Sunday, June 19, 2011

Traditional vs. Alternative Approach to Hives

A "textbook impressive" case of hives.
(Photo © Maria Wakem)

Yes, that’s a picture of my arm. And yes, the rest of my body looked just as bad. When I arrived at the ER last Friday, I was hooked up to a steroid IV while a group of doctors and nurses called my case “textbook impressive.” That’s not something you really want to hear from your doctor. Thankfully, the inflammation has subsided since the picture was taken. But it’s my search for a cause (as well as a cure) for the continuous itching that has inspired this Allergy Diary series of blog posts.

A couple of things before I begin: I’m a pretty healthy human being. I’ve only been to the ER once before. (I was 2 years old and needed a few stitches.) I’m not violently allergic to any particular food. I didn’t eat anything new or different that day that could have triggered the hives. And none of the doctors who have examined me so far have been able to figure out what set off such a severe reaction.

When I was released from the hospital, I immediately made an appointment with an allergy specialist. I prepared a list of everything I ate that particular day, along with a list of everything I eat on a daily basis. I also typed up a sheet of “potential triggers” that included everything from recent changes in my life (i.e. a new office) to the ingredients of the eco-friendly cleaning agents used to clean my sofa and carpet a few days before the hives broke out.

My allergist spent 5 minutes looking over the info I brought with me. He teased me about my attempt at self-diagnosis, commented on how I eat a serious amount of vegetables, and said that the likelihood of him actually being able to pinpoint what triggered the hives was “not very high.” (Again, not something you want to hear from your doctor.) He then showed me some gory pictures of skin conditions on the internet, sent me to the lab for an allergy test, and wrote me a prescription for Zantac. Don’t get me wrong, I have a lot of respect for medical professionals. I come from a family of them. But 9 times out of 10 I leave a doctor’s office feeling like a product on an assembly line. This was one of those times. So I turned to a different set of health experts for some answers.

Unlike my doctor, both my nutritionist (Sid) and acupuncturist (Robert) spent more than 20 minutes each talking to me about my diet, exercise habits, stress levels, menstrual cycles, bowel movements, sleep patterns, and even the current state of my tongue. According to Sid, the problem wasn’t the allergy trigger, it was the fact that my body was ill-prepared to handle that trigger. In order to boost my immune system and my body’s ability to process food, he now has me on a daily regimen of shakes made with superfoods like goji berries and natural adaptogens like maitake and reishi mushroom blends.

Robert, who seemed pleased to see all the good stuff on my nutritionist’s list, diagnosed me with “spleen qi deficiency” and prescribed weekly acupuncture sessions along with sweat-inducing activities like sitting in a sauna and practicing yoga. While I can already hear my father-in-law—a Western-trained doctor—grumbling in his New Zealand accent that my alternative health efforts are “rubbish,” I can honestly say that I had my first good night’s sleep after my first acupuncture session. And at least Sid and Robert have said they can help me. When it comes to my well-being, that is something I want to hear.