You know when you’re focusing SO HARD trying to figure something out, that you ignore the answer, that’s quite possibly staring you right in the face?
Well, that happened to me.
It all started about two years ago, during my dietetic internship. I begun having episodes of shortness of breath intermittently throughout the week, seemingly at totally random times. It was as if I couldn’t get that last part of a deep inhale. I was constantly tired and dizzy. It was hard to eat meals, run, and talk for long periods of time.
It wasn’t that bad at first so I just blamed it on anxiety and stress and tried not to worry about it. But as months went by, it got worse and worse. It started happening every day, and then multiple times per day, and after about a year after it started, it was at it’s worst. I was experiencing this mysterious shortness of breath every. single. day. For hours at a time. It was taking a huge toll on my personal and professional life, and it drove me absolutely crazy. Some days I just wanted to lie in bed and cry. Nothing I tried or did seemed to help.
This time last year, I started to put all my time and effort into figuring out what may be causing the issue. It’s been a LONG process, but we’ve finally figured it out.
- Saw my primary care doctor and did a lung function test (slightly decreased), and pulse oximetry (again, slightly below normal). Diagnosed me with asthma and gave me an albuterol inhaler.
- Took said albuterol inhaler, had adverse reaction (thought I was going to die my heart was beating so loud and fast). Stopped taking albuterol.
- Switched to the reflux route– MD thought I may be experiencing Laryngo- pharyngeal Reflux– the backward flow of the stomach contents up through the sphincters and into the esophagus or throat which then could cause problems breathing.
- Experimented with several anti-reflux medications and followed a strict anti-reflux diet for two months with no improvements in breathing.
- Had an upper and lower scope done with no findings.
- Had an ECHO to test for heart abnormalities, no findings.
- Chest xray, abdominal xray, abdominal CT scan (with surprise IV contrast) with no findings.
- Begun to see a therapist to help manage anxiety and stress.
- Tried different IBS medications in the hopes that perhaps the bloating was pushing up on my diaphragm. Followed the FODMAP diet for several months. IBS improved, breathing did not.
- Incorporated meditation and mindfulness readings into my daily life– helped with the anxiety and stress about the issue, but did not help with breathing.
- Started taking Lexapro (anti anxiety medication) in hopes that this was all in my head. Did not notice much of a change in breathing. I did gain 15lb though. Weaned myself off Lexapro after six months.
Around February of this year, two years after all this nonsense started, I finally found the answer. My sister, Leslie, had just gotten allergy tested because she was having some GI issues. Her results showed that she was allergic to wheat, soy and tomatoes, items she ate all the time. Curious as to what I may be allergic to unknowingly, I set up an appointment.
I knew that I had seasonal allergies– I’d get itchy eyes, runny nose, sneezing, and sore throats whenever Spring or Fall came around. I’d always just pop a benedryl and just treat the symptoms as they showed up.
They tested 3 different panels of skin pricks on my back. The first panel tested 8 types of trees, 5 types of grasses, 5 types of weeds, mold, dog, cat, and dust mites. The second and third panels tested a variety of common food allergies.
The skin prick didn’t hurt at all- I could barely even feel it. BUT. After about 30 seconds of laying there, my back was ON FIRE. I took a picture of myself so I could see what was going on back there, and I was in shock (all those black dots are sharpie marks BTW…).
What is group A, you ask? Turns out, I am HIGHLY allergic to mountain cedar, cedar elm, all the grasses, all the weeds, cats, and dust mites. Everything now made sense.
My shortness of breath started when I lived with my parents, who at the time had two cats. I never dusted my apartment (just never thought of it…). I’m outside ALL the time. There’s long rows of cedar elms all down the streets of my apartment complex. Like I said, I would usually just cover up occasional severe symptoms with benedryl. I have never been on a continuous, regimented allergy prevention routine.
The allergist put me on a strict medicine regimen. I now take prescription-strength Zyrtec twice a day, Singulair, a long-term steroid inhaler, and medicated eye drops every single day. She recommended that I avoid exercising outside, deep clean & dust my apartment, buy dust mite covers for pillows and sheets, vacuum and dust weekly, and avoid peanuts, corn and shellfish (I was mildly allergic to those).
About a week after I started being diligent with all the allergy medicines, my breathing SIGNIFICANTLY improved. I couldn’t believe it. Something as simple as environmental allergies (albeit very severe environmental allergies) were causing all my horrible problems. It’s been about two months on the regimen and I’m feeling so much better.
I can now finally take a nice, deep breath. And it feels SO good.
Do you suffer from environmental allergies? Any tips and tricks to share?!
Hi! I’m Emily, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and self-taught intuitive chef. I firmly believe that cooking is the simplest and most important step we can take to improve our minds and bodies and build healthier communities. Join me and let’s bring food back to the kitchen!