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horse allergy

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I’m not here to try to get anyone on board the pity train, but I do want to talk about traveling with allergies for those that also suffer from allergies. And, when I say suffer, I mean suffer. Allergies are no walk in the park. Literally. I cannot walk in the park. I die.

Fair warning, I’m going to include a not so beautiful picture of me so that you can understand the extent of my allergies. It really does change my daily life and how I travel.

How do you know you’re allergic?

An allergy doctor gives you an allergy test! They pin prick you with 60 different allergens, leave you for 30 minutes, then see how you reacted. They measure the size of the welt and the redness surrounding it. The bigger and more red the bumps are, the worse the reaction. Just to show you how allergic I really am, I wanted to include this kind of gross picture of how I looked after my allergy test (that they stopped early because of my intense reactions). Super fun.

allergy test

What kind of allergies do I have?

First off, my allergies are all environmental – no food or medicinal allergies here. That means I’m allergic to trees, grasses, pollen, dust, and animals. Yes, I’m that one person that’s allergic to dogs and cats. No, I didn’t choose this. Yes, I still love animals. No, I cannot pet your dog even if he’s the cutest pup on the whole planet.

dog park

How does this affect my day-to-day life?

I rely on Zirtec. Without my daily dose, I can get severe sinus headaches and congestion. I have trouble breathing through my nose on a regular basis – so much so that when I take Benadryl (which is the strongest over the counter stuff) it clears my sinuses to the point that they get super cold because there’s SO MUCH AIR FLOW.

In addition to my dependence on Zirtec, sometimes I have problems with presenteeism. This happens when you go to work with allergies (or being sick in general). Because of it, you lose productivity and become exhausted. Hello burn out.

How do my allergies affect my travels?

Naturally, my allergies affect how I travel. For one, I have all these extra things to pack. When my environment changes, my allergies change. In addition to what I always need (aka Zirtec), now I need my nasal spray, inhaler, eye drops, and sinus headache medication. Reason number 52 why I need more than a carry-on when I travel.

Allergies also change my itinerary and activities. Remember how I said I’m allergic to animals. Well the thing I’m most allergic to is…drumroll please…horses. So, no riding horses on the beach. The last time I rode horses was in 2009 when I went to Oregon and stayed in treehouses on a farm. They had a bunch of free activities, including a horse ride through the forest. Well guess who almost died. Ya girl.

riding horses
horse allergy

Look how happy and unsuspecting I was at the beginning.

The biggest thing that allergies change for me when I travel is my anxiety. Generally, I’m not an anxious person, but my allergies are probably my biggest source of anxiety. People can die from allergies after all. Here’s what this looks like. I’m presented with an opportunity that I know I can’t pass up, but I’m not sure if my allergies are going to be affected. This just happened in Israel. I was with my family on our Birthright trip and we had the opportunity to ride camels through the desert. I rode a camel in Egypt over 15 years ago so, was I allergic? Are camels even related to horses? I’m a chemist, not a zoologist okay? Luckily, it was cold so I wore protective clothing and I did it. I rode the camel and it was amazing.

camel ride

You might be sitting there thinking, Alanna, you’re overreacting. Can you calm down? But, if you have severe allergies, especially ones that inhibit your breathing, these situations can be scary. I’m in a foreign country, in the middle of the desert, where no one speaks English, with no pharmacy, no hospital, and an unknown allergy source. That’s scary.

What am I doing about it?

Because I only travel part-time, I have a home base. I’m able to get allergy shots. Twice a week, I get three shots that span 61 allergens. They are literally injecting me with my allergens to prevent immunity (like vaccines). I have to wait in the office for 30 minutes each time to ensure that I don’t go into anaphylactic shock. If you don’t react, each week they up the dosage. To give you some perspective on how allergic I am, if I haven’t explained it enough already, this process should take 16 weeks (or 4 months). I have been doing it for a year and a month now, and I’m just now halfway done. This means that I’ve reacted so much that they haven’t been able to ramp up my dosage as efficiently as the average patient.

Over the next couple years, once I finish the process, I’ll be able to rely less on my Zirtec. I’ll be able to travel without inhibition and anxiety. And I’ll be able to pet all the puppies I see!

And despite my allergies, there are still bucket list things that I will do no matter the obstacle. I will ride on a dog sled in Alaska and I will visit a cat café in Japan.

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Need an ironic read? Check out my post on 5 gardens you should visit in Los Angeles. Just bring the Zirtec!

Huntington Japanese Garden

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Recent PhD graduate and hyper-planner of Periodic Adventures, my goal is to share travel inspiration, budget tips, detailed guides, and fun travel stories!

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