Tag Archives: Allergies

Of Drugs and Dust: Conclusions of a Sort

Llama Goiter

It seems that half the women I know are on thyroid medication. If we weren’t, our necks would swell up like this.

My allergist had said that generic levothyroxine had filler ingredients that could cause hives and swelling—officially known as urticaria and angioedema. Since I had already been off the antihistamine for five days, I decided to give it a try and switch back to name-brand Synthroid, even though it was much more expensive. Amazingly, my symptoms improved a lot within two days. Imagine! The pill is so tiny to begin with, and the active ingredients—the reason I take the pill—are fine. It’s just the filler in the pill that can cause so much upset to my system. If something that tiny and seemingly insignificant can do that, what do the foods we eat do to us, since we eat them in much larger quantities?  So much to think about here.

However, I’m still not out of the woods. For one thing, the new blood pressure medication raised my blood sugar, so we had to experiment with a third one! The hives still show up now and then, but are not nearly as overwhelming. In the week before the allergy tests, when I was not able to take any medication, I woke up at 3:00 one morning and just cried from the itching. I dabbed on so much cider vinegar I smelled like a pickle. (It actually does help a bit.)  I always felt as if I’d been scrubbed all over with sandpaper. However, I have only had to take an antihistamine one day since I went off the levothyroxine. We’ve installed anti-dust mite air filters in our vents and washed all of our bedding, comforters, afghans, and so on. We’ve purchased, washed, and zipped on a “dust mite-proof mattress encasement.” Worst of all, I have had to remove my stack of to-be-read books from my bedroom! They are now stacked in the craft room. We have to keep our house very cool and dry to vanquish the dust mites, so we’ll go broke running the air conditioning this summer. I suppose Blue Cross doesn’t cover power bills, either. They are so stingy! I am left mind-boggled that such tiny little things as dust mites and filler ingredients in pills can cause so much havoc in a human life!

After all the doctors, all the work, and all the money spent on drugs and bedding, I think my sister had the best diagnosis of all. When you’re close to your family, they know everything about you, and I rarely take a breath without describing it in detail to Karen. First of all, she followed my accounts of all of my medical visits closely, and she got so upset by my descriptions of dust mites that she went overboard while cleaning her bedroom closet and she decided to rip up all of the carpeting and padding right then and there. No, she does not have hardwood underneath. Just sub-flooring. She is serious.

Karen was also considering everything the doctors said, and she reminded me that when I had an ulcer last fall, I had to take such massive doses of multiple antibiotics for so long that I probably stripped my immune system, and things that would normally not affect me so much are now major problems. That makes a lot of sense. I have never had any problems with allergies before, but now everything makes me sick! Even though I eat yogurt every day and took a 30-day course of probiotics, it has not been enough. So, like a good librarian, I have started to read about rebuilding my immune system.

You know what this means for you, Dear Reader. Soon, I will be bringing you reviews of all the nonfiction I’ve been reading about regaining a strong immune system, feeding the huge populations residing in your guts, and my timid first encounters with kimchi. This could be a long road for me, and although life is much more bearable now than it was a couple of months ago, I won’t stop until there are no hives at all in the morning!

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More Drugs and Dust, Part 2

At this point, my symptoms got even more complicated, because I didn’t know if they were related to my illness or the drugs that my doctors were prescribing.


My new blood pressure medicine worked by reducing my heart rate—to 46. Forty-six! I was afraid that my heart would forget what it was supposed to do from one beat to the next! I looked up “low heart rate,” and it said that sometimes people in very good shape have low heart rates. I considered that for half a second and admitted, “Nah. Probably not.” I called my doctor, and she told me to cut it in half. That helped a lot. In the meantime, the itching from the hives was becoming unbearable and the swelling continued. Of course, I was going through the usual allergy questions: laundry detergent? Soap? New foods? Nothing seemed different. The next time I showed up at my doctor’s office, she sent me to an allergist. Since I had had another bout of laryngitis caused by throat swelling, she got me into his office that same day.

