Sunday, December 7, 2008

Guess What I'M Allergic To?

The more we eliminate things really worth being afraid of, the more trivial are the things which rise up to fill the void.

Take peanuts. Nowadays, any mommy who happens to pack along a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with Junior may very well get an indignant letter back from the elementary school control-freak principal about how "we have many children in the school who are deathly allergic to peanuts. PLEASE REFRAIN FROM SENDING THIS TOXIC LETHAL POISON TO OUR SCHOOL" - even though there has never been a recorded case of someone having a lethal allergic reaction to peanuts without...actually ingesting peanuts. (The way these hens cackle, you'd think kids were force-feeding handfuls of anthrax to their classmates...).

Here's the thing: lots of people are allergic to lots of things. If you happen to be allergic to something, you don't eat it. It's really simple. If Suzie's allergic to strawberries, she shouldn't eat Timmy's strawberries. If Timmy's allergic to seafood, he shouldn't eat Suzie's sushi. You don't insist that everyone in the entire school district never again bring sushi or strawberries or bananas or orange juice or a peanut or whatever. Besides, it is far from certain that most of the kids reputed to be allergic to whatever substance actually are - there are no bounds to the things some mommies can manage to feel worried about.

Yes, I'm saying I think it is very possible to imagine that one is - or one's children are - allergic to something. Consider lactophobia, due any day to be replaced by...heck, probably hydrophobia ("I used to think it was milk - now I know I'M ALLERGIC TO WATER!"). There are millions of people out there who have become convinced that they, or their children, are allergic to dairy products, when there is no good evidence that they are. The most "evidence" the lactophobes ever seem to have is that they once went to an allergy witch doctor (they're all over, but if you can't find one, just ask any homeopath, iridiologist, etc.; they're all lactophobes and will all tell you the same thing) who gave them his little bogus skin test, and who then who solemnly informed them that they're allergic to milk, and "that's what explains all the things wrong with you". Okay, great, lactophobes - I couldn't care less if you never drink milk again - or orange juice or soy or rice, for that matter. Let's just not pretend that your local allergy quack is a reliable source of information about lactose intolerance. And let's not pretend that the odds of you actually being lactose intolerant, especially if you're a caucasian, are not extremely low.

Lactose tolerance, by the way, is a fantastic benefit - the ability to consume large quantities of dairy products conferred such a survival benefit on to the people of northern Europe, that the ability to do so spread like wildfire through the population. There is a fascinating little section in Nicolas Wade's "Before the Dawn" on this subject, but maybe that's a subject meriting its own entry.

Where was I? OH. Yes. Here's the greatest one of all: COLOGNE.

Who would have ever thought that cologne - a splash of aftershave, for Pete's sake - would one day be identified as a vicious bio-hazard? More and more I see signs in public saying, "PLEASE DO NOT ENTER IF YOU ARE WEARING ANY PERFUME OR COLOGNE AS THESE MAY TRIGGER ALLERGIC REACTIONS". Well - all "perfume" or "cologne" is, is a type of fragrance. So let's talk about fragrance.

Almost every soap out there now has fragrance added. So why don't the signs say, "Please do not enter if you have washed any part of your body in the past week with soap"? Actually, forget bodies. What about washing the dishes? The liquid detergent and anti-static dryer sheets have fragrance added, too. And so does your laundry detergent. And toothpaste has mint flavour added to it, as do breathmints (and there must be people out there allergic to mint). So does hair gel and hair spray. And shampoo and conditioner. And deodorant and anti-perspirant. And by the way, certain types of make-up, like rouge and lipstick, give off an odour, too. But why only focus on deliberately added fragrance? What about all the foods which impart a lingering smell? Garlic, onions, curry, chile peppers, etc...and what if someone's allergic to the odour of pepperoni pizza!!! OH MY GOD!

So, I want to say to all the the hypochondriac control freaks out there posting signs about perfume and cologne, be consistent, and put a big sign that says, "Do not enter if you bathe, brush your teeth, shampoo or condition your hair, wear laundered clothing, wear make-up, use deodorant or anti-perspirant, apply any sort of hair product, or eat or drink anything". Basically, the sign should say, "ONLY HOMELESS PEOPLE ALLOWED INSIDE". Or they could have a little picture of Charles Manson by the front door, with a sign that says, "Unless you look like THIS, KEEP OUT!".

