needle therapy.
  • Buy new pillows every six months to a year. Pillows get a lot of dust and dead skin and stuff in them. Dust mites love old pillows.
  • Monthly: Wash your curtains, or wet-dust your blinds. Wet-dust overhead lights/fans. Wet-dust the tops of the books and CDs in your bookshelf. Wet-dust anything on which dirt settles which can stand being damp.
  • For most people, being exposed to one allergen will make the reaction to a slightly later exposure worse. For instance, if I pet a kitten in a sterile house, I have an attack, but if I pet a kitten after being around people smoking for the past hour, I have a monster attack that makes me want to die. If she knows she will be exposed to a specific allergen (say, she wants to go to a concert in a smoky bar), then be extra careful about avoiding other allergens.

posted by joannemerriam at 11:14 AM on June 14, 2006

Get her to try the shots. If they cure her (or even improve things) she'll thank you profusely, and you'll be happier too. If they don't work, at least now she knows.

It took a year for them to really work for me, and I stayed allergy-free for a few years afterwards with no maintenance. I think it's time to go back now, but I suspect that it'll be much less frequently.
posted by Four Flavors at 12:13 PM on June 14, 2006

Look for the list of ingredients on the label of the OTC products. You'll see they all contain the same "active" ingredients, or close analogs of each other. The only difference is the advertising budget. It is extremely easy to build up a tolerance to them making them basically useless for anything other than short duration treatments. The nasal inhalers are the worse... you get one, maybe two shots with those and then they make the nose run. Folks keep dosing trying to prevent the symptoms from getting worse, when it is the inhaler driving the symptoms. The more you dose, the worse the nose runs, just like a little chain reaction. See the first paragraph under antihistamines here. The only way to stop it all is to stop using the inhaler and deal with the nasal runs till it clears up.

Pills and liquids are systemic, meaning they'll hit the whole body. Danger there? Compare the active ingredients between Tylenol Severe Allergy and Sominex: Diphenhydramine HCI. You'll find it or a friend in just about all of the allergy and cold meds because it works, but also makes people sleepy and is one of the few OTC approved chemicals to make people sleepy.

Yes, she might be able to make her way through this mess and come up with a plan to make the OTCs work, but it'll take a lot of time and energy that could be better used. I understand the allergy testing sounds scary but when they say needles it isn't like when they draw blood. The injection needs to stay near the skin so the needle is barely put into the body. The process actually cured my fear of needles. It took an hour, tops.

If money is the issue ask her to think of it as an investment in her future. She'll be able to function at a higher level for a lot longer than she would with the OTCs and some detailed plan for managing this as well as the OTC induced problems. Besides, there is a health angle. The OTCs really aren't good for folks with heart problems or high blood pressure because they raise BP, and the allergies have their own list of possible problems such as anaphylaxis, which was mentioned above.
posted by jwells at 12:37 PM on June 14, 2006

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