Breathing Clearly- How I Broke My Lifelong Dependency On Allergy Medications.
I grew up as a part of the first allergy generation. Both according to self-reporting among the millennial generation as well as studies conducted on the subject, allergies to many things, most notably food, have become more and more common in children born in the late 20th century and into the 21st. Going to school as a child, more than one of my friends had to carry around an epinephrine pen in the event that they accidentally ingested any product containing peanuts, lest they go into anaphylactic shock.
I did not have allergies at that level of severity, nor (or so I thought at the time) did I have any allergies to peanuts or other food products. However, I seemingly had a sensitivity to nearly everything else under the sun. Dust mites, pollens and grass were among the environmental particles that I had a sensitivity to. Spring and fall, whatever pleasures they might otherwise bring, could often be a time of irritation and inflammation for me.
As far as animals were concerned, dogs and cats were my primary allergy sources. In spite of this fact, I have always loved dogs (cats much less so)- when I pass one on the street I invariably feel an immediate urge to pet it, and when visiting friends or family with dogs I cannot help but play with them. However, I inevitably paid the price for this in the form of reddened, watery eyes that I would feel the need to itch constantly. This would occur regardless of whether or not the breed of dogs in question were “hypoallergenic”- a concept that, even before researching whether or not such a thing actually exists, I have always been skeptical of for this reason.
This is not to say that I had no way of relieving the symptoms of my chronic allergies. The pharmaceutical industry provides no shortage of ways to do so, as anyone who has visited the allergy section of any pharmacy or drugstore in America can attest. My standard regimen was two-fold- one antihistamine taken orally, in this case Zyrtec, and then the nasal spray Flonase, either once or twice in each nostril.
I don’t remember the exact age at which I started using these antihistamines daily, but I do remember that it was when I was a rather young child. This is a testament to just how ubiquitous these over the counter drugs had become to my existence by the time I reached adulthood. I did not fully appreciate it at the time, but they became one of the key constants in my life as I moved through different phases of it. Whether it be high school, college, or the working world, Zyrtec and Flonase remained an unchanging part of my daily routine.
This dependency was solidified by what happened on the rare occurrences where I would go for multiple days without even one of the two antihistamines, let alone both at the same time. For the first day, I would notice little difference in my well-being. Maybe the second day would be close to the first. However, by the third day, my allergic symptoms would be fully flared up- my eyes would be irritated, my skin would itch, and my head would even feel feverish. Any experiments in going without these antihistamines would invariably end at this point.
So much of how the modern, industrialized world views medicine is based on treating the symptoms of a condition, not the cause. This is especially true in the United States, one of the only countries in the world where direct to consumer advertising by pharmaceutical companies is legal. Ads for Zyrtec and Flonase are no exception to this fact, with tens of millions of dollars behind these ads. The incentive structure in the American health system is to rely on these methods of controlling allergy symptoms, rather than finding other ways to address the root causes of the irritation and inflammation.
For myself, finding the root causes of the symptoms I had been using Zyrtec and Flonase to treat was a happy accident. Rather, it was a byproduct of making a separate, but related, momentous decision related to my health. In the spring of 2020, in response to a very severe eczema outbreak that I had attempted to treat via conventional dermatology, I (in consultation with a more holistically-minded health practicioner) made the decision to eliminate gluten and dairy from my diet.
This had a profound anti-inflammatory effect throughout my entire body. The red, irritated skin throughout my body cleared up. I began to lose weight (in the end, roughly twenty pounds) throughout by body without additional exercise (I am already a fairly active individual), as inflammation that had been hiding in plain sight receded.
I do not remember making a dramatic, conscious decision to one day stop taking Zyrtec and Flonase every day. What may have happened is that I was so focused on my new way of well-being that it simply slipped my notice that I had not gone to the pharmacy to stock up on them again in some time. However, at some point there was a moment of realization that I had gone significantly longer than my previous three days without Zyrtec or Flonase, with none of the usual symptoms I felt in their prolonged abscence. At worst I would have a minor case of the sniffles. My lifelong dependence on these pharmaceutical products was, within a few weeks, completely gone.
I have not had a singlet Zyrtec pill or Flonase puff since the summer of 2020. I still feel like I have a great deal to learn about where exactly I stand with regards to my non-food allergies. How will the onset of spring effect my symptoms (so far, not much change as we head into early March)? I have had little interaction with dogs or cats- how will I do around them? I have yet to fully understand what the fact that I am no longer dependent on my daily dose of anti-histamines- but I cannot wait to find out.