Anyway, I have come to conclude that what I am most allergic to is the capricious, hypochondriac, narcissistic paranoia of the allergophobes.

Okay, next time I'll try to post more of a pleasant one :P.


heather said...

Unfortunately, this is just the tip of the iceburg, it's like a hysteria or something.

Scott S. said...

There's a Phil Hendrie episode I'll have to find for you. He had Dean Wheeler on who's basically allergic to everything and wants people to shave their dogs or he's going to sue. He actually reminded me of that guy on Salt Spring.

Tal said...

Hey - did you guys like that picture of Charles Manson? I just started cracking up when I found that one.

June said...

I LOVE perfume and feel naked without it and am sick of people saying...just within my I have drenched myself in perfume and how I "Stink of Perfume"...especially as I only wear expensive perfumes.
I'm sick of being told I must tell any group I cook for if there is the slightest trace of peanuts or shrimp or whatever.

I understand that some people are really allergic to things in a serious way but I find that the majority are whiney over dramatic idiots. So, I agree with you, big time.

~Jen~ said...

oh the peanut thing was SO irritating when my daughter was in elementary school...

the chuck manson pic made me guffaw....haaa!

bryn said...

oh, don't even get me started!
I'm a counselor, I specialize in eating disorders and I swear every single one of my patients have been to a "naturopath" who has told them that they are "allergic" to wheat and dairy and everything else that are staples to the normal diet... this gave them the excuse: "but I'm ALLERGIC!". Well, I'm allergic to bullshit, so there.
and the perfume thing- I have also done some crisis outreach and at the hospital where I spent some time working there were signs all over the place to not wear perfume or "scented products". But apparently smelling like cigarettes and b.o. was totally okay.
Go figure.

Tal said...

Yeah Bryn - what about all the hospital administrators (like school teachers) reeking of stale coffee? You can smell these guys ten feet away after their third cup o' Joe in the lounge. Then they wander out and tell people to not dare to put on perfume! It's like everyone's gone totally nuts!


So ludicrous...!

Gretel Shuvzwichinstov said...

We're facing this issue at my kids' school. The school has a cat that wanders around, visiting classrooms, walking outside, pooping on the edge of the field, visiting the neighboring mortuary, etc...

At the beginning of the school year, everyone is asked if they are allergic to cats. If a person is, they keep the cat out of that room. No big problem, right? Wrong. Some parent put up a huge fuss this year that their precious little one is so allergic that any exposure is too dangerous, so the cat has been removed from the school, pending legal action.

It's ridiculous! Cat dander sticks to kids who have them at home - are any families with cats supposed to give away, or euthanize, their beloved pet and decontaminate all school clothing, for fear it might kill this child? If this child is really that allergic to cats, what is he/she doing in a public school? Heck, what is he/she doing outside of the house?

On the peanut allergy, my ex-stepmother is so allergic to peanuts that even touching one causes a severe skin reaction, but she still managed to live through school during a time when peanuts weren't banned.

heather said...

Ahh, Charles Manson. Just in time for the holidays. That really is such a great picture.

Pali Mama said...

We had a small foster son who I suspected was allergic to milk. Every time he drank milk he had diarrhea. We eventually had him tested but it was not a skin test it was a blood test. Turns out he is allergic to the protein in milk not the lactose. The doc commended me for making a good call. Totally made cooking for him tiff cause there is milk in everything. Just saying sometimes they are allergic!

Tal said...

Pali Mama

Which milk protein was he allergic to?

Su said...

My daughter has a friend who spent the first 18 months of her life in a Chinese orphanage. The workers there were convinced that she was allergic to everything and only fed her water and rice. As a result, her sensitivities to food became even more pronounced. However, her parents have worked steadily to build up her tolerance to foods. They're also under the belief that should any of her allergies carry over into adulthood, then she'll just have to learn to deal with it in a rational way. When the school offered to ban everything she's allergic to, her parents requested that they DO NOT. Afterall, how is she supposed to learn how to manage it? Not all people are irrational fools. I think much of the time, the hysteria is fuelled by the fear of litigation.

rachael said...

