When I was in 8th and 9th grade, whenever my parents wanted to buy my grandmother something to wear, I had to try it on. That was the age I stopped growing taller, and she and I were the same height. She was a slight women and I was a gangly teen. Thin is not the norm of my family, but as far back as I can remember, grandma was the exception due to allergies. When she was going to visit, finding foods she could actually eat was a trial. Wheat – no. Most fruits – no. Item after item could send her to the hospital, and as a child no one would explain to me what was wrong. She died of cancer when I was in 9th grade, when she was not yet 60 and I was 14.
Looking back from the perspective of adulthood, I see now that my grandmother had celiac disease that was complicated by a Latex allergy and Latex Fruit Syndrome. I had figured out the celiac disease years ago, but it took developing my own latex allergy in 2017 to understand that this slight women really just couldn’t find anything she could eat because she had latex fruit syndrome.
This blog post is the first in what will be a periodic series on my journey in figuring out how to live with a Latex Allergy and includes Latex Fruit Syndrome.
Allergies suck, and we live in a society where allergies cause many to roll their eyes and say “those aren’t real.” Others think that if something is wrong, it probably isn’t that bad, and you’re just being dramatic. It can be exhausting, and I’m writing this as I realize that for the rest of my life, I’m going to be that pain in the ass person who has to say, “Here is a sheet of paper listing all the ingredients I absolutely cannot eat.”
I am not slight like grandma anymore. I’m used to eating almost everything. This is all still new to me. Sure, I have a diary allergy, but it didn’t used to be that bad, and stress munching food is part of my identity.
Or at least it was.
Now … now I’m a bit afraid of food. I’m tired of itching.
From developing a basic latex allergy in 2017, when I started reacting to a respirator I had for painting, I have gone on to reacting to elastic in socks and underwear, to getting rashes from the iron-on designs on many of my T-shirts, and to developing Latex Fruit Syndrome. This last thing means my body reacts to a latex-like protein that is in many fruits. A single banana will make me swell like Violet Beauregarde. Apples lead to eczema. When I was in Hawaii, the avocados and papayas that are everywhere, did me in. I now keep open the Allergy and Asthma Network page on Latex Fruit Syndrome and use it to screen ingredient lists as I shop on Instacart.
Allergies are one of those things that can cumulatively get worse the more you are exposed to what you are allergic too. When your body is stressed, your allergies also get worse. When you are exposed to one thing you’re allergic too, you will react much worse to everything else you’re allergic to. Certain foods, like strawberries, contain molecules that exacerbate allergies. It seems that everything just makes reactions worse and worse and worse, until one day, if you are me, you wake up and realize your allergies are out of control.
I can no longer tolerate all my allergy-related issues, and I must make a change. I’m actually kind of glad that if this had to happen, it happened during plague times, when I can stay home and be super careful with what I eat while I learn what I can and can’t tolerate.
This week, I’m going to reach out to a nutritionist because I don’t know how to eat healthy, and I am not succeeding in eliminating everything I’m now allergic to from my diet. I’m tired of hives. I am tired of runny eyes and swollen everything. I’m ready to make the hard changes. I’m really not ready to lose so many foods. I just know I have to.
For the coming weeks (maybe longer?) I’m going to be grouchy as I try and get used to this new normal. No longer can I have an apple a day – no longer can I have apples at all. So many things have to change. My inner child is screaming “I don’t wanna!”, but these allergic reactions are too much of a distraction. There is just too much else going on that I want to be my focus. I just have to acknowledge, I can’t focus on anything I want to focus on when I want to claw my skin off or just go to sleep because my head is clogged. This will pass. I will get through. I’m just pretty sure that changing my diet is going to be hell.
But grandma did it. And I can do it too.