Friday, 31 January 2014

Dying for an apple.

So I'm sitting in a cafe with a friend chatting and drinking posh healthy fruit juice when suddenly my throat starts to close up and I can't breath. Pretty scary. They say an apple a day keeps the doctor away but not in my case. In fact quite the contrary. I just got back from seeing one as a result of the cafe incident and he's referred me to see even more of them in an allergy clinic, and given me two EpiPens.

It turns out I'm allergic to apples and perhaps pears too and possibly lots of other fruit besides, and it's not strange as you might think. Apparently oral allergy syndrome, or OAS, which is what this allergy is, is surprisingly common. In fact it's the most common food allergy in adults and is not a separate food allergy at all but a "cross-reactivity between distant remnants of tree or weed pollen still found in certain fruits and vegetables" (Wikipedia).

As with most sufferers I've eaten apples all my life without a problem, it's only been the last few years that I've noticed something odd. 
I would be cutting up the fruit for my boys in the evening as usual (it's the best way to ensure that they eat any, hand it to them on a plate, quite literally, while they are watching telly and they will absent mindedly stuff it all in) and afterwards I'd rub my eye, or touch my face, and one eye would flare up, all red and itchy and weird, usually just the one eye but sometimes both. 

I started washing apples before cutting them, thinking it might be pesticides on them, and became very careful not to touch my eyes or face afterwards, and it stopped happening. I forgot about it. But I didn't eat apples after that, not raw ones anyway. Sixth sense maybe?

Then I noticed that if I drank apple juice, proper posh juice made in a juicer with all the peel and the core and the pips and everything, my lips would blister. Normal apple juice from a carton would be fine, I can still drink that by the gallon without a problem, which just goes to show how processed it is I guess. But after drinking 'real' juice, with all the apple in it my lips became sore and red around the edges, like when you've been out in the cold and the wind too much. Very uncomfortable. So I switched to pear juice if I was out in one of those posh cafes where they offer lots of 'real' juice combos, and that seemed to be fine...

Until a couple of weeks ago when I was in a cafe with a friend and ordered my usual - pear with ginger and cranberry - and oh my word! Something really horrible happened very quickly, which is a characteristic of this allergy (and all allergies), a quick reaction and an escalation.

Immediately my throat started to close up, I was coughing, I was wheezing, I thought my throat might close all together and I wouldn't be able to swallow, which was scary. I went up to the counter to ask for a glass of water to wash the nasty feeling away, and found it hard to speak. I drank and drank and drank and the lovely friend I was with at the time dashed out to the chemist a few doors away to get some antihistamine tables. I took them, and slowly the feeling and the wheezing went away. But my throat carried on hurting after that for 24 hours, which worried me. 

Am I allergic to pear as well now? Could be, apparently the reaction can jump from one fruit to another, or start to embrace more and more. Or it could be that there was some residual apple left in the juicer, the staff at the cafe said it hadn't been rinsed between juices. But if I reacted like that to apple residue in the bottom of a juicer… blimey, that's a hell of a response to not very much apple.

When I got home I looked it up. It's all linked to hay fever apparently, which I also get nowadays, and in particular a reaction to tree pollen, Birch is one culprit. I had already worked out that I'm allergic to Birch pollen, my hay fever comes on in early spring at exactly the time the tree pollen is emerging. Apparently the immune system lumps it all together as one, and the reaction to certain fruits can be much worse when the victim is also suffering from hay fever.

Off I trotted to the doctor, who listened to my tale and told me that was a very serious reaction and could be even worse next time, apparently my throat really could completely close up. He referred me to the allergy clinic at the local hospital, and sent me away with two EpiPens. I'm to keep one with me all the times ready to jab the needle into my own thigh, taking care to administer the drug for a good 10 seconds, at the first sign of any trouble. Cripes!

From perusing my notes there on the screen in front of him the Doctor also reminded me that I'm allergic to latex, (how did I find this out? Suffice to say, pregnancy, internal exam, much discomfort that followed). Latex is, of course, another tree bi-product . So that's the pollen from trees, the fruit of some trees, and the milky glue-like liquid from yet more trees. Bit of a theme here. And the irony is that I love trees. 

Sadly they don't seem to love me.

Love E x 

Here's a thought - have some people always been allergic to apples? Does it go way back in history? What about Sleeping Beauty? She bites an apple, it sticks in her throat, she 'sleeps' for a hundred years. The story has it that the apple was poisoned but maybe she had OAS? Ha.

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