Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher

Attack of the grass!

posted by Rod Dreher

Feeling constantly run down from seasonal allergies is apparently the new normal with me. I have been trying hard to avoid going to see a doctor, but I am running out of options. Today, though, I got a sharp clue as to what I’m allergic to.
I was walking down the street to the farmer’s market, taking an unusual route. I passed a house fronted by just-mowed lawn. As soon as the aroma of the cut grass hit my nose, I thought, “That smells terrific!” Then in the next instant, my throat quickly constricted. I started gagging. I had a can of seltzer in my hand and drank some as I continued down the street, but nothing helped. I thought I was going to have to hit my knees and throw up to stop the gagging. But I kept walking, and once I got two blocks past the cut grass, I was back to normal. Well, “normal” — the incident left me feeling so weak and run down that when I finished my shopping and came home, I had to lie down on the couch, and here I’ve been since then. It’s like having the flu or something. I haven’t been back to tai chi class for two months, I guess, which is when the seasonal allergies first struck.
Today’s incident with the grass was the first indication I’ve had as to what specifically I’m allergic to in the environment. Mind you, I have never been allergic to cut grass. I used to mow lawns as a kid for extra money, and never had a problem in my life. I’m wondering if there’s a kind of grass particular to Philadelphia that causes problems for me, or if I have simply developed this allergy. I was in New York City earlier this week for a couple of days, and came back to Philly feeling energetic and great. It took about an hour of being back home before I felt physically deflated. Again. But this grass attack was something much worse. I fell like I’ve got sludge for muscles.
It is also possible that there was mold in that yard that got stirred up by the lawnmower. When I was younger, and mowed my grandfather’s yard, there was one perpetually shady side of his house that I hated mowing. It had a moldy smell, and I always sneezed a lot when I cut that section of yard.
As ever, your advice is appreciated.

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Neil D

posted June 12, 2010 at 7:34 pm

I’ve moved around quite a bit over the course of my adult life. I’ve lived in the midwest, Florida, DC, and Arkansas. Every time I moved to a new area, it seems like I had some adjustment period with head colds and congestion (although never like what you experienced).
Hope you feel better!

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posted June 12, 2010 at 7:40 pm

Rod, a lot of people get relief from their allergies by eating paleo. Basically, cutting out grains and dairy and eating fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, eggs (and nuts and seeds). I have been eating this way for over a month for my asthma — which like allergies is caused by systemic inflammation — and it’s helped a lot. Much better, for me anyway, than taking meds. If you do a google search of “paleo” and “allergies” you’ll see a lot of people have had similar success with their seasonal allergies.
It is the diet our species evolved on over millions of years, before the onset of agriculture 10,000 years ago, which, the theory goes, introduced a lot of foods into our diet that our bodies really weren’t designed to ingest.
Wine is allowed. :-)

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posted June 12, 2010 at 8:06 pm

Do you take a nasal corticosteroid like Rhinocort or Nasonex? Highly recommended from one sufferer to another — I had to have nasal surgery more than 10 years ago for polyps.
I’ve been on allergy shots before, and the only two things that really seem to work are my daily nasal corticosteroid and…
Get thee to the local CVS, WalGreen’s, whatever and obtain a neti pot with salt packets. Use it daily.

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posted June 12, 2010 at 8:17 pm

Rod, you should really go see an allergist. I had this kind of allergy to grass when I was a kid. When I got an allergy test, where the prick your arm with several different allergens to gauge how strongly you react, the prick for grass overtook the ones on either side of it. A few years of allergy shots made a difference and still take an OTC allergy medicine.

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posted June 12, 2010 at 8:53 pm

Dude you need to quit playing with this thing. You may well have asthma. I used to have some nasty allergies when I was younger and still have them to a degree, but nothing as disabling as this sounds. For what it’s worth, I don’t think the allergen testing is quite as medieval as it used to be. I think they can work with a sample of blood these days rather than 100 pins on your back. In any case, nobody wants to deal with doctors, but trust me, you really don’t want to deal with them in an ER….

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posted June 12, 2010 at 8:53 pm

All allergens, whether food, pet, plants, etc. cause an immune system reaction, and if it’s weakened by reactions to food, it will be more susceptible to environmental allergens. When I was young in Chicago, I had major environmental allergy problems (allergy medication daily, and still severe problems), and these continued though the intensity lessened. About a decade ago I was diagnosed (by a blood test – the scratch tests are almost worthless) with food allergies, specifically dairy and gluten. Since changing my diet, environmental allergies have ceased to be a concern for me.

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posted June 12, 2010 at 8:56 pm

And, I should add, the dietary changes are so much easier now than they were 10 years ago – it takes some experimentation, but now there are pastas, bread, gf certified steel-cut oats, even cheese substitutes that are either indistinguishable from what they substitute, or good in their own way.

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posted June 12, 2010 at 9:04 pm

Rod, all we can do is offer anecdotal stories and advice but here’s mine. It sounds as if it is a late onset allergy. I have a friend who was allergy free until about the age of 50 and then got hit with what seem to be largely outdoor allergies controlled by over the counter meds. I have another friend who says they hit him in his 40s. They do seem to develop at different ages for various people.
Are you taking over the counter loratadine (Claritin, Alavert, drugstore generic?) Yeah, I know, we all have our differing “ya gotta try” advice. But dude, thing is, we want you to feel better.

