I just wanted to stop sneezing.
After ten in a row, my nose and throat felt raw. There was no relief, it was relentless.
The watery eyes, terrible runny nose and brain fog were getting to me, too. My head felt like a water balloon ready to burst.
It all had appeared out of nowhere, and now three days in, there was still no end in sight. I glanced at the mountain of tissues piled up in the garbage can. I had exhausted my short supply and was quickly burning through the paper towels. Something had to give.
Over the years I’ve had symptoms like this every now and then, but they never lasted more than an hour or two. I always just assumed it was allergies. But this was different and things were only getting worse. It was also starting to trigger my Meniere’s symptoms. The over-the-counter allergy pills weren’t working at all.
It was time to see a specialist.
When you live with a chronic illness like Meniere’s disease, managing your health can feel like walking on a razor’s edge. It’s such a delicate balance that often an ordinary day without any particular problems can feel like a massive win.
But things always change. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. At some point we may all have to deal with other health challenges on top of our chronic illness.
It can complicate things. And it’s easy to fall back into old patterns of self-pity. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Luckily, I was able to get an appointment with a local allergist the next day. I arrived at a small waiting room and filled out my paperwork, sneezing all the while.
I had certain expectations going in. I was allergy tested when I was young and remembered how it all went down. Scratch testing for allergies involves having your back pricked dozens of times by a small sharp device that leaves a specific allergen on your skin. If your skin reacts to any of the scratches, you know you’re allergic.
What I didn’t anticipate, however, was that I needed to stop taking antihistamines for an entire week before going in for allergy testing. And the news was delivered by the strangest doctor I have ever met in my entire life.
Now that I’ve seen him several times, I’ve come to find that he is actually quite brilliant and caring, despite a severe lack of understanding of social cues.
He sat me down in his office for the initial consultation and peppered me with questions, one after the next, for a solid 20 minutes. I couldn’t get a word in edgewise. He would make strange remarks like, “Do you ever take Ibuprofen or Tylenol for headaches?” Not sure of the relevance I said, “Every once in a while.” Without missing a beat, he looked at me and said, “Yeah, don’t do that.” And with no further explanation, he fired off his next volley of questions.
Eventually he addressed my concerns, but I left that day with a strange first impression.
And the intervening week was tough. Without the antihistamines, my allergy symptoms got worse. My Meniere’s symptoms flared up as well.
When the week was finally over, I started to feel relief. I was finally going to get answers and get this thing taken care of.
I should have known it’s never that simple.
More questions than answers:
The allergy testing was intense. The nurse scratched my back nearly 130 times with an arsenal of food and environmental allergens. The whole thing took about 20 minutes.
I took the punishment and waited for the doctor to deliver the results. When the doctor finally came back in, I was shocked to find that I wasn’t actually allergic to anything at all.
I wasn’t hoping to be, but I was hoping for answers.
My doctor did have a few ideas, namely Nonallergic Rhinitis, AKA allergy symptoms with no known cause. Not very enlightening, I know, but the treatment is essentially the same as the treatment for regular allergies.
He also suspects that I have reflux, and went on to explain that about 50% of the time, acid reflux doesn’t cause heart burn, indigestion, or pain of any kind. As a result, it’s commonly referred to as silent reflux and is often misdiagnosed. The technical name is Laryngopharyngeal Reflux.
Apparently this kind of reflux can cause post nasal drip and allergy like symptoms, as well as a whole host of other problems, like permanent damage to the esophageal tissue and cancer. It’s also a chronic condition that is hard to diagnosis and treat effectively.
And like Meniere’s disease, and many other chronic health conditions, it also requires dietary changes. Chocolate, dairy, and carbonated beverages are now off the table as well.
The good news is my allergy symptoms seemed to have gotten better. I’m now on several new medications that seem to be working well. I’m not at one hundred percent, but getting there.
Rolling with the punches:
Whenever a new health problem disrupts my routine, I find that I fall back into old patterns of thinking. It’s always so easy to complain. I’m not sure why that is, but I’ve come to realize that it really doesn’t get me anywhere.
I’m ashamed to admit that several times throughout this ordeal I’ve thought, “Is Meniere’s disease not enough? Why do these things keep happening to me?”
It’s not the first time I’ve had a health complication on top of Meniere’s disease and it certainly won’t be the last. It took me a few days of feeling sorry for myself, but I realized that I needed to focus on finding solutions. Ultimately complaining was just a form of procrastination. I needed to start taking action.
It’s hard for me to stay in the moment when these things happen but it’s important. There is always a logical next step in the process of treating any health problem. You just have to figure out what it is. It’s challenging, but taking action is always key.
I ended up going back in for more extensive allergy testing, which involved injecting allergens under my skin. These tests also came back negative, but I felt a lot better afterwards. I still don’t know what’s causing my symptoms but I have enough distance now to at least be grateful that it’s not allergies.
I’ve made it a goal to get better at rolling with the punches. I’m not perfect, and I know I’ll throw a pity party again at some point in the future. But the next time around, I’ll be ready to take action right away.
And hopefully I won’t complain too much.