Friday, December 30, 2011

Strangeness - An Account of My Hives (LONG!)

Fair warning: This post will probably be a big downer. Read at your own risk. ALSO: It is L.O.N.G.

I've been having lots of issues since my last post. Most of them are physical, which leads to mental and emotional complications.  I'm not in a good place, mentally or physically, as 2011 draws to a close.  I'm feeling extremely frustrated - and absolutely scared out of my skull.  Here are some details.

I've been under a fair amount of stress at work this semester. So when I broke out in hives in early November, I kind of wrote it off to that. Then I realized it may be an allergic reaction to an herbal tea (sad panda!)  I got rid of the tea and hoped for rapid improvement.

There was some - but never for long.  I consulted my mom (a retired nurse with 41 years of experiences in ALL kinds of places) who advised me to go on Claritin around the clock.  Combined with some good lotion (shout out to @EucerinUS for their awesome products!) and oatmeal baths and benedryl creams and hydrocortisone creams... I reached a point of live-ability.  I wasn't cured or really even better - but I could function on a day to day basis.

Then I got sick. Initially it was a cold but it turned into a sinus infection.  Off to the doctor I went, where I recounted my issues (we think it was the chamomile in the tea).  The doctor was a sweetie and prescribed me a 5 day course of Zithromax and orders to keep taking the claritins.  This was Saturday, December 10.

Sunday evening we played games as a family and I noticed my mouth felt strange.  The family commented that it looked like I'd been smacked in the lip.  Sure enough, over the course of a few hours, my bottom lip, cheek, and top lip started to swell. I called my mom who told me to call the doctor on call for my practice. I felt bad (even though it was only 8:30 on a Sunday night) but I called.  The doctor called back almost immediately and asked all sorts of questions. I was told to stop the Zithromax immediately and to take both a Claritin and some benedryl. He said to call his office the next day to check in and to go to the ER if the swelling didn't respond to the extra meds.

By mid-day the following day, the swelling was gone.  I checked in with his nurse and all was well.  Until Tuesday night, December 13.  I felt the swelling start in my top lip that night.  I took benedryls and claritins and went to bed with an ice pack.  But in the morning my lip was no better. It was so swollen that there were blisters on the inside of my lip (near my teeth) from the swelling and stretching.  I went to work and did the best I could.  Finally, after the pestering of my students and colleagues, I called the doctor's office. I got someone to cover my class and left.

This was possibly the fastest doctor visit of my life - no waiting to be called, hadn't even finished paying my copay when they called me back! I entered the exam room and chatted with the nurse - and when she left the doctor immediately came in. We chatted and she looked me over.  She gave me another Rx - this time for a short acting anitbiotic, while keeping our fingers crossed that I wouldn't react to it.  And she gave me a steroid shot - to help me cope with the Zithromax reaction and boost me over the hump.  It worked! Within 24 hours I felt great - very little itching, no swelling, and my cold symptoms finally cleared up.

I went to Walmart that Friday (16th) and got some Zyrtec.  I added it to my routine which looks something like this:
  • 6am (school days) - shower, slather with lotion, hit hive-y areas with benedryl cream and hydrocortisone cream, take a claritin
  • all day - my creams and lotions are within reach - on my desk, night table, in my purse, lunch box, school bag, coat pocket.
  • 9pm (or bedtime) - more lotion and creams, Zyrtec, and sometimes a single benedryl (even though I know lots of info online says don't take them together, I've had to)
I found another great Eucerin product - it is amazing. I've been using it every other day as a total body wash - including a shampoo. It is called Eucerin Calming Body Wash Daily Shower Oil.  Some folks complained of a bad scent - honestly I can't tell any scent at all.  And realistically, if it worked, it could smell like a garbage dump for all I'd care.  The lotion I use is called  Eucerin Calming Cream. It is nice and thick and covers well. The only drawback for both these items is the price - the body was was $7 and the lotion was $10. One giant tube of lotion lasted a month, with heavy use... I can't say how long the body wash will last.

So, where am I now?  Well, after having been on the Zyrtec and Claritin combos for almost 2 weeks, I was in a good place. I forgot my claritin on Xmas day and had a really bad time.  I've started having angioedema (swelling related to deep hives) in recent days as well as hives breaking through the meds.  My mom convinced me to go off meds and see what happened.  Well, I didn't even make it 24 hours.  By hour 20, I was itchy and red on my legs and it only got worse. At about hour 23 I took 2 benedryls and a zyrtec. Today has been a fight to get the meds back into my system and to keep from scratching.

I know I need to see a doctor. But I also know most tests doctors run will come back with false results due to the amounts of meds in my system. So I'm stuck in a bad place.  I've eliminated anything new from my diet... now I'm looking at old stuff whose ingredients may have changed. I'm looking at things like eggs as potential culprits. I gave away or tossed many of my Xmas gifts from my students - because I'm SCARED. I'm worried about what might be the next thing that makes the reaction worse... bad enough to send me to the hospital. And that makes me worry about MONEY. Testing and doctors and medicines take lots of it. And I'm terrified that the doctors will uncover the root cause of my hives - and that it will be something awful. (Do you KNOW how many diseases and conditions have HIVES as a symptom? Here's a partial list: rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, celiac disease, even some forms of breast cancers! Stay away from Google!)

I looked for a funny cartoon or image... but there isn't one. And honestly, there's nothing funny about what I'm going through.  If you would - do me a favor.  Any info you have, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant - please pass it along. I need to connect with some folks who have experienced chronic hives - and who have come out the other side. Thanks.