We’ve had a significant shift in the weather this weekend. In the middle of last week we had one day where the temperature creeped above 80º in some places. All this week, the daily highs are forecast to be in the lower to mid-60s, plus rain every day.
I absolutely love this kind of weather.
Unfortunately, one of the “features” of my hay fever is that my sinuses react most harshly to changes. If a new species that hasn’t been the predominant pollen-contributor in a while ramps up production, my sinuses go bananas. If the weather changes, whether from damp and cool to dry and hot or the other direction, then it’s all congestion and running nose and red itchy eyes for a couple of days.
So, while I should be ecstatic that I had to pull the lightweight jacket out of the backpack (where it gets carried most of the summer in case we have rain) to wear for the trip in to work, I am instead sniffly and sneezing and miserable.
Pass me that box of kleenex, please?
I’m continuing to never quite having the time or energy to finish more serious posts. This week one complication is that what seemed to be several worse-than-usual hay fever days in a row turned into a full-blown cold with fever, body aches, sore throat, and significant loss of energy. One of those symptoms that can be either bad hay fever or signs of an actual viral infection is red, swollen eyes. They can be bad enough that it hurts to be in a well-lit room—let alone in a brightly lit room where I’m required to stare at a computer screen for hours. On such days, whether it turns out to be a cold or not, I’m grateful for the option to work from home. I can make progress toward my work deadlines while sitting in a dark room with the laptop screen brightness turned way down.
That’s not the only light management I do.
Work from home days have been different in that regard since moving to the new place. At our previous residence, because all the windows had heavy, lined curtains, and because almost every window was in a location where random passersby could see everything if the curtains were open, the curtains stayed closed in most of the rooms all the time. No matter how bright the sunlight was outside, the living room tended to be the same level of dimness.
The new place has an open floor plan, and more windows that shed light into the living room/kitchen/dining room space, And since all the windows are equipped with white vinyl blinds rather than the thick curtains, if the sun is out, a lot of light gets into the room. There’s a point some mornings when for about 15-20 minutes the sun lights up perfectly with a gap in the trees east of the house, and the closed blinds are almost like a bright spotlight. When those sunny days coincide with bad hay fever days, I have a considerably more difficult time avoiding pain in the eyes.
On overcast or rainy days the amount of light from outside is considerably less, making it easier to manage light.
When it is sunny outside, people often suggest that I should go out and enjoy the sunlight. When I explain that even if I’m not having a bad hay fever day that bright sunlight hurts my eyes1, people express skepticism. Plus a tendency to skin cancer also runs on one side of my family4, and since I have now had one small tumor that had to be removed from my forehead, I am under additional medical orders to never go outside without wearing a hat with a broad enough brim to fully shade my face and neck.
And it’s not just the doctor’s orders. That lack of pigment in the retinas? If I get more than brief bits of sunlight without UV sunglasses, my eyes start hurting because of the burnt retinas. And when the retina burns, it kicks off the release of mneurochemicals which make me drowsy, but it I need to stay wake, that means that I just get that “I should have gone to bed hours ago” headache along with the crankiness and decreased ability to concentrate.
Explaining this to someone who has never experienced it almost always turns into an adventure of, “but what about? And what about?” Not to mention the expressions of pity—it’s not sympathy about my medical issues, it is definitely pity that I don’t enjoy sunlight the same way they do. And there’s frequently a hint of disbelief. As if I could tolerate sunlight if only a wanted to.
Which isn’t to say I don’t enjoy sunlight, I just have to have it filtered. I’m perfectly happy outside if I have my hat and my UV-blocking sunglasses that wrap around the sides, and can get into shade when I want. I just don’t look forward to it the same way that other people do. Think of it as the intense cold winter of places like Manitoba or north Wisconsin. As pretty as snow is to look it, needing to take all those precautions to avoid frostbite can dampen one’s enthusiasm for the weather.
Days like today when I have a fever, my eyes are red, and my sinuses are congested and sore, I like sitting in a dark room. I’m happy. It isn’t gloomy in here, it is pain-free.
1. I have no pigment in my retinas2 and am actually under medical orders never to go out in the daytime, even on overcast days, without UV blocking sunglasses, because your retinas can get sunburnt3.
2. A not uncommon thing in blue-eyed people.
3. The first time an opthamologist told me that I was surprised as can be! “Your retinas are sunburnt right now,” she said, peering into my eyes during the exam.
4. Also not that uncommon in those of us whose most recent ancestors came from northern Europe and thus whose natural skin color is pasty pale5.
5. I have been known to point out that my skin isn’t actually white, it’s very pale pink with blue highlights6.
6. Unless I have been out in the sun at all lately, at which point my skin will be either bright pink or very red. After which it will fade back to the pale bluish pink but with more freckles. My skin appears to be utterly incapable of tanning.
