Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Why can’t life always be peachy and perfect?

Ok, to be fair, my life is not too shabby. We’ve got our health, Libby’s still going strong at age seven, and we are happy with the way things are for the most part. So I shouldn’t complain, right? But it's my blog, so I am going to anyway, damn it!

It all started three weeks ago when we went to Hong Kong for the weekend to see some friends. Since we only had two days and have exhausted most of the tourist attractions on a prior visit, we focused our attention on food. After the first day I started to break out in hives, little bumps like mosquito bites here and there, nothing major. I figured it must’ve been the fengshui or something I ate that didn’t agree with me. I expected the problem to go away when I got back to Tokyo. It didn’t, and in fact got even worse. My stash of Claritin only relieved the symptoms when I took it but never made the problem go away. The problems with western medicine!

So frustrated by the ever present itchiness somewhere on my body, I almost gave in to Jason’s constant nagging and went to see a doctor. Luckily though, I talked to my parents, two veteran allergy sufferers, first. Their theory, and mine, is that some allergies come from within, caused by a toxin inside the body that somehow got triggered by an outside factor. According to them, to make it go away, I have to stop eating any food that could be allergy-triggering or are “heating.”

We Chinese believe that certain food will “bring on” diseases, or in other words, make the body susceptible to illnesses. We say they are “fah.” We also divide food in three general categories: cooling, heating and neutral. I am somewhat familiar with the heating and cooling properties of food but am completely clueless when it comes to which food brings on illnesses. So I asked my mom to give me some examples of food that’s “fah.” “Well, cilantro is a big one,” she said matter-of-factly.

Wait! Woah! Hold on a minute! Cilantro??!! Fragrant, green, healthy-looking cilantro? I just bought a big bunch and in a race against time to prevent it from rotting away in my fridge have been putting it in everything. I even made ice cream with it. No wonder my allergy is not getting any better!

After I calmed down she told me more. Seafood is no good, although fresh water fish is benign. (not helpful because there ain’t no fresh water fish sold in Japan, except for that very seasonal ayu) Spicy food of any kind is bad (I found fresh jalapeno pepper for the first time in Tokyo and had been eating nothing but spicy food lately). Chicken, and especially turkey should not be eaten either, and it’s best not to touch beef or cheese. Hmmm, I think that’s about 80% of my daily diet right there. Add to it the “heating” food such as oranges and anything red in color, I’ll have to eat nothing but rice and green vegetables until my allergy clears up! And no turkey? What about Thanksgiving?!

“So, um, is there anything left for me to eat at all?” I asked. “You can always eat pork and duck!” mom offered enthusiastically. Sure, that helps! The only way I know how to cook a duck is to roast it, and what’s that going to do to my waistline if I make it a daily item on the menu?

Arrrrgh! This is all so irritating. I guess with a mom that’s allergic to just about everything she touches and a dad whose pollen allergy is so severe that he used to schedule his overseas trips to coincide with the peak of allergy seasons, it’s a small wonder that my allergy problems didn’t manifest until now. Still! Why can’t I eat everything I want and be happy?!


Anonymous said...

It might just be the local water that you use to bathe.

Here's my armoury against travel eczema:
1. QV cream, available from pharmacist. They sell cleansers too.Cheap and good. Claritin doesn't work on me.
2. Chinese medicated oil e.g. Axe brand.
3. Something cool to cover the skin. Like those gel-filled pillows that you can put in the fridge.

Hope you get better soon.

bok choy boy said...

Sooooooo sorry! What a shame especially for a foodie like you! I am sure you will find creative ways to make your meals interesting!

Jason Sholar said...

Before giving up all my favorite foods I would give into going to the doctor. Maybe there is a drug that will clear up your condition and you can eat happy.

Lynn said...

Thank you for the sympathy. I'm so glad you all understand!

Jason, trust me, if there's a drug that will make this allergy go away, I'd go to the doctor's in a heartbeat. But the problem with western medicine is that they only suppress the symptoms without taking out the cause. I guess this is what my PharmD degree taught me. Ironic, isn't it?

Rachel said...

poor girl! feel better!

Karen said...

Oh, I hope you're feeling better now Lynn.

I agree with what you say about western meds. They also leave side effects! Water therapy usually works for my seasonal allergies.

Machi Oda said...

"Their theory, and mine, is that some allergies come from within, caused by a toxin inside the body that somehow got triggered by an outside factor."

That's exactly what Western Medicine thinks also. Allergies (simplified) are caused by an IgE mediated release of histamine (the toxin) from mast cells when the outside factor triggers the mast cell via immunoglobulin E. It isn't the outside factor that causes the problem, it is the histamine (et. al.) that causes the inflammation, rash, runny nose etc. (Granted this is an over-simplification, which I'm sure you know being a PharmD.)

Anyway, what ever happened? Did you recover? Do you have to avoid Cilantro, or can you eat what you want now? I'd also consider what umami suggested. It could be something other than allergies as those symptoms are not that specific.

Also, just so you never have to give up any foods you love, I'll share a story:

I was in college and a bunch of friends and I got together for cook a lobster dinner one weekend. One of us started having trouble breathing awhile after dining, was itching and his mucous membranes started swelling. We took him to the ER and they treated him for an anyphylactic reaction. He recovered perfectly and was advised to never eat lobster or any other shellfish. The problem was that Karl LOVED that kind of food, so I referred him to an allergist just to make sure. The whole story, disease, treatment and recovery was classic for allergies to shellfish, but you can never be sure. The allergy test ended up being negative and he bravely took us out to Red Lobster that night.

I never told him, but I did bring benadryl and epinephrine auto-injectors with me to dinner that night. Just in case.

He still says I'm the best doctor he knows...only because I was responsible for him being able to eat shellfish.

Lynn said...

Update: I recovered after a couple of weeks of avoiding certain foods. It hasn't recurred again, and I've gone back to eating cilantro, seafood, and spicy food. But just to be on the safe side, I don't eat too much of everything at one go. Have also taken up eating at least one macrobiotic meal a day. Am keeping my fingers crossed.

Sylvia said...

I too suffer from chronic hives. The last bout I had lasted 1 1/2 years. A combination of antihistamines helps get them under control, but sooner or later they come back. For me, stress seems to be a trigger combined with some foods; chocolate, strawberries, shell fish, although there are times when I can eat these foods with no problem. My doctor, an allergist, recently told me that there are new studies suggesting hives can be an auto-immune disorder like arthritis. Anti-inflammatory diets ---you can find them on the web-- may help as well as finding ways to deal with stress.

Lynn said...

Sylvia, wow 1 1/2 years is very long for hives. The bad news is that I have permanently moved to Hong Kong and after being here for 3 weeks without a kitchen (living in serviced apt at the moment) I see signs of minor flare-ups. Thanks for the information on anti-inflammatory diet though, I'll definitely look into it.

risingsunofnihon said...

Travel allergies are the worst, and trying to pin point the cause can be so frustrating. I find that steroid creams from a chemist usually work fairly well if I can combine them with a Benadryl. I hope you are feeling better!