Summer is prime allergy time in Finland. Even in the biggest cities it’s impossible to get far enough away from nature so as not to feel the pollen onslaught starting from the early spring and lasting pretty much all the way until first snow. If you follow me on Twitter you probably know by now that I’m extremely allergic to birch pollen which means that my springs tend to be hellish. This was an especially bad year and it has left me considering aversion therapy. To help me make up my mind I’ve been doing some research about allergy and aversion therapy and some of it is quite interesting so I thought I’d share it with you fine people.
What is Allergy?
Simply put allergy is a case of your immune system going haywire. Something makes it think that perfectly ordinary and safe things (such as pollen) are harmful and dangerous making it attack vigorously against it’s own windmills. When it does this however, it also causes symptoms that vary from a runny nose to the lethal anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis itself is kind of a scary condition; introduce the allergen into your body and your throat closes up making it impossible to breathe while your heart goes on overdrive and if there’s any heart disease, it’s likely you’ll have a heart attack. The most horrible thing is that it’s not like you can necessarily control whether or not you get stung by a wasp. I had this horrible experience last summer when a wasp crawled inside my t-shirt, got stuck and started stinging me everywhere it could. It did nothing for my fear of wasps, let me tell you. But I’m digressing. Peanut seems to be a big bad in the U.S and it may be difficult to discount it from everywhere making it completely possible to ingest some by accident.
This is the thing that I kept asking myself this spring while fearing that death wouldn’t come after all; why me? And the answer appears to be: we don’t know. Although we know quite a lot about how it starts, how we can mitigate the symptoms and so on, but there doesn’t seem to be a good theory as to why it happens to some people and not others. Heredity seems to play some part but it’s certainly not the whole answer.
There are several kinds of treatment to alleviate symptoms that range as much as the symptoms do. There’s antihistamines and glucocorticoids even epinephrine (synthetic adrenaline). The problem with all of the available medication is that it simply counteracts the symptoms and not the cause. As I’ve mentioned, this spring was very bad for me, pollen wise. The antihistamines I take that have been so effective up till now were nowhere near powerfull enough so the doctors suggested that on top of the medication I shower and change my clothes every time I get home and that the dog should shower every time he gets home. Going to these drastic measures to remove the allergen from the home at least worked well. Of course it also meant that I was pretty much a shut-in for the whole month of May
The only thing that actually actively works to remove the allergy itself is immunotherapy. Basically what they do is inject a solution of the allergen into the muscle. This is somewhat dangerous to start off with as there’s a risk of anaphylaxis. The injections are given every 6-8 weeks for at least a year and depending on the need possibly for as long as three years. Needless to say, it’s a serious commitment of time and money and results aren’t always permanent. It will either remove or lessen the symptoms in every case however and sometimes even lessened symptoms are a blessing. But since it’s such a commitment it shouldn’t be entered into lightly. I mean for goodness sakes, it lasts a lot longer than probably most celebrity marriages.
It seems to me that there’s a lot more to this allergy thing than can be covered in a single post. I may have to return to this some time later.