by Karen Lee
As the pediatrician told me the lab results for my 3 ½ year old son’s blood work, my heart jumped up and lodged in my throat.
“Allergy to Wheat, Dairy, Eggs, and Dust. What’s worse, he may also have asthma.”
This news was like a death sentence to a toddler. No cookies, milk, pizza, and mac & cheese! What will he eat? How will he know what NOT to eat at a playdate, or at a birthday party? Does he need to carry an inhaler for the rest of his life, like many of his friends at preschool did?
Are his allergies my fault in some way?!?
Eczema And Allergies
As they say a mother’s intuition is always right. I was relieved, and also sad that my son’s month-long coughing fits, which prompted me to urge his doctor to do the allergy testing despite her insistence that it was just a cold, was indeed because of his allergies to so many things. And how about his eczema? I always suspected his eczema was related to some sort of an allergy, but the doctors vehemently disagreed with me on that too, “Oh, it’s because his skin is dry. Just put some Vaseline on the affected areas and he’ll be fine.” But I had a gut feeling they were wrong. Yes, he never had an anaphylactic reaction, or broke out in hives, but his eczematous skin always made me curious about allergies. Maybe I should have changed his pediatrician?
My reaction to the lab result is still visceral — even now, almost twenty years later, because even as a young adult, he still struggles with the same issue. And so does his younger sister. After doing more detailed allergy testing, we recently discovered that they are allergic to more things. Ironically, the current allergist confirmed my belief that eczema is indeed strongly related to allergens. Can doctors agree on anything?
Who’s To Blame?
In my misguided, young and naive mother’s mind, (and of course, filled with inevitable self-guilt), I frequently wondered, are their allergies due to my being too clean and raising them in a semi-sterile environment? Should I have raised them on a farm? Is it because I inhaled formaldehyde for 3 three years, dissecting cadavers for Anatomy and Physiology Lab while being pregnant? (I had a miscarriage and a stillbirth during my four years of chiropractic school. My classmates speculated that formaldehyde played a huge role.) Or, maybe my husband should have done genetic testing for everything? After all, I am not allergic to anything, and I didn’t know his full medical history before I giddily accepted his marriage proposal.
The kids current allergists told me allergies are genetic and no one can do anything about it. The only solution was to give my kids a myriad of allergy pills daily or take allergy shots weekly. Sure…let me make my kids into pincushions or medical rats and let the doctors bill my insurance company weekly.
Climate Change And Allergies
The signs and symptoms of allergies differ in people. But when the effects are visible on your skin, the stigma attached to the condition is profound. I was neurotic about managing their condition like a hawk with proper diet and all the necessary precautions during allergy seasons — even making the kids stay indoors during peak allergy seasons.
Last spring was the worst. Their eczema flared up like a Christmas tree. Starting in early March, afflicted skin areas were red and inflamed. This seemed way too early for allergy season in the Northeast. Rutgers University researchers announced that because of the mild winter, allergy season started early with vengeance in the NE. Since my kids are allergic to mold, rag weed, tree and grass pollen, they were miserable almost all of 2012. When tree and grass pollen season died down, ragweed season started. The particularly dry summer made matters worse in the fall when ragweed season started.
We live in the suburbs to be away from the city’s smog and air pollution…so we thought. We actually suffer worse in the suburbs because of the trees and grass that we are supposed to enjoy! In fact, climate change and CO2 levels cause trees to produce more pollen. Worse yet, some scientists believe this trend will be worse in the future! Oh joy. So would it be better if we lived in the concrete jungle?
Our Kids Need Clean Air
People have different reasons for being passionate about the environment. My role as a mother of kids with food and environmental allergies has made me work fervently towards making sure the world we borrowed from them is not destroyed. My kids don’t need inhalers now, but who knows what the future holds if the current rate of climate change continues?
What are your reasons for advocating for clean air?