And that is precisely why I’m writing about hay fever and why I hate it: I suffer from moderate to severe hay fever, specifically exhibiting an allergic reaction to every pollen, spore, and mold in existence. Seriously, when an allergist once tested me to see which pollens I was reacting to, it was all of them they tested for. Because I live in Seattle, which is far enough north to experience winter, but moderated by the proximity of the Pacific Ocean, under the best circumstances my hay fever season lasts for 10 months out of the year. Usually some early flowering plants start pollinating in mid-February, and then it’s flowers and trees and grasses taking turns until October, when all of that starts to die down–just in time for the ferns to start sporing. And in the Pacific Northwest we have a lot of native ferns around. Then, sometime in November, mushrooms and toadstools start popping up all over, and the air fills with fungal spores.
If I’m lucky, we’ll have a good solid freeze before December is over. I’ll stop taking my prescription allergy medication when we get some freezing temps and see if the symptoms flare up. If not, I’m usually good until the next February.
The last few years, we never got a solid enough freezing period. I would try skipping my meds for a day or two, but then I’d have a horrific attack of hay fever (red swollen itchy eyes, sinus congestion, headaches, et cetera) and go back on the meds until the next freeze. But it never let up.
This year we got several extremely cold spells, and earlier than usual. Overnight lows not just below freezing, but well more than 10 degrees below freezing, and daytime highs that didn’t exceed freezing. I stopped taking my allergy meds in early December, and no hay fever symptoms came. So I thanked my lucky stars and hoped I wouldn’t have to start again until February.
Then our most recent string of colder-than-normal temps ended rather dramatically. In less than 48 hours we went from overnight lows in the teens (farenheit) and daytime highs right at freezing at best, to a daytime high in the 50s, and overnight lows also above freezing. And during that 40-some hours? Almost non-stop rain. A veritable deluge.
Winter is normally very rainy here, of course, and I was happy the rain had returned. But a few days later, I woke up with itchy eyes, congestion, and a nasty sinus headache. When I stumbled to the bathroom and looked in the mirror, my eyes were red and swollen. I started taking my hay fever medicine again, and as usual, the worst of the symptoms were alleviated. But I’ve been at the low level, semi-congested and so forth stage that I feel during high pollen season when I’m on the meds.
A few days later, my husband mentioned that he had red swollen eyes and such a burning in his sinuses, that he thought there might have been a chemical spill at work. But no one else had the symptoms, no one could smell anything, and they couldn’t find anything. He doesn’t get hay fever nearly as badly as I do, but he keeps some over-the-counter hay fever meds around because on high pollen days in the spring and summer he does get it. So he took a pill, and a couple hours later his symptoms were also helped.
I’m assuming that the sudden jump of temperatures up to a bit warmer than usual for winter, after a lot of colder than usual days, plus all that rain after a long dry spell has tricked a bunch of plants into thinking its spring.
So, I’m back to being stuffed up, sniffly, and very occasionally sneezing. In January. Could you pass the Kleenex, please?
I felt much less awful after a couple of days, but didn’t begin to feel actually well until this last weekend – about eleven days after it all started.
And now, I’m just dealing with hay fever. I’ve written (many, many times) before of my frustration at being unable to distinguish a really bad hay fever day from the early stages of a head cold. This is a slightly different frustration. I’m just finally feeling well, except I’m not feeling great because my head is stuff up, I get random sneeze attacks, my eyes are watery… you know the drill.
Yes, it’s fall. Yes, it’s getting cold and most of the trees are losing their leaves and there are very few flowers in sight anywhere. And the pollen count is pretty low. But the pollen count never seems to include fern spores. And here in the Pacific Northwest we have ferns growing naturally everywhere. They’re a more primitive plant and they don’t pollinate, they spore. So every year this time, when the pollen count is dropping to almost non-existence, I get a round of bad hay fever symptoms while the ferns are going crazy.
And next month is mushroom season!
Pass me another box of tissues, please?
I haven’t had horrible hay fever symptoms most of the week. Itchy eyes and mild congestion on a couple of days. But when the weather started changing (the first real rain in months hit Friday night, there were drizzles in the early morning, but the rain didn’t come until quite late), my sinus congestion got worse and a headache slowly built up. I tried a couple different combinations of medicine on it over the weekend, but they didn’t help much.
It was bad enough that I pulled out the bottle of prescription strength nasal spray. I don’t like resorting to it because one of its side effects is having really intense disturbing dreams. Because it contains a steroid, it suppresses immune response in the sinus membranes, so I often wind up with a sinus infection after using it. But the headache was really getting to me, so I decided late Saturday night to give it a try.