As usual, I got lost in downtown Raleigh. Arriving at the allergists’ office completely stressed out, I found a practice full of people who see patients reacting to mysterious and sometimes invisible substances in all kinds of ways all day long. No big deal. To me, it was a very big deal. In the past, I’d known that I was allergic to cats and latex. Solution: Do not touch cats or latex. Boom. Done. Now, I didn’t know what was going on. My preternaturally calm doctor and nurse decided to send me out to a lab for blood work, and then see me again in three weeks for a follow-up. They couldn’t do allergy tests that day, since I had had Benadryl (newly purchased!) the night before, but he was going to put me on a daily dose of a prescription antihistamine that would allow me to work. I launched into probably the most ridiculously condescending speech of my life (and there have been a few), saying that my goal was not to add another prescription medication to my daily routine, but rather to identify the problem and to eliminate it. The doctor was admirably restrained, and said that that was his goal, too, but that sometimes that was not possible, and it was certainly not going to be possible today. I was most unhappy. I was even more unhappy when, after more than two weeks, the five vials of blood I donated that day turned up nothing but a dust mite allergy.

Dust Mite

These critters are all over your house, your car, your office– you name it.

Three weeks after that appointment, I was scheduled for allergy tests. I had to go off my now-beloved antihistamine for five days before the appointment. Within three days, I went from symptom-free to completely symptomatic. Even though we had bought a new mattress, box spring, and pillows, there had been no change in the hives, which mostly started in the wee hours of the morning. Fifty-five allergy tests later, I could see that I was a little bit allergic to cats and extremely allergic to dust mites. Talk about welts! The best thing that happened in that visit is that my husband accompanied me, so he got to hear three different professionals say, “You should never dust or vacuum by yourself.” One went so far as to say to David, “Maybe you could do that?” I asked the doctor if he thought I could get Blue Cross to cover a maid, and he replied, “I can’t even get them to cover Zyrtec.” He admitted that he did not think that dust mites could be the complete answer, and neither did I. He noted that I had recently switched from name-brand Synthroid—which I had taken for fifteen years— to the generic levothyroxine, and said that the inactive ingredients in the generic sometimes caused these symptoms. If that was the case, I would be only the third patient he had ever treated with that allergy.

Would I be that rare patient?

Stay tuned….


Filed under Life's Travails- Big and Small

Of Drugs and Dust, Part 1

One bulging cheek

Some days, I looked kind of like this guy, only not as cute.

One morning in January, I was talking to a colleague when I realized that I was biting on my lower lip as I spoke. A trip to the ladies’ room mirror showed me that my lip was swelling up. It went away after a few hours, but on the way home that evening, I stopped at a grocery store, and walking into the store, I was concerned that when I coughed, it came out as a squeak. Checking out, I could not answer the clerk, so I drove to urgent care a couple of blocks away. The doctor there diagnosed me with the laryngitis virus that was going around then, and opined that the swelling lip was unrelated. I believed him, since I had several co-workers who had had that very virus.

It was not a virus.

A couple of weeks later, I had a regularly-scheduled checkup with my primary care physician, and I told her about the urgent care visit, and said that the facial swelling had continued, now accompanied by hives, mostly in the morning. She asked about stress in my life, and I said, “Let me see. We’re financially stressed, my son moved out in December after a prolonged closing, we’re in the midst of rearranging our house since his move, my mom fell and broke her hip on Thanksgiving and is now in rehab…” and on and on. So, yeah, my life was a big ball of stress. She put it down to that, and I believed her, since hives are a typical sign of stress.

It was not stress.

A couple of weeks after that, I was still having hives and facial swelling, and had even had to take days off from work because my face was so disfigured many times when I woke up in the morning. A lot of my stress factors had been relieved, but my symptoms hadn’t gone away. I came home early one day because of a winter storm, and as ice fell outside, my throat started to swell up. I was terrified, since if I could not breathe, I didn’t think an ambulance could get to me on the ice-slicked roads. I searched for Benadryl in our bathroom closet and found that our bottle was two years past the date. I took it anyway, and in a couple of hours, the swelling went down. I went to my doctor the next day and she immediately took me off my blood pressure medication, Lisinopril, as my symptoms are a typical allergic reaction to that drug, even though I’d been on it for ten years. When I told this to a group of people the following week, I didn’t even have to name the drug. Everyone in the room said, “Oh, I’ll bet it was Lisinopril.” I was so relieved to have found an answer.

But it was not Lisinopril.

To be continued…

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