As a boy growing up, I often sneezed for no reason and sometimes had a problem with my breathing. In college, to take advantage of a free screening program, I subjected myself to twenty patch tests. It turned out that I was allergic to house dust, phosphates, mold spores, mildew and of all things, my own bacteria.
I found out about phosphates the hard way. I read somewhere that bat guano made good fertilizer. If followed that the 20,000 bats that lived in our attic must produce plenty of fertilizer for my garden (four tomato plants). After ten minutes I collected about five pounds of “fertilizer” and two minutes later my throat closed up completely, cutting off my supply of air. I started for the stairs but fell as I entered the second step. Thankfully, my mother heard the bumping noise and came running. She breathed into my mouth and pumped my chest until I could breathe again. I later found out that the benefit of bat guano as fertilizer is from its phosphate content.
Just as serious was a bout of poison ivy. In the woods around our house grew poison ivy vines with trunks as big as my arm and extending thirty feet into the air. These mature plants produced small red berries in July. My brother and I used them as ammunition for our blow pipes, peppering the birds and cats and whatever else we could hit. The next day, my brother turned a brilliant red and itched all over. I had the same symptoms, but because I was allergic to poison ivy, my body broke out in the well-known vesicles. Every inch of my body was affected except my scalp and eyeballs. It took two months in bed sipping drinks through a straw and staring at the ceiling. At my weakest moment I contracted a case of pleurisy pneumonia. A new drug called penicillin saved
my life. At the end of the two months, my body gradually lost its swollen look and new, pink skin appeared. None of our guests recognized me when I appeared for the first time downstairs.
Ten years later, an Army sergeant told me to climb into the rafters of the radio building and vacuum the dust on the beams. My warnings of the danger to my health only convinced him that I didn’t like the job. Fifteen minutes later, he had to take me to the hospital.
A small, but sudden temperature drop at about sixty-five degrees triggers a catalyst in my blood causing me to sneeze. Usually I try to avoid going outside at dusk because that is when mold spores are released from the damp earth. But one time the mold and mildew spores almost killed me. A
few years ago my breathing ability started to decline. Over-the-counter medication alleviated the symptoms somewhat, but after a month of suffering, I admitted that I needed professional help. A short walk of only ten feet had me gasping for breath! A shocked allergist tried to admit me into the hospital but I wouldn’t go. She finally agreed to treat me at home and in her office on a strict regimen of steroids and rest. I required three weeks of treatments on a breathing machine before I could breathe normally. The cause turned out to be a water problem in the cellar where I worked. Continual dampness under the carpeting grew a huge colony of mold and mildew. The owners ripped out the carpet but I didn’t stay long enough to see it done.
Knowing the root of your allergy problems can go a long way toward living with them. If you are an allergic person, don’t put off having yourself tested for the exact cause. It could save your life.