Wednesday, 25 August 2010

All in the name of science

Today was a day of itches.

Not the nice "ah, let me scratch that.. that's better" kind of itches. No. Today was a day of "For the love of -goose- that itches and I can't scratch it!" kind of itches.

Today, I went to The Sadist (professionally known as my Allergy Specialist) who loves nothing better than mixing a myriad of food and plant stuffs with some benign solution, pricking my arm repeatedly (no less than 22 times this visit, thank you!) then sending me out to the waiting room for a period of 15 to 30 minutes while I marinate, cry, itch, squirm, count the seconds until I can take an antihistamine. (For those who don't know what the Skin Prick allergy test consists of: stay tuned to the end of the post.)

Yesterday, I had headed to a "healthy" kind of grocery shop and stocked up on some foodstuffs I was concerned/curious about. Here are the dry ones...

Last night, MrB and I meticulously packed sample-size portions of each food so that I wouldn't have to lug all of those containers and their contents halfway across London on the Underground and here are the ones that were deemed "safe"*...

and the ones that we need to test some other day...

I called The Sadist's secretary yesterday to ask if I should soak the beans/legumes/pulses/lentils overnight or just cook them or leave them be or what but The Sadist wasn't available for contact so I was advised to just bring them as they were. It turns out that most of these babies are too tough in their solid state to guarantee any food actually penetrated my skin when it was broken meaning that any results aren't certain. (Mushy foods are much smaller molecularly and therefor easier to force under the skin.)

So, I need to make another appointment. *sigh* To be honest, though, the 20+ pricks I got today were tough enough that I'm glad I didn't have another ten itchy spots to contend with.

Things I learned today:
  1. I am severely allergic to goat's milk. (I know that I have a severe allergy to cow's milk but MrB and I were curious as to the possibility of other animal milks.) It turns out that if you have a severe cow's milk allergy the odds are that you will be allergic to the milk of other mammals. The Sadist asked if I'd like to be challenge tested for sheep's milk because my reaction wasn't as severe as the other milk reactions but warned me sternly that "under no circumstances" was I to encounter/test myself with an animal milk at home "or even sitting outside A&E [the ER]".
  2. I was wrong when, as a child, I had convinced myself that I was allergic to nuts. It turns out I am not. (The Sadist and I have agreed that what probably happened is that I had a bit of an OAS reaction to walnuts not quite knowing how it differs from a dangerous allergy. This is, interestingly, attached to my Birch allergy.) And, now that I'm not allergic to any of the nuts The Sadist tested for today (and also peanuts, cashews and almonds) I'm allowed to perform my own OAS investigations at home with nuts. (Basically, take a nut, rub it on my wetted bottom lip and wait 15 minutes to see if I react.)

Almost two years ago I "had a run in" with strawberries that meant I've been earnestly avoiding them since. It wasn't an allergic reaction or even OAS but it was weird and something I wanted to not repeat so strawberries were out. Because my body is so sensitive and changes so often I decided I'd get tested for them, too. Turns out (as I suspected) I'm not allergic to them so I am now sitting down with this...
(they really are as yummy as they look) see how I fare tomorrow. If said weirdness returns tomorrow I will know that I cannot have strawberries and I will, of course, report my findings here to you. (This odd symptom isn't something "new" or unique to me but it is still relatively unknown because strawberries aren't usually consumed in huge amounts.)

So, how did you spend your afternoon?

(Skin prick allergy testing involves preparing myself up to a week in advance. Because I have eczema/psoriasis I have to stop using topical steroids on my hands/arms for about a week before I get tested because their presence can inhibit any reactions. I also have to stop using my antihistamines for at least 24 hours -I try to go 48ish to be sure- for the same reason. If The Sadist is testing me for an allergen he has in his handy little kit then it is a liquid placed in a small drop (it looks like water) on my skin through which he pierces my skin with a lancet-type device that doesn't just have one sharp point but four. And he turns it to make sure it definitely breaks the surface of the skin. A little annoying but I can handle that pretty well. If there's a substance/food that isn't in The Sadist's little bag o' tricks then I have to provide it. Liquid, soft or mushy foods are best as they are comprised of smaller molecules which means it's easier to get enough of the sample through the break in my skin that any reaction (or lack thereof) can be deemed as official. If the substance is solid/too hard/dense (as we found out today) then The Sadist can't guarantee that there was enough of it on the lancet-type thing when it penetrated the skin to ensure a real result (if I don't react was it because I'm not allergic or because there wasn't any/enough allergen introduced?). This is done until we run out of things we want to test/The Sadist gets bored. Then he pricks my skin with a lancet with -nothing- on it (known as the Negative Control = I shouldn't react at all) and a lancet that has pure histamine (known as the Positive Control = I should react and the size of that reaction can help him gauge the others). Then he sends me out of the room to stew. I try to occupy my hands with an electronic game (usually on my phone) so that I don't scratch/rub/scream. I've tried crocheting and knitting but sharp objects that are perfect for scratching aren't so good when you're trying desperately not to scratch. Plus, I fidget so much during that time that I'd be dropping stitches left, right and centre. Not a calm me would that make. When I'm called back into the room The Sadist reviews the sizes of my bumps (ooer!) and makes his diagnoses. Then we discuss if/where/when we need further testing and I am allowed (finally) to take an antihistamine to help calm my system down. Once that's done we shake hands and I head home. Not too horrible, really, I'm just a big baby when it comes to really itchy itches. *grin*)

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