As it turns out, I am allergic to summer

This week I went in to see an allergist in hopes that the doctor could provide insight into my recent breathing difficulties. Skin tests came up negative for mold, dust mites, weeds, and most animals. I only showed mild allergies to a handful of tree pollens. But when the doctor arrived at the spot on my back that felt like a tiny piranha tearing into my skin, she exhaled loudly and said, "Oh, yeah, grass is really blowing up. Wow."

I get hay fever every spring and always suspected I was allergic to grass pollen, but it turns out I am severely allergic to grass pollen. The doctor was surprised I'd never sought allergy treatments in the past. She said people with allergies occasionally experience a tipping point when they contract a cold or the flu during allergy season. Productive coughing creates an environment in which allergens are held in the mucus lining the bronchial tubes, exacerbating the inflammation and causing more mucus buildup, which in turn bolsters the virus. Left untreated, the infection pushes deeper into the airways, leading to prolonged inflammation and higher sensitivity to allergens.

"It could take months to clear up," the doctor said, and cheerfully added, "which may be why you're feeling so much better now."

I am feeling so much better now. Grass pollen season is finally over. But a grass allergy could explain why I became so sick during the Tour Divide. Pollen counts were already high when I set out to ride my bicycle across the Rockies in mid-June. I developed some type of upper respiratory infection that caused a sore throat and coughing on the first day of the trip. Then I continued to stay outside all day, every day, breathing in large quantities of pollen and coughing up a lot of crud. At the time I became convinced that the air was "toxic," but of course pushed that notion aside because it was mostly absurd. Now I don't think that inclination was entirely off base. The grass allergy would explain why I felt a little better after spending a night indoors, and why I struggled so much more with my breathing in high winds and heat. It wasn't the dust, which is what I assumed I was choking on. It was pollen.

A grass allergy would also explain a little more about my general health since I moved to California ... why I always feel lousy in April and May (my annual "spring slump" after "too much fun" during March travels in Alaska), why I often continue to struggle on a lesser scale through the summer (I tended to blame high temperatures and a touch of burnout) and why I'm suddenly so much more peppy in the fall (I credited excitement about upcoming Alaska adventures and a slight reduction of heat.) Maybe having an immune system set to overdrive for half of the year isn't so good for energy levels.

The allergist recommended I see her again next April to assess my symptoms and decide how to proceed. In general, allergies just blow. Immunotherapy can take years to become effective, over-the-counter meds can be hit-or-miss, steroid inhalers and other asthma treatments are medicine for the rest of your life. The general advice is to avoid going outside during allergy season.

Or, you know, move to Alaska. Ha.

During this visit I also learned the terrible, terrible news that I'm allergic to cats. Not dogs, not horses, not mice. Just cats. I actually scored in the moderate to severe category for this allergy. This may explain all the seemingly random skin rashes that have cropped up over the years. Because of all of our traveling that was becoming increasingly difficult for my 12-year-old cat Cady, Beat and I recently sent her to live with her long-time cat sitter, who loves Cady and needed a companion for a difficult time she's going through. I've been struggling with this decision, but I suppose the move was a good thing for me as well. Still, I'm a hopeless cat person and I don't plan to never have a pet again. I'll live with the eczema if I must.

But for now, I can de-cat my house and rejoice that long-suffering summer is over. Soon it will be my season. Superwoman season. Winter. Bring it on. 

Comments

  1. I'm sorry that you have these allergies but for the most part, this is awesome news. Now you know! And it does seem to explain so much. Like your superpowers during winter and your summer cruds.
    I'm sure treatments will improve over time but now that you know, you will be able to mitigate these physical ailments that have blindsided you over the years. And as Alaska Jill knows, there are many places on earth where the air does not swirl with grass pollen from April through June. This could be a real turning point in the quality of your life and how it is structured.
    Cats are so different than dogs and I understand why there are cat people. But it sounds like there are plenty of potential pets out there that you could live with and love and that won't give you hives, so that's a good thing.
    Happy Fall Jill!

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  2. Hey, longtime reader here. I just wanted to say that I too just got allergy testing done a year ago after having problems with asthma and years of allergy symptoms. It turns out I am highly allergic to dust mites and moderately allergic to cats, dogs, and maple trees. My doctor put me on a daily allergy pill and gave me some breathing tips and I have been great since. I have a cat and plan on getting a dog too. It really isn't a hopeless scenario at all, so I wouldn't be too down about it, but I would recommend getting pills to treat it. Good luck.

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  3. Well this explains a lot. And clearly the gods are saying you should move back to Alaska (and get a pet moose or beaver or something). Now that you know what was wrong, you can enter the winter season with confidence.

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  4. I'm allergic to pretty much everything listed here that you are not. My worst months are April-May and October. It really does suck, but luckily your allergy season coincides with your off season. Since I like road racing, my peak suffering months often coincide with peak racing or training. Ugh. If you haven't already, try using a Neti Pot after runs/rides during your allergy season. It really helps me.

    It sounds like both of us need to move somewhere with a real winter.

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  5. My ex is also allergic to cats (and dogs). However, there are certain breeds that are mostly hypoallergenic. Eventually we acquired a Devon Rex cat to which my ex exhibited no allergic symptoms. We had that first Devon Rex for 17 years. My ex has now acquired a Devon Rex kitten and has the same non-allergic experience. They're a bit pricey but worth it for the health aspect if you are set on a cat.

