I’ve always had allergies in one form or another. My earliest memories were of me being thrown into the car and rushed to the hospital after a bee sting. As I grew into adulthood, asthma seemed to dominate my life. I just assumed this was to be part of my fate, my genetics if you will. Years passed and my asthma was well controlled and allergies seemed to stay within their proper seasons. Then came “the rash.”
A rash is a frustrating thing because its cause is rarely identified right away. As the weeks went by I found myself thrust into the daunting task of seemingly endless detective work…
My first trip to the doctor yielded no real relief. Shingles were ruled out (that’s what I was thinking it was). I was handed some cream and told to change my laundry detergent and bath products.
Two tubes of topical ointment later I was still itching, itching so badly I had actually scabbed and scarred my skin in places. The rash had spread; I couldn’t sleep and couldn’t concentrate. Every object I looked at turned into a ‘fantasy scratching post.” Antihistamines just made me drowsy, so not only was I itchy but now I was too tired to scratch! I’d gone through countless lotions, antihistamines, cortisone creams, oatmeal baths and even did a stint of oral steroids — all to no avail.
Every night I scoured the internet hoping for answers. My searches included ‘I feel like I’m wearing a wool sweater,” “I itch so much I’m going insane,”and “why does my skin feel like I’m sleeping on thorns?” I was surprised to see how many had the same sort of symptoms, yet sadly no one seemed to have a real answer. Everything from gluten intolerance to stress was suspected. Even bug bites and toxic overload were tossed in — and with all came hopes of relief from soda baths and homemade remedies.
My mother insisted it was stress, but I said if that were the case, I should have had a rash the last 30 years! If it were bites of some sort, I’m sure other family members would have been affected. It just didn’t make any sense.
The following month I decided to go to an actual dermatologist. She was not certain what it was either, so she ordered a biopsy, which came back as “non-fungal/hypersensitivity of unknown origin.” This time I was given another sort of cream and told to start a food diary.
By now I looked as though I had survived a swim in a live volcano. My skin was pitted and scarred with sporadic patches of red bumps and blisters. I couldn’t bear to wear anything tight and was hesitant to eat anything for fear of another itch attack. When I got out of the car, my skin where the seat belt had touched was laden with hives. Everything I touched would break me out. I was getting to where I couldn’t touch anything at work without the telltale itching and redness, and to make matters worse it was now starting to affect my asthma again. An inhaler that lasted me up to a year was now being used several times a day.
I had already had this rash for two months and the changes to fragrance-free laundry soap, body wash and lotions hadn’t made a dent. I was now very depressed. The only relief came from a deep sleep, which some antihistamines seemed to offer, but I couldn’t go on this way. I couldn’t function in my day-to-day tasks.
I had to find out why all of a sudden I’d developed this horrid rash and where it came from. I had no pets and no heavy carpets, drapes or endless knick-knacks that required dusting on a regular basis; I hadn’t been taking any new medications, and I tore down my brand-new bed and inspected it thoroughly for any signs of bedbugs. I made a “gluten free” grocery list and even threw away all my clothes that didn’t bear the 100 percent cotton tag. I had read somewhere that some of our clothing is processed with formaldehyde. Formaldehyde! Imagine that. I’m severely allergic to formaldehyde — and latex — and nickel — and apparently nylon. My mattress was memory foam, which also was apparently doused with chemicals. I had gone several months without eating bread or cereal, rice, or pasta of any kind. Could it be the reintroduction of gluten into my diet that caused this flare?
I am now on my third month with this rash and am still in search of relief. I know we live in such a dirty, clogged and polluted world I may never find the cause. I suppose the only conclusion I can draw from all of this is I must be allergic — to LIFE!
— Mari’ Emeraude
Mari’ Emeraude is a writer from Denver, Colorado.