Yesterday I went to my allergist (thanks for the referral, Lainey!) for a food and inhalant skin test. It wasn't the most fun I've ever had, but it was bearable. After 2 hours in bumper-to-bumper traffic for what should have been a 45 minute commute having my skin plucked and bitten 131 times and my arm pricked by a needle 20 didn't seem all that bad.
The results came up almost immediately with the back scratch test (the 131 plucks on my tender skin): I have no food allergies.
They double-check the positive results from the scratch test by injecting small amounts of the offending inhalant under the skin on your arm. If the injection site ends up looking like a mosquito bite, then you're allergic. The scale is measured in hash marks. One "+" means mildly allergic, "++++" means maximum allergic reaction. Turns out I'm allergic to a whole mess of inhalants:
++ CockroachAfter reading me my results Dr. Vaughn said, "This is not good news." And it wasn't. Not because I had all these allergies to inhalants, but because the whole reason I'd gone in was to see what foods I was allergic to and might be causing my eczema. He said that dust mites could be exacerbating my skin issues and gave me some good tips on how to control for those (mattress and pillow covers, washing bedding in HOT water every 2 weeks, filters in bedroom vents, etc.).
++ House Dust Mite F
++ House Dust Mite P
++ American Elm
++++ Mountain Cedar
++++ Red Berry Juniper
+++ Kentucky Blue Grass
++ Common Sage
I left feeling defeated and confused. I studied my dry, raw hands on the steering wheel and thought that at that very moment my eczema wasn't that bad. I didn't have any blisters, no itching. Just mild redness. I've been gluten-free for about three weeks with one blip of a Taco Bell bean burrito last Saturday. Within 20 minutes my hands were bright red and stinging like a bunch of ant bites. I figured it was the flour in the burrito. But this test just proved I wasn't allergic to wheat and I've been tested for Celiac Disease and I'm negative. So what is it??
I'm not ruling out a gluten sensitivity, however, but I think that my allergy list might also shed some light on my symptoms.
After some "light" research on Google last night I came up with some really interesting facts about some of the fungi I'm allergic to. Most notably about Penicillium, Aspergillus, Rhizopus, Candida and maple.
Penicillium is a fungus most famously known for its use in the antibiotic penicillin. And guess what? I'm allergic to penicillin (I'm a big pain in a doctor's ass when they're trying to find me an antibiotic not related to any "-cillin"). I get hives. That's not so different from my eczema in my mind.
Penicillium is also used in making some cheeses, most notably the "wet" ones, such as Camembert, Brie, Gorgonzola, Roquefort, Danish Blue Cheese, Danablue, Stilton, Coulommiers, and some French goat cheeses.
Aspergillus is another fungus that seems to be everywhere. It's used in the fermentation process to make sake (a Japanese rice wine). Now, I don't drink a ton of sake, but I've certainly never avoided it. In fact, it's all I drink if we ever go to a Japanese restaurant since I've lost my taste for beer since I got pregnant two years ago. It's also used to ferment miso, tamari sauce and soy sauce.
The most important thing that I discovered about Aspergillus is that it's used to make 99% of the world's supply of citric acid. It's too costly and wasteful to use real citrus fruit, so we hatch it in a lab and then throw it into a LOT of our foods. Almost all colas use Aspergillus niger-based citric acid.
And according to one website I found, Aspergillus niger,
"... or its extracts may be used in the food industry as a non-declared additive. The principal products affected are: bread, beer, cheese, chocolate, fruit juices, and especially precooked meals."
Rhizopus, another fungus, is used in the fermentation process of tempeh and some alcoholic beverages in Asia and Africa
Candidia is a tricky one. It's a yeast, but not one used in making foods (that I can figure out as of yet, anyway). However, it can survive, and thrive, in a human body. Natural, homeopathic doctors use the term "candida" to describe a slew of symptoms ranging from weight gain to - yes, you guessed it - eczema caused by an excess of yeast in the system. It's treated by prescribing a diet low in yeasts and refined sugars, otherwise known as a Candida diet, so as to re-balance the body's normal levels of yeast. It's important to note that a "candida" ailment is not medically recognized by Western medicine.
Lastly, I'm allergic to maple. I've been scouring the internet looking for some definitive article about a possible link between pollen and syrup allergies; if I'm allergic to the pollen, does that mean I'm allergic to the syrup? The closest I've come is this lukewarm statement,
"The good news: even if you're allergic to maple's pollen, you can probably enjoy maple syrup without problems."
So this is a lot to process. I've thought all I had to do was an elimination diet to figure all this out. The diet eliminates all known allergens for a period of a few weeks, only to slowly add one food at a time back into your system to see if it causes any reactions. It takes months of sleuthing and record taking. Today @eczemasupport told me that I shouldn't do an elimination diet without the support of a health care professional.
Now I think doing an elimination diet would just be me barking up the wrong tree, anyway. It doesn't eliminate everything that these fungi are in because they have fungus in them. They're only eliminated because the food itself is a known allergen. I wouldn't be able to tell if it's the tomatoes I'm allergic to or the Aspergillus niger in that can of tomatoes. So, ostensibly I could eat tomatoes, just not canned ones, but an elimination diet wouldn't tell me that.
I have to do something, though. Just last night I made a really healthy dinner of chicken breast with an orange juice reduction sauce on wild rice and wilted spinach topped with some goat cheese. Within an hour my hands were stinging. The juice box listed ingredients as just orange juice, but if that website I found can be trusted, A. niger isn't required to be listed by the FDA. (That dinner was freaking delish, by the way, and I hate chicken breast.)
Or maybe the goat cheese had some Penicillium in it, even though it typically doesn't?
My body is reacting adversely to SOMETHING and I want to know what!
It boils down to the fact that I'm going to have to do my own experiment. I'll do a modified "elimination diet". Meaning, no cheeses made with Penicillium, no sake, soy sauce, miso, peanut butter, citric acid, sodas, tempeh, yeast, and foods high in sugar. I'll have to cleanse my system for a period of a few weeks and slowly test each one and take diligent notes on how I react.
Oh my God. This scares the crap out of me. I hate change. I mean, I love it and I talk a big game about it, but actually instituting a diet change like this is a big deal. For Christ's sake, I just bought two cans of tomatoes for dinner tonight and there's citric acid in them. *sigh*
To recap what my internet digging turned up:
Penicillium is used to make several different cheeses:
Danish Blue Cheese
Some French goat cheese
Aspergillus is used in:
canned fruits and vegetables
Rhizopus is used to make:
some alcoholic beverages in parts of Asia and Africa
Candida refers to a yeast and is a term used by naturopathic doctors to refer to a group of symptoms caused by a surplus of yeast in the body. Treatment involves cutting ingestion of yeast and high-sugar foods.
And coke sucks.
(I don't know if this needs saying, but I'm by no means suggesting that a "fungi elimination diet" is what everyone should do, just that it's something I need to do to feel better. So don't go thinking I'm an expert, or anything. But if you're thinking it might help you figure your shit out, send me a line and we can do it together.)