A life beyond allergies

Original article appeared in the Evening Echo (@CorkEveningEcho). Image: My Own

Are you someone that never ventures outside the door without a wad of tissues stuck in your handbag or jacket pocket? You’re far from alone and that was my daily life two years ago – forever accompanied by Kleenex, a stash of antihistamines and eye drops.

I was a ‘hayfever sufferer’ like many across the nation, except that my suffering could last for over a week and occur at any time of year. People sometimes mention hayfever after a couple of sneezes in the summer but I mean a constant drip from my nose, streaming red eyes that feel like they’re full of sand grains, being utterly drained and unable to think clearly all the time and regularly having an upset stomach because of all the sneezing.

I took at least one type of antihistamine every day. I changed around brands in the hope that I could come across something more effective. I went au natural for a little while too – to no avail – and was at one stage cleaning my house wearing a construction mask and goggles, though I would inevitably suffer for a day or two afterwards regardless. That was my life – completely dominated by ‘hayfever’ and the only successful cure was to try and sleep it off and hope for better the next day.

The turning point came when I took some non-drowsy Sudafed in a moment of desperation in the height of the summer – I told the pharmacist I needed something to stop me sneezing as I was en route to a wedding – and not only did it clear everything right up, it did so in a relative short period of time. Commonly used for colds, Sudafed can also be used to treat the symptoms of allergies and the result was enough for me to venture to my GP.

I was looking for a breakthrough; what I got was: ‘You’re just allergic to lots of things unfortunately’. He also insisted there was little point in doing an allergy test as there were ‘hundreds of things’ to test for. Thanks Doctor – here’s €55 for your efforts…

Irritated but unperturbed, I tracked down a Medical Herbalist who, for not much more than the cost of a regular GP appointment, spent an hour and a half going through my entire medical history as well as that of my immediate family. I had always had trouble with my stomach but having been tested for coeliac disease, it was something that flared up from time to time rather than being a daily impact on my life.

The herbalist quickly established that gluten was a huge trigger and possibly also dairy products. It was also clear that chemical products, dust and anything highly perfumed were an issue. To my friends and family, I had good skin and could eat most things; in truth, I was constantly itchy, covered in hives and bloated while feeling fatigued and unwell.

The changes:

Diet

I initially avoided gluten and dairy products, though I’ve since discovered (with the help of a food diary) that I’m actually quite tolerant of the latter. I left the herbalist’s office with an extensive list of the best gluten-free brands to look out for, including recommendations of which were easiest to cook with and some of the shops and stores in Cork that carried everything mentioned.

I’ve since found a brilliant fruit and veg shop, Super Pack in the Hazelwood centre in Glanmire, that receives FRESH, gluten-free bread on a daily basis and uncovered hidden treasures like Natural Choice in Paul Street Shopping Centre and Health and Home in Douglas Village Shopping Centre. The goods of Cork bakery Delicious are becoming more widely available and all the major supermarkets now carry a decent variety of products. I’m also careful of eating too many refined sugars, which are also known to suppress your body’s immune system.

Housework & Bedding

One of the most vicious circles when it comes to allergies is cleaning. You need your home, workplace and car to be dust free so you can have a more comfortable existence but to keep it dust free, you need to tackle and use the very things that cause a huge reaction in your body!

Out went all the regular cleaning products, goggles and masks; in came a range of eco-friendly products (including Lilly’s Eco Clean and EcoCover) and a stricter cleaning agenda. I change bedding at least once a week now, replacing pillows and duvets with new non-allergic bedding every six months. All bedding, towels and soft furnishings are washing at 90 degrees and hung outside if possible (not for the fresh air, but for the UV light).

I once laughed out loud at a friend who told me she had hired a cleaner as her boyfriend (now husband) had allergies, but I can see where she’s coming from! Cleaning a room every week means hoovering, wiping down all surfaces, ledges, window sills, lights, fixtures and fittings with a non-chemical cleaning product. I can tolerate some candles and not others, generally no air fresheners and, most definitely, no cigarette smoke.

Skincare

One of the toughest areas to tackle was skincare. Girls love their make up and I wasn’t any different even though it was causing various different reactions with my skin. Research led me to the Dr Hauschka skincare range as well as Origins, as both were available in Cork.

Both are relatively expensive and I didn’t personally like too many of the Dr Hauschka products. I have fared better with Origins, at least in terms of make-up; however, it can be difficult to get my specific foundation each time as stores do not tend to carry a huge amount of stock and some lines have changed over the last few months.

The biggest breakthrough came just before Christmas though when I uncovered a new handmade natural brand called Bia Beauty, which is made right here in Cork and is absolute bliss!

Shampoo, too, has been tricky. One ‘98% natural’ brand made me itch like I had fleas but I’ve since uncovered Weleda, which has a range of options and is available from most health stores.

So life’s peachy then… almost

I understand that GPs are under more pressure today than ever, but my life would most likely still be dominated by allergies had I not sought out alternative treatments, products and supplements to tackle what is a permanent and ongoing issue for me.

My body was so overloaded by having to react to so many different substances that I didn’t know the difference between eating something I was intolerant to and something I was not. Hard, itchy hives on my face had become something I lived with as opposed to finding a cause and solution, and I suffered all this while being lumped in with regular ‘hayfever’ sufferers.

I still have days where I long for a pizza, my make up and cleaning products are rarely, if ever, on sale and I will always be tarred with the cider drinker’s brush. However, I no longer pop pills on a daily basis, I can now prevent an ‘allergy day’ more often than not and I even bring home the odd bunch of flowers and have plants in my home.

My advice? If you’re a ‘hayfever sufferer’, it’s time to start listening to your body and asking questions!

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