Allergies, Adulthood and Honesty
Here is another great post from Tristan – not my son, but Atopic Girl. I’m just so fascinated by her and her stories looking back on her childhood eczema. This piece is a little bit touchy for me as it goes up against my beliefs in natural treatments and therapies. I know they don’t always work for everyone, but I’m a firm believer in trying (as it sounds like Tristan’s parents were), as long as they are safe and would not cause any harm to my children. I do want to try to bring you unbiased posts from different perspectives as I believe that’s most fair and I know that not everyone shares the same beliefs as me.
So, with that little disclaimer, here is Tristan’s next post.
My Bio: I developed eczema within a few days after my birth and from the ages of nine to 17, I began to develop other atopic conditions, environmental, animal and food allergies, including eggs, dairy, shellfish and some nuts. Now, in my 30s, I have a good handle on everything, but I’m always trying to see how I can make things better by living a healthier lifestyle.
My background includes public relations and health care communications. So, I use my skills to share my atopic and allergic experiences on my blog – Atopic Girl’s Guide to Living, with the goal of helping allergic and atopic teens and adults, since growing up and dealing with allergies and atopy is a lesson in itself. I also microblog on Twitter at twitter.com/AtopicGirl. When you have allergies and atopy, it’s not just about figuring out what to eat. It’s about finding out how to live well!
As a child and teen with eczema, multiple food, animal and environmental allergies, asthma, and allergic rhinitis, I suffered – literally and figuratively through a lot of doctors’ visits and alternative therapies. Growing up, my treatments were always either traditional – “Western” – or alternative. For the most part, I have had some amazing “Western” doctors who have been honest, open and dedicated. My current immunologist is the same one I had when I was nine and I have such a great relationship with him that I actually look forward to our appointments. Until a few years ago, my dermatologist was also the same one I had as a child and we had the same kind of relationship. Appointments were never rushed. They always inquired about my studies, work or the book I was reading. When I saw them, I was often at my worst, but they never made me feel abnormal. One of the reasons I admire and respect those specialists is because I’ve had a couple of experiences on the opposite side. I have met some rude, curt, disinterested doctors who weren’t willing to go the extra centimetre for me let alone the extra kilometre. As a child and now as an adult, I think it’s vital that a patient inherently trusts and respects their doctors. If they can’t, it’s best to find another one, as difficult as that can be.
All of that said, there is one thing I wish they hadn’t done. I wish they hadn’t told me that I would likely outgrow my allergies and eczema by a certain age – six, ten, thirteen and finally sixteen. While this is certainly the case for many children, it wasn’t for me and every time I reached that stated birthday, I hoped that my allergies and eczema would magically disappear. This is one of the reasons it took me years to come to terms with my conditions and every birthday that passed was a little bit devastating.
The other reason has to do with all the alternative therapies I went through. I probably saw more alternative practitioners than doctors. My parents were always looking for a cure and while it was hard on them, it was devastating for me to continually go to a new practitioner and be told that there was hope for a cure only to never come close to one. I have been to homeopaths, acupuncturists, Chinese medicine practitioners, ayurvedic practitioners and even a chiropractor who thought he could relieve some of my symptoms. My parents chose the best practitioners they could find – some of them respected and visible leaders in their professions. I never experienced a single benefit or measure of improvement.
Additionally, even at a young age I was horrified with some of the advice provided. After conducting the muscle strength test – common in homeopathy – in which you hold a vial of an allergen in one hand while the practitioner pushes down on your other arm, more than one homeopathic practitioner told me I could safely eat a certain amount of eggs a week. It was horrifying, because I had and still have a potentially lethal anaphylactic reaction to the smallest trace of eggs. Now that I’ve reviewed some of the peer-reviewed, scientific literature regarding homeopathy, it is not something I would try. Acupuncture and Chinese medicine became too painful, expensive and none of the claims of relief or cure ever came to pass.
To be clear, I do not discount the importance of supplements or even the use of natural products. I developed a severe allergy to petrochemicals (petroleum, petrolatum, mineral oil) after 20 years of using them and though I understand the logic of sensitization, I disagree with the complete medical opposition to the use of botanicals in skin treatment. I maintain my skin quite well mainly with botanical products. I also believe there may be a place for some alternative therapies in some situations, such as acupuncture for pain management or topical ayurvedic treatments for skin conditions.
However, should I ever have a child with my conditions, and the chances are very good that I will, I would never take them on the emotional and physical roller coaster ride of alternative treatments. In the end, you lose money and, even worse, hope. To be honest, I never wanted to do any of it. I lost hope in the treatments early on and always felt like I was doing it more for my parents’ benefit than mine. I was never too surprised when yet another treatment failed to make any sort of difference.
Now that I’ve come to terms with my conditions, it isn’t always smooth sailing. I have good days and bad days, days when I curse my skin and days when I look in the mirror and take pride in the way I look. Basically, I found a system that works for me. If doctors give me advice that I know from experience doesn’t work for me, I tell them. If they can’t or won’t offer me other solutions, I leave. When it comes to my conditions and everything in life, I am a very pragmatic and realistic person, probably as a result of my experiences.
The big secret to living with all of this is to find what works for your child and to always keep in mind that allergies and atopy are so deeply tied to your child’s mental health as well as physical. It is so important to remember that there are no cures right now and what works for other people will sadly often not work for everyone; so, there has to be a level of honesty and realism when dealing with your child. No one wants to take away hope from a child, but giving them false hope is worse.