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  6. Since I just recently read "Becoming Frozen" I just busted out laughing when you said, "Or, you know, move to Alaska. Ha." You have such a way with words! I hope you continue to feel stronger everyday!!! Iditatrod Trail Invitational 2016!!

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  7. Jill, it's funny how unconscious preferences turn out related to unknown needs. The discovery makes so much sense. I wonder if damper, more humid climates lessen the impact and therefore there maybe some summer racing opportunities. It certainly adds another nuance to "Becomig Frozen", which I'm enjoying for much of what it shares. Happy fall fun!

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  8. Wow Jill...this is GREAT NEWS! (the part where you finally KNOW what the problem is I mean). At least NOW you can be pro-active and make plans based on fact. Knowing what is your version of Kryptonite is HUGE! SuperWoman is BACK!! (Does Google have a branch up in Alaska?)

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  9. I feel your pain, a year ago I moved to a new town, this past summer was horrible, I have never suffered so much with allergies. I am glad you know what the problem is, a solution may follow I hope.

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  10. Thanks for the comments. Of course it sucks that others have to deal with allergies, but there is something comforting about not being alone in my non-disease that has such power to make me so miserable.

    Alaska remains the "someday" plan, but moving there won't really work out until Beat is ready to go a different direction with his career. That doesn't stop us from looking at Alaska real estate listings and dreaming about what might be. Someday. Soon. :)

    I'm hoping to find a solution for my allergies, since living in California puts me in a grass pollen cloud from April to July, with lingering effects into August. Putting pieces together, allergic reactions have definitely become worse over the past few years, and I fear asthma may be a part of it now. This allergist I found seems to be very good, so I'm optimistic I'll be able to find a treatment that works. As for summer endurance adventures, I definitely want to get the symptoms in check before I take on another one. Even a thru-hike or noncompetitive bike tour could be problematic if I experience the same breathing difficulties I experienced on the Tour Divide.

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  11. Hi Jill: I'm sure you will get lots of well meant advice. The best, imho, is to start allergy shots asap. Years to take effect is nothing compared of decades of active outdoors life. Allergies are a nuisance (or worse, when I think about my ten polyp surgeries...) but don't have to be activity limiting. Just curious: how is allergy season in Alaska? WA had short, but brutal spring allergy season. Sometimes getting low doses of allergens over our 8-months long summer is better than being indoors for the whole spring. Again, the science exist: desensitize. Allergies suck but I could think of a myriad other ailments which could be lot worse for a bicyclist.

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    1. Alaska's springs were never bad for me. Typically grass pollen is low throughout the summer, and I haven't shown much sensitivity to weeds or trees. I'm not sure I'll be able to start shots this winter with my planned travels, but I could use some tips. We should go riding again soon!

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  12. time to move back to alaska ? that's funny though, I wonder how many other people from alaska get that? I'm curious... as though they may not build up an immunity to it. Its like us going over to some countries overseas and eating their food, we'll get sick because we don't have the anti-bodies to fight off the bad stuff...

    interesting really...

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  13. Well, there are allergy seasons in AK, too. Birch is a killer for most sufferers in Southcentral. And winter has been pretty mild of late. So I am thinking no place is without allergy inducing plants! Glad, Jill, you got to the bottom of your troubling symptoms. I take an allergy pill from March 1 to Nov 1 in AK and have much reduced symptoms and very few asthma symptoms. It can be done...glad you have a good doc! Enjoy the months ahead...

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    1. Anchorage typically has low grass pollen counts throughout the summer. In Juneau they were almost entirely absent. I tested negative for a birch allergy. Trees don't really seem to be my problem, but of course that can change.

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  14. Anonymous10:00 PM

    I wish people wouldn't just take medication right away and explore other healthier natural options.I see people all the time that make matters worse with pharmaceuticals.We are more than just bodies that need to be "fixed". We have souls and emotions and armoring from the past. .. etc...If we keep treating our bodies like machines than we will pay the cost. Yoga is good as is Tai Chi. G.M.O's cause allergic reactions and food allergies, parasites and amoebas can create a stressed out immune system which results in not being able to handle allergens . Look for the true cause instead of masking the symptoms, please.Also, maybe you need to follow your own path and have the man follow you instead of the other way around.Just sayin. Love your blogs.

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  15. Hi, Jill! Glad you're feeling better. Allergies can really suck. Mine were worse than usual up here in Alaska this past summer. I've noticed that the healthier I eat, the better my symptoms but, damn it, I so love to cuddle down with a bag of pretzels after a long run. P.S. I tried the shots years ago and they didn't do much for me, but I have had decent success with homeopathic remedies. Cheers and take care.

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  16. Glad you're getting a handle on the cause of your symptoms. I'm allergic to a bunch of airborne stuff, mainly weeds and pollen, some mites. Having tried a bunch of medications with mixed results, I have found great relief from monthly allergy shots (immunotherapy). The lengthy build up (several months) and on-going monthly shots are annoying, but I have found them to be invaluable in terms of improving quality of life. I'd recommend trying to build up over the winter. Good luck with whatever path you choose.

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