My family and I were eating fruit salad after dinner about two years ago when I felt my lips beginning to burn and swell. I couldn’t focus on eating or even think straight. I excused myself and went to the bathroom. When I looked in the mirror my lips were red, bumpy and swollen. I rinsed them with water and the swelling went down and the burning faded away.
“It’s just a rash,” my mom said. I wanted to believe her but I wasn’t so sure. Wondering why I’d had such a strange reaction, I tried each fruit slowly—the grapes, the apples, but nothing happened until I got to the cantaloupe. The second it touched my lips they began to swell again. I realized that I was allergic to cantaloupe, one of my favorite fruits.
Before, I felt bad for my friends with food allergies, but I didn’t know how hard it might have been for them. After I discovered my own allergies, I understood how they felt. Being allergic to something isn’t fun, no matter how mild it may be.
The list of foods I couldn’t eat kept growing
For the next few weeks I avoided cantaloupe, but other foods began causing symptoms. Bananas made my mouth tingle and itch. Raw carrots made my tongue swell. Cucumbers made my lips red and puffy. At home we use real tomatoes in our pizza sauce and once I had a reaction in the middle of dinner, which was horrible because pizza is one of my absolute favorite foods. I also love Starbucks parfaits (yogurt mixed with fruit and granola), and whenever we’d go, I’d get one. But once, after three bites, I started getting that tingling feeling. I thought, “Oh great, I’m having a reaction,” and I had to throw it away.
These reactions were irritating and itchy—kind of like mosquito bites—and lasted for about a minute. My friends and family knew me to be a picky eater who never wanted to eat vegetables, but as soon as my allergies prevented me from being able to, they were all I wanted to eat. It became frustrating to keep track of what I was allergic to. Before I took a bite of anything, I had to remember whether it had caused a reaction before. Pears were OK, oranges weren’t.
I wanted to know what I had and just how bad allergies could be. I researched allergies online and I checked out library books. I was surprised to discover that people can be allergic to just about anything, even water! I read that each person reacts differently, so people with less severe allergies might not even notice they have them because their symptoms aren’t obvious. I also learned that getting allergies is pretty common as you get older.
Finally, about two months after my first reaction and weeks of complaining, my dad set up an appointment with an allergist to get me tested. At my first appointment about a week later, I was scared. I assumed I would be getting the same allergy test my brother had had two months before. He told me it really hurt and I had a vague idea that there were lots of needles. After he took the test he started getting shots for treatment. I hate shots. But my doctor reassured me that it wouldn’t hurt at all. She said the test would consist of pricking my skin with tiny needles to see whether I reacted badly to any of them.
The test was horrible. My gown was open at the back and the nurse drew a huge grid of squares on my back with a pen. Each square was pricked with tiny samples of weeds and pollens that people are commonly allergic to; how much I swelled up determined how allergic I was. The test was to see what medicine would help me, because there’s a shot to reduce reactions to almost everything. Unfortunately, I was allergic to almost everything. My back felt like it was on fire and I couldn’t stop wriggling. The test took about half an hour, but it felt like an eternity.
It turns out that besides being allergic to almost every tree and grass you can think of, the doctor told me that I also have OAS (Oral Allergy Syndrome), which is a type of food allergy that is a response to eating certain fresh foods. I’m most allergic to certain fruits (bananas and cantaloupes) and vegetables (carrots and cucumbers).
The allergy shots were scary
I went to the doctor to get allergy shots every week to keep my reactions down. And there wasn’t just one shot either, there were three—two in one arm and one in the other! I hate needles, so the whole experience was awful for the first few months. I would go every Tuesday right after school. The needle was 4 inches long. But I tried to think about how it was worth it to know that with the shots, I could eat whatever I wanted.
A few weeks after my first shot my family was eating at an Italian restaurant and about two bites into my pepperoni pizza, I panicked. “Wait, am I eating something that’s going to make me break out in a reaction?” Then I remembered that it didn’t matter because of the shots. It felt great! I ate every bite like I’d never tasted pizza before.
Because my body is reacting so well to the shots, I’ve been able to go from getting them every week to every three weeks. I don’t know if it’s something that I’ll have to do for the rest of my life, but if it is, I’m willing to do it. So I don’t have to give up salads, Italian dishes with tomatoes and all the other foods that I love, I’ll take my shots any day! I’m lucky my allergies aren’t worse, and I’m thankful for that.