Sunday, April 5, 2009

You say tomato, I... turn red?

I realize I haven't been a very "talkative" blogger lately. I've been a little preoccupied.

To make a long story (slightly) shorter, I've had not just one... or two... or even three... but FOUR (count 'em) food reactions/hot flashes/anxiety attacks/whatever they are in the past week (9 or 10 in total since last June)(as last described here).

Each of these incidents begins with a small reddish spot, usually on my right chin, and then spreads in a red flush down my neck, under my jaw & up the to the left side of my neck, up my face & down my chest. Sometimes (but not always) I will feel warm, my heart will begin beating faster & /or my throat may feel slightly scratchy. I usually take one or two Benadryls at the first sign of redness, which totally throw me for a loop, leaving me dry-mouthed & woozy. The redness generally passes & I start feeling better anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes after it started.

The first incident was a week ago Saturday night (after eating a grilled chicken salad -- which included tomatos -- which I tested positive for in scratch tests at the allergist's office last summer)(never mind that I'm married to an Italian...!). The second was on Sunday night after eating a pasta casserole at home that we've had many times before (with tomato sauce, and on the spicy side, which I don't tolerate well at the best of times).

Incident #3 was mid-lunch on Tuesday, which was turkey on a whole wheat baguette with potato chips (there was a tomato slice in there). This sent me first to the walk-in clinic near my office & later to the emergency room to be checked out (since my throat still did not feel quite normal, several hours later), where I was pronounced fine. I was left with a raw throat, however, & raw nerves to boot. I was afraid of every mouthful I took, & began obsessively checking the mirror after every meal.

I vowed to totally avoid anything tomato-related, at least for the foreseeable future. Earlier in the week, I made a followup appointment with my allergist for April 17th (the first available date). I played telephone tag with her on Wednesday & Thursday to ask her some questions & try to move the appointment up, without success. (I did eventually find out that she is away all next week, so the 17th it remains.)

And so we arrived at Friday. I was on course that day, at a location near my office, with a dozen other people from my department. I vowed to be extra careful, because I did NOT want anything to happen in front of all my colleagues.

My day started off most auspiciously: I woke up to hear Chad Kroeger from Nickelback on my clock radio, bellowing "If today was your last day..." (!!) I could barely choke down my breakfast oatmeal (& in fact ended up putting some of it down the sink). I picked up a grande tea latte at Starbucks on my way into class, & then had another tea with a rice krispie square at break around 11 -- I asked for a medium & they gave me a jumbo -- so I had more than my usual dosage of caffeine, on a relatively empty stomach.

All I had for lunch was a plain bagel with plain cream cheese. I sat at a table with some of my other co-workers while we all ate. Even after eating my bagel, I was so hungry -- & everything they were having looked so good! :( I was so aware of everything I was putting in my mouth, & of the wonderful ripe red tomatos in the Greek salads a few of them were eating.

I got back to my table as the class was resuming around 1 & checked my pocket mirror -- & sure enough, there was a red spot appearing on my chin. I checked again a few minutes later & it was spreading so I took a Benadryl & tried to stay calm. I finally had to ask the girl beside me "Am I red?" & she said, "Kinda -- are you OK?" I grabbed my purse & she grabbed her cellphone, & we went out & sat on two chairs in the hall near the washroom.

Then my boss came out, & another girl from my table (who eventually returned to the class, after bringing me my water bottle). We just sat out in the hall & talked while I tried to calm down. They kept asking me how I was feeling & how was my breathing, & told me I wasn't so red anymore. I eventually decided to call dh to come & get me (& they stayed with me until he did, & went back into the classroom to get my coat & other things). I figured that even if/when this passed, I wouldn't be able to focus on the rest of the class, & I didn't want to disrupt things any more than I already had. (It was a good class, too!) :(

Once dh arrived, we decided to go to the walk in clinic (where I'd been earlier in theweek) & get checked out. The redness was gone, my throat was good -- but my heart was still pounding & I was feeling very warm all over. The nurse came in to take my blood pressure -- & I burst into tears & said, "This isn't going to be very good!" She said, "I'll come back in a minute then," & left, & I collapsed into dh's arms & just bawled & bawled. I haven't cried like that in a long, long time. I guess I was overdue.

