Having allergies is a real pain in the proverbial. Having allergies is most certainly not cool. It's not a trendy lifestyle choice like vegan-ism. I don't saunter into a vegan café with my maxi skirt billowing behind me and order an almond latte, tofu salad and a side of cool. I have to ask for the allergen menu at Wagamama because if I don't, I may wake up the next day with a face like a pufferfish (...the blown up version).
As mentioned, I have had eczema for years and years; I was diagnosed with asthma when I was about 9 and was most excited about having the jazzy "spacer" and pretending I was in Casualty with an oxygen mask. Hayfever came along at some stage in senior school and it was at this point that the doctors told me they were all related. It's something called the atopic triad. A super fun trio that might not always be together, but tend to come as an irritating three - kind of like the Sugababes.
And so, I plodded along with my three new clingy friends, dealing with them as well as I could when they decided to make an unannounced appearance.
I should point out now that I know that I am incredibly lucky when it comes to my allergies and afflictions - I sincerely hope I don't sound like I'm trying to invite sympathy. I am fully aware that some people are completely disabled by their conditions and struggle to live a normal life. I am very grateful that my allergies are manageable and that over the years I've been able to find solutions to help me. As I said previously, I just want to record my experiences in the hope that it could help others or at least provide a diary for me to look back on one day and chuckle about when I used to have eczema (...that is the dream anyway).
Stress is often cited as a cause for the worsening of eczema and I certainly found this around exam periods at both school and university. Unfortunately it becomes a vicious circle of itching and stressing as the worry and depression about the condition of your skin only adds to your stress levels, making everything worse. I had a variety of moisturisers, bath oils and steroid creams supposedly helping to keep the eczema at bay but I was never really sure anything was working.
And then BAM. Aged 22, at the end of a lovely weekend in London with the gals, my face blew up like a bee stung pout. I really had no clue what had happened and just put it down to being the issue child I am. It was probably something to do with my skin, who knew? I went to see a nurse (no emergency appointments with the doctor of course, they're far too busy for emergencies) and she gave me some anti-histamines and sent me on my way.
Fast forward to 2 months later and I am enjoying THE perfect post-finals holiday in beautiful Italy with my housemate.
One evening my face is quite red and feels quite hot - sunburn perhaps? When we get back from dinner I decide to put a cold flannel on it, maybe that will help. The next morning I wake up to be confronted with Shrek in the mirror. Again, I had no idea what was going on and we came to the hazy conclusion that it could have been the material in the pillow. By the next morning I was in tears with the pain and the discomfort of it all and also really because it was just a great big dampener on a nice holiday. This led me to have my first experience of a hospital (minus birth but I don't remember that too well, ask my mum - she was there). My favourite part of the whole experience was the lady being wheeled away on a bed screaming "questi bastardi questi bastardi!" (these bastards) - maybe she wasn't so fond of doctors, I'll never know.
Anywho, the long and short of it is that I was told it probably wasn't an allergic reaction but that perhaps something in my sun cream had set my skin off. I was palmed off with yet more anti-histamines and another moisturiser to add to my collection.
Gradually my face calmed down and I spent the rest of the holiday sunbathing from the neck down - paranoid that any contact with sun, sun cream, chlorine etc. would set me off again. Not how you want to spend a holiday.
Upon my return to the UK I sought a second opinion on what had happened - after all with the language barrier in Italy I didn't feel like I had been able to express myself properly. I booked an appointment with our local GP with a speciality in dermatology and after the two-week wait to see her I mentally praised myself for taking a picture of my face post-reaction as, of course, by then my face had returned to normal. She was sure it was an allergic reaction and so scheduled me in for a blood test and prescribed, yet more, anti-histamines for the time being.
I then spent two lovely sunny weeks in London at a work placement and it was during a lunch break that I received my first phone call from the surgery. The nurse told me that one of the blood tests had come back and seemed to show that I was allergic to peanuts. I arrogantly chuckled down the phone at how ridiculous that was as I was happily munching on a peanut butter cup as we spoke. Silly cocky Katie. A week later, back at home, I was called into the surgery to be told I had a nut allergy. I was allergic to: hazelnuts, peanuts, cashews and almonds (just in case you were wondering/if you are my friend it'd be useful if you remembered these). Afterwards I popped to the pharmacy to pick up what would become my new constant companion, an epipen.I then went home and had a little cry. Maybe a tad dramatic but I was overwhelmed and a little shocked to be honest.
Finding out you have a nut allergy after 22 years of enjoying the sheer, other-worldly joy of peanut butter REALLY sucks. I am still mourning the loss of many of my past food friends. Macarons really hit me hard.
I mean, imagine having to knock that macaron out of her hand. Not cool.
Naturally having discovered I'd had an allergy without realising it, I assumed my skin would calm down. I imagine a lot of eczema sufferers think that there could be a mysterious but very specific cause to their skin problems, and maybe one day they'll find out what it is and their eczema will just fade away. That's the dream scenario. Suffice to say, this didn't exactly happen with me even after I cut all nuts out of my diet. I'd still wake up some days with a red, sore and inflamed face and have no idea why. So once again, I returned to my second home, the doctors surgery, and was seen by a charming doctor in a rather splendid, Mark Darcy-esque Christmas jumper. (Background info: it was National Christmas Jumper Day). He was aghast at the fact that I had never been to the hospital to see a dermatologist and immediately set up an appointment for me. Finally.
My appointment with the dermatologist at the beginning of this year made me feel like progress was being made at long last. She believes that my nut allergy has absolutely nothing to do with my skin but that I could be allergic to something else. Joy. And so I have been put on the six month waiting list for a patch test. In the meantime she prescribed a plethora (fab word) of creams along with (and this is the important bit) a strict regime of when and how to use them. In the past I've felt a little like I was pushed out of the door with a cream, not really knowing how much I should use, where it can and can't go and how it will actually help me. This time, the dermatologist was so precise, consulting with her boss and physically examining my skin to determine what was best for me.
A couple of months on, there have been improvements, I am happy to say. My skin doesn't flare up as much as it used to and if it does, I am able to control it with the cocktail of creams in my drawer. I still find some days I have a really hot and itchy face and can only guess at what has set it off. I am pinning my hopes on the patch test being able to tell me something.
So that's my skin story so far. It is an ongoing dispute between me and my immune system and who knows who will be victorious. For now, just know that if I see the delight in your eyes as you bite down on a peanut butter cup and savour that nutty, creamy deliciousness on your tongue...at that moment I will be feeling a deep bitter hatred for you.