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.