The (young, female) dr checked me out -- throat clear, breathing fine, heart beating normally (albeit a little faster than usual). Bp high, of course, but not surprisingly, given that I was upset & on antihistamines. She recommended I carry an epi-pen, if only for peace of mind, & said she'd be glad to give me a prescription for one, so we took her up on it & went straight to the pharmacy.

Caught the next available train & finally got home around 4. I bawled some more, left my clothes lying in a heap, crawled into bed & slept for three hours.

When I woke up (around 7) I was RAVENOUS -- & I felt better than I had for DAYS. Had some leftover pasta with broccoli, olive oil & garlic (which I had eaten earlier in the week without incident). Yesterday, I cleaned the bathroom, but that was about it. Had oatmeal for breakfast as usual (which tasted SO good, as opposed to Friday...!), & have had no further incidents to date. We've decided we will try to eat as carefully as we can over the next few weeks, totally avoiding tomatos (even tomato dishes that haven't been a problem for me in the past) & any other foods that seem to have been a problem, just to let my digestive/immune system (not to mention my nerves) settle down. I'm not sure whether that's a sound medical theory, but I think it's certainly true psychologically. ; )

Dh is convinced that stress is playing a huge role in this, & while I don't want to discount the realities of food allergies, I have to agree. When I first saw him, I said, "I was so afraid something like this would happen today," & he thought,"Bingo!!" He pointed out that I often get very red, in much a similar way, during our support group meetings.

I also keep thinking about the anxiety attacks I had 7-8 years ago. I haven't had one in years -- & they weren't exactly the same -- but the way I was feeling at the clinic, just prior to the big sobfest, brought back more than a few memories. Crying that way felt very cathartic, & as I noted, I felt so, so much better after I'd had that cry & a few hours sleep.

Dh thinks I carry around way too much stress. I like to think I work some of it out by venting here on my blog & on a few of the message boards I post on, etc. -- but I guess there's still too much. I'm thinking I may try to go back & talk to one of the counsellors I've seen before. I also want to try to start doing some yoga again (I have some tapes/DVDs here at home), & hopefully the weather will soon be nice enough to allow us to start walking again regularly after dinner.

In between reactions, I had lunch with an old friend on Thursday (I had the salmon, without incident). She's a couple of years older than me. I told her what had been happening. She's never had any problems with allergies & the like, but noted that she's started having problems with asthma just in the last three years or so. She said, "I hate to say it, Lori, but I really think these midlife hormones do all kinds of crazy things to us...!" & I said "I totally agree!" I am seeing my ob-gyn later this month... we'll see what he has to say!

I am also right at/just past midcycle -- which is when several of the other reactions I've had in the past have occurred (others have happened right around AF time, which is why I wonder how much aging midlife hormones are playing in this...). And is it only a coincidence that many of my anxiety attacks in the past, & this escalation in food-related incidents, have happened in the springtime -- a time when, 11 years ago, I was riding the pregnancy rollercoaster? Hmmm...

Tomorrow is my Weight Watchers at Work meeting. If I haven't lost weight this week, after everything that's happened & the restricted diet I've been on (I haven't touched a cookie or chocolate in days)... I give up!!


  1. Hmm. I agree ... it sounds allergic, but also with an anxiety component. Hormones surely are mixed in too! I am so glad the doc wrote for an epi pen (just in case!) and that you're aware of your stress level playing into these incidences. I hope you're able to get to the bottom of it so you can rest assured that your "anti-red" plan will work :-)

  2. Wow, that sounds really stressful in itself, let alone the other stresses you have to deal with!

    And tomatoes can be so yummy, too...

  3. so scary!

    It does sound like they come in groups. I would recommend keeping a journal/log and write down everything you eat, along with your cycle, stress, if you used strange soap etc.

    Also, you could consider going on a hypoallergenic diet for a bit (like a month - or whole time cycle to cycle). This would mean eating rice, raw foods. Avoid wheat, eggs, dairy etc. (ya know, everything that's yummy).