Except I noticed that the expiration date on the label was a while ago. I have used it a couple of times since the expiration date, but I didn’t know what the risks were after the expiration date, and it was the wee small hours of the morning, so I didn’t really feel up to researching the issue on line. I grabbed an ice pack to put on my head, instead. And I was able to get back to sleep. The pharmacist got a good laugh when I stopped in on Sunday and put in the request to ping my doctor for a refill. I last filled the prescription a whopping five years ago.
We had a few other misadventures over the weekend, though nothing as bad as some of our friends. Event though the high temperatures during the day outside were in the mid- to upper sixties, I couldn’t got the house below 80 until quite late Saturday night. We had all the windows and the front door open, with fans placed strategically around the house to try to create a flow that would push the cool air from outside through everywhere. It’s one of the downsides of a brick house. Those bricks hold heat for an awful long time.
It was bad enough Friday night that the combination of the heat (and to be fair, we turned off the air conditioning because it was below 70 outside by sundown, so we had ourselves to blame a bit) and my sinus headache, I kept waking up getting no more than an hour’s sleep at a time. I felt as if I was waking up my hubby every time I woke up and tossed and turned, so I moved down to the living room in the recliner at about 5:00 am and aimed two small fans at me. Then I finally slept for four hours straight.
Along with the even heavier rain we got Saturday came a lot of wind. Trees were blown down all over the region, knocking out power lines everywhere. More than one of our friends was without electricity for over 24 hours. We wound up with a few of them over at our place Sunday afternoon, recharging all of their devices and just hanging out to visit.
There was also, Saturday morning, the incident of the overflowing toilet. Still not sure what caused that. But it was followed up Sunday with me not being able to get the bathroom sink faucet to turn off. We finally figured out I was being mildly dyslexic and turning the cold off while turning the hot on, then reversing the other way. In my defense, Michael couldn’t figure out what was happening at first, either. After he shut things off under the sink, he experimented a bit. Because of the low-flow fixture, there were no discernable difference in the flow of water between barely turned on at the faucet, cranked halfway, or cranked all the way to full. So you can’t really tell whether you’re turning one side (say the cold) down if the hot is on even a little bit.
We’ve now got the under-the-sink valves turned back to about a third pressure (they were turned on full force before), and now you can tell the difference as you adjust the faucets.
He did ask me if my horoscope for the weekend had said anything about trouble with water, since I seemed to have several incidents.
Since I virtually never look at such things, I couldn’t say. But I think it’s more likely that the sinus headache and the interference with my sleep pattern are more likely culprits.
That’s been my life. More than four weeks, now, every day the pollen count is up in the red (nearly, there were two days it barely dipped into the orange, okay? But only barely).
It saps my energy. It makes it hard to even think. It is so difficult to stay in a good mood. Occasionally I get just the right combination of medicine, rest, and fluids to feel almost human for several hours.
My husband was suggesting spending hundreds of dollars on a positive air flow full face-mask filtration respirator. His thinking is that if I wear that for a few hours every night, my sinuses may clear for at least a few hours and my immune system will get a rest for those hours and it will make the rest of the misery more manageable.
“And you can scare the neighbors!”
So I replied, “You want me in a respirator like Darth Vader, where I’ll be tempted to say to random people,” and I lowered my voice, “I find your lack of faith… disturbing!”
He laughed and replied, “Just the facemask and helmet!”
When I summarized this on Twitter, our friend @kehf said that if I get the mask system, the line I should be saying to scare people is, “I have altered the deal. Pray I do not alter it further.”
Of course, I know that what I really need to do is clean out the filters on the two air cleaners in the house and otherwise make sure they’re doing their utmost. It’s been a while since they were cleaned. Maybe just getting a few nights in the house with the filters going will have the effect he’s going for with the respirator.
Because of all the corporate mergers, selloffs, partial acquisitions, and so forth, you can’t go to a drugstore or pharmacy section of the grocery store and quickly find a familiar medication. For instance, when you’re suffering a particular set of allergy symptoms that you know used to respond best to Comtrex. You may find boxes labeled Comtrex on the shelf, but now instead of having he ingredients that used to be found in Comtrex, they contain exactly the same ingredients that used to be found in Tylenol Cold.
Similarly, in the old days, I could buy Tylenol Cold & Allergy, and be certain that is contained an analgesic for the headache, a decongestant for the sinus congestion, and an antihistamine for the hay fever. It doesn’t, any more. Now it contains analgesic, decongestant, and an expectorant (to help you get mucous out of your lungs). Lung congestion is not typically an allergy symptom, it’s a flu symptom. They should have the expectorant in the Tylenol Cold & Flu… but they don’t. What they have in Tylenol Cold & Flu is a cough suppressant, which might also be useful with the flu, but what would be better is the expectorant which is over in the allergy-labeled brand for absolutely no good reason.
