I have, in my third and fourth decades of living, discovered some of the most unusual of allergic reactions and have learned the most interesting of realities about allergies.
The education began when I was teaching my second semester of college English. As one up to that point who rarely missed a day of work, I was appalled to find one very early summer morning that I had an enflamed face and that every pore on my face had filled with a blister—a tiny pustule that was, as if the redness wasn’t enough, itchy.
When I went to the clinic (not yet having medical coverage of any kind), the clinician seemed nonplussed. She told me with a shrug that 1) I would have to experiment by isolating foods in my most recent diet until I found the culprit (since I ha not changed laundry or body soaps didn’t add any chemicals or perfumes to my repertoire, etc.); and 2) I had developed these allergic reactions—or allergic symptoms—all of a sudden…that my perfect health record of many years had nothing to do with the fact that as we get older, she said, we can pathogenically change: we can develop allergies to foods we have eaten our whole lives.
Allergic reactions as I describe are no big deal, really; and a tube of Benadryl cream and a Benadryl capsule (which makes you sleep, so watch out) are all that were needed. But other allergic reactions are hideous, drastic, and emergent. Many require immediate medical attention, as they are deadly…or, the allergens causing the allergic reactions are.
When we were teens working our first jobs, waiting tables at a private school in the summer, when scientists would come from the world over to have conferences, study, and get fed three times a day, we witnessed the more extreme cases of allergic reactions when a scientist asked if there were any shellfish in the fare we were serving. The stuffing of the meat, it turned out, had shredded something—crab or lobster—and the man swelled, turned red, and had to be rushed to the hospital. What is most frightening, I think, is that such allergic reactions can include the tongue swelling. Think about it. If your tongue swells too far, it will block your breathing passages. You’re done.
In my case, many years after my fear that we had killed an important person—who showed up unshaken the next morning, by the way—it turns out I had allergic reactions to soy products: I loved to (and was so lazy about cooking that I would) eat raw hot dogs. At the same time, I was experimenting with health food store items and had drunk a big glass of soy milk. Imagine: an innocuous little thing like a bean.