    Also also (food allergy queen here) you could look into going to a gastroenterologist. My mom is celiac, and she THOUGHT she was allergic to tomatos cause she reacted every time she ate tomatos - on sandwiches, with pasta, etc.

    good luck! and breathe!!

  4. Goodness. I hope you get some answers soon and figure out how to semi-control this. Sounds like you don't need the extra stress.

  5. Sounds like allergy to me - fueled by stress and anxiety as well. (Caffeine will heighten anxiety - if you had a lot on an empty stomach, I am not surprised it went over the top and took your bp with it!)

    I'm sorry it sounds like a miserable week.

    Getting older sucks. Stupid hormones. Never worked right in the past and now they are bound and determined to do us all in . . .

    Even if you never have to use the epi-pen, it's nice peace of mind.

    Hoping you stay paler than pale this week!

  6. Loribeth, I hope you feel much much better soon and get some helpful guidance. It's amazing how intertwined the mind and body can get, and how stress and emotion can trigger very real, very upsetting physical responses. Having the epi pen, and some yoga, and some other tools at your disposal will make things easier.

  7. Goodness! What a rotten few days.

    It is amazing how stress can exacerbate things. It is also amazing how I seem to carry the stress for the whole family and Hubby keeps telling me I shouldn't stress so much. Why is it so much easier for me?

    I hope you find some answers . . .

  8. Lots of good guidance here, for sure. I think our bodies go through another shift around this age - and a multi pronged approach to deal with at all is a fantastic idea. I too have developed sensitivies to foods that I never had before and stress sends my gut into a frenzy. Even not knowing what to eat can make you crazy, it really throws you off. If you do end up on a elimination diet, please eliminate or decrease one thing at a time or you might become too anxious.

  9. Oh, Loribeth! Scary! Sounds like you have a good plan to try to avoid further attacks, but I know from my own experience how terrifying it can be to have unexplained health troubles. I hope life without tomatoes brings you relief from the allergic reactions - as hard as it is, and I know, although I'm not married to an Italian!

    I'm thinking calm, soothing, non-red thoughts in your direction!

  10. I wish you all the best with getting to the bottom of those weird spots and the like. Allergies suck!

    I must admit I am hoping against hope that mid-life/menopause hormone changes cure me of asthma/allergies I've had since I first started cycling. Got my eye on a cat as a pet one day...DH would love one but the past few years and now still, they'd sent to the ER followed by the morgue if we had one (or a hairy dog) in the house.

    Argh. this biology/biochemistry thing is just too damned unfair!

  11. Hmmm, well, I still think it's menopausal hot flashes, which can indeed be made worse by stress, anxiety and even food, but aren't caused by that. In fact, the wonky hormones cause the stress and anxiety.

    While you are waiting to see what's what, our allergist has my son take
    Claritin everyday. Apparently, unlike benedryl, if you encounter something that will make you have an allergic reaction normally, claritin stops the histamine reaction. Name brand only, and no, not reactine. Benadryl works after you are getting hives and itchy, and FWIW, if you are having hives, you don't really get that tired from it.

    Anyway, might be worth trying the Claritin in the meantime, and hey, even testing it out by eating a tomato outside a walk-in clinic. Just remember not to take any claritin or benadryl 72 hours prior to a scratch test or the results will be inaccurate.

    And if it's not allergies, and you need some hormones to stop feeling so awful, I always vote yes, as you know. I was serious before. I know a lot of women who have had work problems and all sorts of crap as a result going off the hormones.

    Anyway, take care, and I really hope that you get some answers!

  12. just dropping in to say - as a person who lives in allergy world - don't be afraid of the epi-pen. It will not harm you. If you use it, and it turns out you didn't need to, no harm will be done. (it's adrenaline, so you may get giggly and hyper, but that will pass). If you have any concerns, don't hesitate to use it.

    I'm not a doctor and it seems to me that there could be several causes - it may not be allergies at all - but I'm glad you have the epi for peace of mind.

    I hope you get it figuredout soon and it stops stressing you out!


  13. Scary! I'm glad you have an epi-pen. What a bummer that it seems to be a tomato allergy... that is a challenge.