And don’t get me started on why you can’t buy a cold or allergy medication containing actual pseudo-ephedrine any longer thanks to misguided anti-methamphetamine regulations that did absolutely nothing to slow down the cheap manufacture of meth. Now we get “Sudafed” (the brand name belonging to the company that first patented pseudo-ephedrine and named by phonetically spelling the name of the active ingredient) that contains no “sudafed” at all, but rather phenylephrine, which clinical trials have shown is not an effective substitute for the vast majority of people.
On really bad hay fever days, as I’ve been having for about a week, what I need is a medication that contains acetaminophen, pseudo-ephedrine, and diphenhydramine or chlorpheniramine (analgesic, decongestant, antihistamine), in a tablet that is a nice, safe dose. And I do mean the safe dose. Back when I could find that combination, the recommended does of 2 tablets every 4 to 6 hours was seldom what I needed to take to get relief. One tablet every four hours was usually perfect.
The closest I found on the day last week I was shopping, was Nyquil-branded “Night Time Cold Caps” which contain phenylephrine instead of the pseudo-ephedrine. It’s close, but much more expensive that any generics.
I can buy plain acetaminophen, plain pseudo-ephedrine, and plain chlorpheniramine. To get the pseudo-ephedrine you have to wait in line at the pharmacy counter, tell them what you want, then wait for them to dig the giant notebook out of the secure location. They will then scrutinize your photo ID, fill out a form, make you read a statement and sign the form before selling you this drug which was FDA certified for over-the-counter sales decades ago (and is still perfectly safe if all you are going to do is swallow a pill every 6 hours as recommended). But here’s the thing: box of 24 generic cold tablets with two of the ingredients I want and one I don’t costs just a little bit less than the stand-alone pseudo-ephedrine. Likewise, the stand-alone chlorpheniramine, and the stand-alone acetaminophen.
In other words, to put together my manual version of the generic tablet that has the right ingredients costs a bit more the three times as much as buying any of the already packaged tablets with nearly the right ingredients. And I have three times as many pills to keep track of, and the real kicker? They often recommend different times between doses. So I’m trying to keep track of one pill that I’m only supposed to take every six hours along with some that I’m supposed to take every four…
The answer is, obviously, to buy the Nyquil branded stuff, which has most of what I want, is more expensive than generic but less expensive than the collection of stand-alones. Which I did. It annoys me that the box is covered with all these dire warnings about taking them at night because they might cause drowsiness. And they there are sold in enormous gel caps, which seem to degrade more than the regular tablets. At least I don’t have trouble swallowing the giant capsules. Unlike my poor husband, who gags on the big gel caps.
Not that the meds are helping as much as I’d like.
This year’s hay fever season started out really awful in March and April. So bad that I had been bracing myself for a horrid summer. While I had almost non-stop mild hay fever symptoms for the entirety of May, June, July, and August, I only had moderately bad days every now and then, only really bad once or twice.
Friday, Saturday, and Sunday were all moderately bad. Then I had trouble sleeping Sunday night/Monday morning. Thank goodness the third time I woke up to get a drink of water (I always wake up thirsty several times in the middle of the night on bad hay fever days… but also when I have a cold), I became conscious enough to take some extra decongestant. Otherwise my sinus headache would be much, much worse than it is.
My husband is on an earlier work schedule for summer, so I’ve tended to get up when he leaves, which is before my second alarm. This morning I barely woke up when he kissed me good-bye. I had trouble getting out of bed to stagger to the alarm clock to turn it off for the second alarm. And similarly had difficulty staggering across the room to turn off the third alarm.
While I was trying to force myself to wake up enough to take a guess as to how many hours it had been since I took the decongestant (so I could know when I could take something else) I looked up the pollen count.
It’s low. Very, very low. And has been for the last couple of days.
And I have a low grade fever.
There’s never a good time to be incapacitated by allergies, but this week I have a zillion deadlines at work, and my boss is out of the country under circumstances where he’s not available even via e-mail. So I’m scrambling to make my deadlines and hoping that my brain isn’t too fogged up to get things done.
Which means what mental energy I have is all going into work this week, and not to my personal writing or to any non-work projects. I only took three naps to get through Tuesday and two showers. It’s amazing how good it feels to hold your head under a stream of hot water when you’re so congested that even your teeth ache.
A shower is truly a magical invention.
I wish I had something profound to say. Other than, pass me a kleenix, please?