Allergies and Me

I never suffered from debilitating allergies. Other members of my family have acute reactions to cats, and I know many people who suffer from hay fever or intolerances to particular foods. But I had no history myself: I could hang out with cats and eat whatever I wanted (apart from meat of course, but that’s by choice). I did notice as I aged that I was getting more sensitive to dust and certain paint odours, though: if I used oil-based paint or worked too much on woodworking projects then I would suffer a hangover the next day.

Then a few years ago I suddenly understood that our cats were making me ill. I realised this when we went cabin-camping. It was February and we all had colds. It should have been a miserable experience but I slept and felt better than I had in months. When we experimented with stopping the cats from being in our room I saw an immediate improvement (and I could easily tell when we weren’t successful in keeping them out!). Allergy pills helped me deal with the fuzzies until they (very sadly) passed away a few years ago.

So, now I have to be aware that I am allergic to cats. It’s not an acute reaction, but I know to take an antihistamine if I am going to be hanging out with them (because I still like cats and I know lots of other people who do too). As long as I remember these things I can function.

But just recently I had another revelation – apparently I can’t deal with feathers any more either.

At the beginning of July I had my annual writing retreat. I went away for the weekend to the coast and had a really splendid couple of days working on the book and getting things done. I also slept very well.

Then I got back home and my good mood crashed in about a day and a half. I was tired, grumpy and congested. I wondered what it was that had brought me back down so hard and I started casting around for answers. I cut back on YouTube (which helped) and tried to get more sleep (which helped a bit), but then I realised that it was worse in the morning, which suggested it was something related to where I was sleeping. It was another cats-on-the-bed moment.

Since we swapped the worn-out feather duvet for synthetic bedding I’ve slept better than I have in ages – even when I’ve indulged a little the night before, I have woken up refreshed and (critically) uncongested. The difference is like night and day.

I’m mentioning this not just to celebrate but as a reminder that ill health can sneak up on you – if the rate of change is slow, an increased allergic reaction can be indistinguishable from the effects of aging so you can suffer reduced capacity without a reason.

And allergies can be pretty debilitating. Here is a video discussing studies of effects of hayfever on test scores –

Look after yourselves, and stay vigilant about any changes in your health, however gradual.

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