Moldy Oldies

In 2002 or so, I was tested for allergies and started immunotherapy. Mold, dust and a few other things were the culprits, and I had been having problems for years, especially in the summer. Unlike many people, immunotherapy (aka, a weekly needle) worked great for me. Except the doctor I was dealing with didn’t really explain the whole process to me. Like the fact that you do the shots for about 3 to 5 years, and then after another 3 to 5 years, the allergies usually come back.

I stopped getting the shots in 2005. I had broken my arm and it was inconvenient. And the program had worked. I thought I was cured. A couple of years ago the allergies started coming back. The first time was when the lunchlady from the daycare directly below us thought it would be a good idea to start an open pit compost system in the garden below our window. If you’re allergic to mold, rotting moldy produce is not something you want under your apartment windows.

This spring, when every person who had ever been allergic to anything experienced symptoms because of the weather, so did I. And it was bad. That whole itchy watery eyes thing became burning eyes, as if someone had thrown cayenne pepper in my face.

So I trotted off to my family doctor, who gave me prescription eye drops and a referral to a new allergist.

When I finally got to see the allergist 3 months later (by now late July), horror of horrors, my scratch tests all came up negative. I find it hard to believe that modern medicine is able to cure many types of cancer, that we are close to a cure for diabetes, possibly MS, that in my lifetime we might see a cure for spinal injuries, but that the only way to officially tell if someone is allergic to something is the stupidly inaccurate scratch test.

In any case, all negative. Which means that the doctor can’t create an immunotherapy serum for the injections because she doesn’t know what the heck to put in it.

She sends me home instead with a prescription for Nasonex, an inhaled steroid that should help with the allergies. Allergy meds work on a “build up a resistance” system, so I’m advised to start taking the stuff right away.

Within 3 days I am having terrifying side effects. A sore throat so bad I get laryngitis. Freaky dreams, hot flashes, insomnia. Enough of that, sez I. Why am I taking medication for something that might not even happen?

Famous last words, of course, because on August 13th, the allergies come.

It’s been a hot, humid summer. There was a lot of rain in June and July. The Cladorsporium mold (that’s the stuff that grows on rotting vegetation – logs, leaves, fruit, soil…) is off the charts. And my eyes start burning. The eye drops I got in the spring don’t work this time. I’m taking pain killers because my eyes hurt so much. I’m putting rosewater in my eyes because I found a natural remedy site online that says this will work. I’m so desperate that I try the steroids again – they help a bit but the side effects are even worse, with fever-like symptoms of body aches and chills. It becomes hard to decide which is the worst of two evils. I just want to feel normal and well.

The second week, there’s a couple of days where the mold counts are down and I’m feeling marginally okay. And then they’re back full force.

At the beginning of week three I head back to the allergist. Who writes me a prescription but doesn’t bother to do a scratch test. You would think that, when my eyes are bleeding because they’re so raw, that this would probably be a good time to get a positive scratch test reading, but she mostly seems annoyed that I’m bothering her. And that I’ve had side effects from her beloved steroids.

She gives me two prescriptions, the first dulls the pain but makes my eyes itchier. The second, a drugstore off the shelf product works better. Later that week we buy an air purifier. Though a routine of eye drops, heavy doses of oral allergy medication and the air purifier, I’m doing okay most of the time – as long as I stay indoors.

This gets complicated when I have to go outside. Dog walks, groceries, work stuff. I end up cancelling a bunch of stuff because I’m just too sick. We have to sell off tickets we have for concerts and events (I’m missing KISS tomorrow night – Outdoor concert? With these allergies? Gah!) I’m feeling both terrified of the outside and stir-crazy from not going outside.

Today is marginally better. I did some errands without having eyes of fire, although they’re still really watery. Maybe I’ve got it under control enough that I can manage – I’m not sure. I don’t know if it’s just that the mold counts are down or if I’m doing something right.

The worst part is that I don’t know when it will end. Cladosporium likes warm and/or humid weather. Even these cool days haven’t stopped it because it’s been wet and windy, causing the spores to grow and spread. I need cool (or cold!) and dry. A nice frost would be lovely. But that’s not even a sure bet that it will end it – a warm blast in November when the leaves are all down could provoke it again.

I’ve got another visit to the allergist scheduled for the end of the month. Hopefully the scratch test will show positive this time. It won’t help me for the fall, but it should start working in time to save me from this agony next year.

Meanwhile, I’m here rubbing my eyes, shaking my little bottle of saline solution and trying to not have a nervous breakdown.