Just speaking as a Mom who has watched a few 'overcareful, super duper, wonder-Mothers', raise children who seem to always be sick; I think its possible that 'hyper sensitive' parents who put thier children in a bubble, do their children a great disservice, by not allowing the child's body the opportunity to develop its own natural defences.

It seems to me that the more you shelter someone from the life that surrounds them, the weaker they become.

I understand that there are true exceptions, kids who may have reactions that could potentially be life threatening, and for those parents its not a joke, I don't pretend to know what they go through.

But I tend to think that many, or at least some people, overreact to the slightest symptom needlessly.

I have seen pet allery symptoms subside dramatically with regular exposure to pets, perhaps some symptoms are simply the body learning to defend itself, with normal exposure to life. (?)

bryn said...

I think that we are creating a generation of kids who don't have the skills to be able to function in the world at a reasonable level. When did we all become so scared? why don't we just wrap the kids in bubble wrap.. oh yeah, plastic might do... something, like cause cancer, or who knows what, right? we keep kids from learning how to cope. By "protecting" them we are harming them. How can one ever learn how to pick themselves up if they are never allowed to fall?
Kids get sick, they just do- and most of the time it's okay. These days every little sniffle becomes a catastrophe. Our hyper-vigilance is misdirected. We try to keep kids safe by keeping them in, close to us, and this is causing them the most harm. They don't know how to play, they don't know how to lose, they're scared of allergies, or people, or life. It's turning into a generation of overweight, video game playing, socially inept, neurotic little people. It's not normal, it's not ok. Where is the balance? it's all about balance. Oh, yeah and sanity.
Common sense is indeed not so common..

June said...

Just watching The Doctors and their guest is country singer Trace Adkins and his wife. Their daughter is violently allergic to several foods and they are showing what they must do to protect her. Very interesting.It is a life and death problem for her.

lily said...

I miss those days when I was not allergic to anything, peanuts or perfume or anything. Allergy was irrelevant to me until several years ago, but it is the biggest nuisance that I have to put up now. I have had all kinds of allergy tests; the results vary but overlap a lot. No more peanuts or perfume for me, or I get very sick. Tried many times and hoped I have "grown out of it", but I have not and may never will. Guess what I wish for Christmas?

Pali Mama said...

Tal, Sorry for being slow to reply. We had a lot to do to get the farm ready before the snow storms hit here in the Northwest. We have been trying to dig ourselves out since.

The protein he is allergic to is called casein. The symptoms of an allergy to casein are typically digestive in nature. But with some people it can be severe enough to be life threatening. Poor guy was so thin and small, actually another symptom, when he came to us. It didn't take us long to figure it out and now he is doing much better gaining weight and growing fast.

Colby said...

I know that it may seem strange to you that some people are sensitive (vs. allergic) to fragranced products, but it isn't delusional. Ihis issue is significant because one cannot possibly avoid exposure unless other people make an effort to minimize unnecessary use of scented products. It is like someone spreading peanut butter on every desks and doorknob in school with allergic children. And really, are scented products required in everyday life?
I do speak out of personal experience (that's my bias :D), as both my mother and I experience negative reactions (nausea, headache and running nose) to almost all perfumes, body sprays, "air fresheners" etc. I often like how they smell, but the other effects aren't worth it for me. (even some essential oils are an issue for me- particularly patchouli oil and lavender)

this link gives more info

ps. last year my professor at UVic asked the roughly 200 students in my organic chemistry class to refrain from wearing scents to his class to assure his good health.

Colby said...

Thought I would also mention that a wide variety of unscented products are readily available... in almost all supermarkets and grocery stores. They sit on the shelves right beside the scented ones. Really.
(from soap to shampoo, deodorant, dish soap, laundry detergent, hair gel, dryer sheets, hair spray, and almost everything else)
It really comes down to just choosing products for the efficacy of the intended use rather than their scent/ability to add scent.

My close friend has a severe peanut allergy so my family chose to avoid using peanuts and peanut oil at all so that we could safely invite her over for quartet practices.

Yes, it was inconvenient, but who wants to see a friend die? For all those that complain about peanut bans in schools, can you say that children always wash their hands after eating their lunch/snack enough to prevent contaminating communal surfaces? The schools just ask everyone to take on the responsibility to minimize a significant health risk.

(I know that it's a blog and I shouldn't take it all too seriously)

ps. I'm not sensitive to mint