This week I’m recovering from a particularly nasty allergy flare up. It was the usual scenario. When I cook at home everything is fine. When I eat out – even if I’m really careful, things can and do go badly wrong. With me I can eat the food fine, no swelling, no anaphylaxis, (unless it had contained nuts or dairy) but there are some little ingredients, which I have not yet identified which send me into a spin. These are things that I am just intolerant to, not allergic. Just intolerant seems to indicate the reaction might be quite mild, but let me tell you, I can be knocked completely sideways by some of these nasty foods I’m intolerant to.
I’ve been lucky lately. It’s been a while since I had a major flare up like this. That’s because I am very very careful about what I eat and am always prepared. However, this weekend, at my niece’s 5th birthday party I succumbed to the Tesco’s Chinese Selection. They were calling to me. Normally I wouldn’t have even gone near, but the packet said it contained No Nuts so that was one tick in the box. It also said that it contained Sesame, wheat, gluten, fish and soya. These are all things I can eat. No mention of the dreaded dairy. I still read the full ingredients list thoroughly and couldn’t see anything that sounded nasty, but… I think I was coriandered!
I did notice my chin was itching later in the day. I tried to ignore this as best I could, but as we went to leave the fog began to descend. Does anyone else have this? It’s like a cape of dark foreboding, I know what’s coming, the burnt crusty itchy skin that I get after eating processed food is on its way, and there is nothing I can do to stop it. I can take a few anti-histamines, which help, but it has to work its way out of my system so I have a few painful days ahead of me.
At least I think it could have been the coriander that caused this latest reaction. Who on earth is intolerant to coriander? Well I am. I can tolerate it in very tiny quantities and have been trying to reintroduce it to my diet so I thought this would be OK. Sadly, NO, NOT OK! Basically I look like I’ve been lying out on the sun and have a bad case of sunburn, but the skin is also swollen, my eyes keep running, my nose is blocked and I feel soooo itchy. It’s very distracting and to top it all my skin is also really dry and positively drinking up the emollients I’m lathering on.
There is one common theme with all of my reactions. They occur after eating processed foods. By that I mean anything that has been mass produced on a factory line and even when these products appear to be fairly healthy, with NO artificial preservatives, flavours or colours and none of those weird things that are added to foods, I still have a reaction. What is that all about? Am I allergic to processed foods? How do I know whether it was the coriander or something else?
I’ve found that even though I know what I should do, and have learnt from experience what helps me and what doesn’t, at times of pressure and stress I often forget the simplest of things and put up with stuff I really shouldn’t. Sitting at my desk today trying to work reminded me of this list of tips I wrote for Christmas one year, so I’m sharing it with you all today. Because even though I wrote this list of tips myself, I had forgotten to actually take action to alleviate my own symptoms.
So in case you suffer a similar mishap, make sure you’re ready… Don’t suffer in silence. I’ve found loads of things that can really help you get through the pain of an allergic attack. Here are my top 10 tips for getting over the aftermath an allergic reaction:
1. Give me drugs
Make sure you have always have enough anti-histamines and the expiry date on your EpiPen and order a new one if you need to. If you use an inhaler make sure you always have a spare and both are within date. Steroids can help too if you have a bad flare up so make sure you have some in the medicine cabinet for emergencies. I sometimes think it’s better to use topical steroid creams to treat eczema caused by an allergic reaction; you might be worried about how these can thin your skin, but the side effects of extensive scratching, lack of sleep, scar tissue, pain and low moods are not much fun either. I’m recommending using strong steroids on your face here, just the lowest percentage such as Hydrocortisone. Or I have Elocon which is amazing and you only need to use a tiny tiny bit. Nasal sprays and eye drops can also help if you suffer particularly from excess mucus during an allergic attack.
2. Ice, ice baby
I’ve got an amazing Roshgo chilled face mask which lives in my freezer. It’s invaluable when I have an allergic reaction as it cools and soothes the burning feeling on my skin. You can use the plastic freezer bag packs, or failing that a bag of frozen peas or ice cubes packed into a plastic bag. Make sure you put the ice pack back into the freezer straight away so you can have another soothing chilly compress later on if you need to. A cool bath can also help if you are feeling really hot and bothered and your skin has erupted all over your body – it’s rather unpleasant, and chilly… but worth it as it can really calm down itchy skin.