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posted June 12, 2010 at 9:18 pm

Yeah, my doctor put me on a no fun diet for my allergies (low carbs/grains, no alcohol, no cheese). It works for me. Various drugs I tried didn’t work. But it’s a pretty extreme diet that I don’t think I will be able to really maintain.

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Siarlys Jenkins

posted June 12, 2010 at 10:12 pm

Me too — my primary allergy is to cut grass. I think I can even identify the triggering event, at age 19. For several years on the west coast, it never bothered me. When I came back east of the Mississippi, it took two years to really kick in, much to my surprise, but its gotten worse since. I have mostly been able to control it with generic Claritin, and occasional Benadryl if I don’t have to drive next day. An inhaler is useful a couple of weeks a year, then things clear up a bit. Sucking on an ice cube helps too. The grass in Philly may well tickle your immune system in ways that Texas grass doesn’t.

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posted June 12, 2010 at 11:29 pm

Rod – why won’t you go to the doctor for this?

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Rod Dreher

posted June 12, 2010 at 11:38 pm

Because I’m lazy, and don’t want to go through the hassle of finding a new doctor in a new city. I keep thinking if I give it another week it’ll go away. Stupid, I know.

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posted June 13, 2010 at 12:07 am

I’m telling you, I’m with Mark. Get to an allergist, get some allergy shots, and this won’t bother you any more. I got asthma in my 40’s – maybe built up over many moves to different areas – but after a course of allergy shots, I can enjoy the smell of cut grass without reaching for an inhaler. You could feel so much better than this!

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posted June 13, 2010 at 12:10 am

This doesn’t have anything to do with allergies, but the cut grass reminded me a Fourth of July picnic which I can vividly remember from when I was ten or eleven. There was a hill which had been freshly mowed, and I had just eaten a lot of watermelon. I rolled down it, and that,combined with the grass, the full stomach, the taste of watermelon, and the hot sun made me almost throw up before my dad sprayed the hose on me. I remember feeling delightfully intoxicated, and miserable at the same time.

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posted June 13, 2010 at 12:43 am

I’m going to be the third or fourth poster to suggest the dietary modification thing. I am reading this interesting book called “Healing the Childhood Epidemics – Autism, ADHD, Allergies and Asthma”, and the doc says the gluten free casein free diet has helped lots of people. I know this diet seems really hard! I know if I went paleo I would probably be in fantastic health, but I haven’t had the will to take the plunge!
I used to be kinda skeptical about the validity of this explosion of epidemics, but the author made a convincing article that the toxic overload we face in modern living can cause systems in our bodies to overreact to seemingly harmless materials.

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posted June 13, 2010 at 1:25 am

If you were having chest pains would you ask us for advice? Seriously – you have what is clearly a debilitating illness – yet you refuse to get relief by going to a doctor who could actually help you. How silly is that?
Man up Rod – because untreated allergies will as you get closer to 50 – result in allergy induced asthma. Think you are miserable now – let it get to the point where you need an inhaler all the time and find out the true meaning of miserable. And then there is the increased risk of heart attack that accompanies asthma.
Get to a doctor.

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posted June 13, 2010 at 7:20 am

Re: Man up Rod – because untreated allergies will as you get closer to 50 – result in allergy induced asthma. Think you are miserable now – let it get to the point where you need an inhaler all the time and find out the true meaning of miserable.
Although I am not that close to 50 (43), this has been my trajectory, combined with the fact that pulmonary woes run in my father’s family. My dad died of emphysema, and growing up, bronchitis was a yearly event for me.
My asthma came on gradually, but after I moved to Florida in 2003 it kicked into high gear. It’s generally under control, but every now and then I have the wonderful experience of waking up in teror in the middle of the night not breathing, and then coughing a lung up to try to open up my bronchii.
Cecelia is right: get to a doctor– vite, pronto, schnell, bystro!

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Bluegrass Up

posted June 13, 2010 at 8:52 am

Interesting. My one and only allergy happens to be… an allergy to newly mown grass. Ever since I was a kid. For years I’ve had to hire someone to mow my lawn. And even so, if I’m in the house while they’re out there mowing, even with doors and windows shut my eyes and nose start watering, I start sneezing, just about drives me nuts.
If you go to a doctor, you’ll be wiser about this than I am.

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posted June 13, 2010 at 8:55 am

Once again: set yourself up with an Allergist (an M.D. who specializes in allergies), who will determine the dosage of anti-grass allergen to inject you with; you will get weekly shots; and your symptoms will vanish. Let your next post on this subject be your experience in finding an allergist.

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posted June 13, 2010 at 2:58 pm

Can I just say that in my own experience — someone who is moderately to severely allergic to all grasses, tree pollens and mold (but thank goodness, no pet or food allergies) allergy shots do very little? The best two things I’ve found that work are a nasal corticosteroid and daily use of a neti pot. Those are two very easy steps to take.

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