3. Tackle the pain
If you had a head ache you wouldn’t think twice about popping a paracetamol or ibuprofen would you? Don’t be hard on yourself if you have an allergic reaction, take a pain killer and it will really help you get over the early agonising itching stages of an attack.
4. Feet up and chill
If you can put your feet up, this really helps; if you’re at work, have kids to look after etc. this might not be possible but if you can let your friends and family know you need some space for an hour or so it works wonders. Sneak up to your bedroom, or a quite place. Lay down with the ice pack, having taken a pain killer and anti-histamines and relax. Think happy thoughts and imagine your ravaged skin all healed and back to normal; play some soothing music, turn down the lights and relax.
5. Drink plenty to hydrate
Drink plenty of water, you need to replenish your body’s stock of rehydrating liquids and water is the best way of doing this. You could also have a relaxing camomile, nettle or redbush tea.
Keeping your skin moisturised is vital, don’t stint on this when you have an allergic reaction. Bathe and clean your hands and face, or wherever affected, just in case it’s something you’ve transferred on your hands. Apply your chosen moisturiser liberally and keep applying it often. You may feel a bit slimy and uncomfortable for a while but it really helps your skin to recover. Try a little bit of 99% Aloe Vera gel on your skin, then cover with something oily like Epaderm to seal in the moisture. Aloe Vera is a natural healer. Tea Tree oil is also really good to prevent bacteria infections. Keep your skin clean and wash a few times a day if you are feeling very itchy. A splash of cold water can really help, then of course, rehydrate with your choice of moisturiser. Try not to touch your face too much, even though it’s itchy.
7. A little help from nature
There are many things that can help an allergic reaction such as herbs and plants that can help boost your immune system, or alleviate the blocked up stuffiness of the excess mucus that can be created. Take some Echinacea, Grape Seed extract, Evening Primrose or Borage, Stinging nettle or milk thistle. An extra boost of zinc, vitamin E, calcium, magnesium and other vitamins will also help give the skin a helping hand to recover.
8. Avoid it happening again
Can you think back to what caused your reaction? If you aren’t sure write down all the possible offenders, what did you eat, where have you been, what have you used or done differently recently? For example you might have bought a new shower gel, washing powder or soap, or a different brand of sauce; check the ingredients and if you can, do a safe test on a small area of your skin to see if you react. Once you’ve pinned down the culprit do whatever you can to avoid it happening again to you or anyone else and take precautions. If you really aren’t sure, speak to you doctor about having some food allergy tests done at your local allergy clinic.
9. Snap it
I’ve started to photograph my allergic reactions, then save the photo by date and what I think caused it. It can be really useful to show previous reactions to your doctor and also help you document the advancement or progress of your allergic reactions; are your reactions getting better, worse, or changing? What’s causing them? Get someone to take a picture when the reaction is at its worst; you’ll be amazed when you look back afterwards and you never know when the photo will come in handy.
10. Know your skin
Most of all get to know your skin; keep a symptoms and mood diary where you record what you ate, how you felt and any changes, rashes or reactions. You will soon learn to recognise any tiny changes early and so start your coping regime earlier and minimise the symptoms. It will help you in the long run to identify things you are intolerant to and allergic to. If you suffer any infection or blistering this could be serious and you should go and see your doctor or allergy specialist right away.
11. I know I said 10 tips, but I’ve found another. Get some fresh air!
There is actually an eleventh tip that I’ll give you as well absolutely free of charge. This glorious sunshine and the amazing boost it’s given me from going out for just ten minutes fresh air has reminded me that getting outside is also a great medicine. It might not feel like it. You might wish you could cover you face with a scarf and hide away, but fresh air is definitely up there on my list of things that help. Once the main pain and swelling has reduced, get outside, take a stroll, or just sit and watch the world go by for a while. I promise you’ll feel a little bit better.
I hope that none of you have an allergic reaction, but we all make mistakes, and it’s especially hard during holidays when we relax, are invited to parties, friends’ houses to generally eat drink and be merry. If the worst does happen, make sure you are prepared to act fast, minimise the symptoms and get back to normal as fast as you can.
Stay safe and I hope you don’t have an allergic reaction, but if you do, some of the above just might help. Do you have any other remedies or tricks to get over allergic attacks? I’d love to hear from anyone who can sympathise or has any other ideas.