Sneaky Plant Allergies

Did you know you can develop an allergy at any age to things you’ve never been allergic to previously?  I didn’t.  Did you know you can have cross-allergies with a particular flower and foods?  Until recently, I didn’t.

Let me tell you a pitiful poison ivy allergy tale.  One that lasted 7 years.  It has a surprise ending.

I thought I had bedbugs.

I was SO embarrassed.  I washed everything.  Covered the mattress and rugs in a thick layer of powdered boric acid and vacuumed it up 6 hours later.  I ironed the mattress, including in between the creases and its sides, then sprayed it with a mix of orange oil and pickling vinegar.  Die suckers!  Die!  Do these products work on a bedbug infestation?  I don’t know.  I didn’t have bedbugs.

What I did have were small red welts that appeared in a straight line over my arms and even my abdomen.  Bedbugs were in the news a lot back then with images of what those bites looked like. I self-diagnosed, and I was wrong. (However, this did result in a very clean house.)

The welts showed up early in the spring and continued throughout the summer until August when they mysteriously went away.  I decided they were caused by something else, but since they were gone, I didn’t worry.

Interestingly, the same welts showed up the following spring except this time they were bigger, itched like crazy, and were mainly on my legs.  I was puzzled.  It occurred to me they might be the result of my dogs running through small patches of poison ivy that grew on the perimeter of our 2/3rds acre.  I assumed the dogs got the poison ivy on their fur. I must have petted them and transferred the ivy’s oil (urushiol)  to my skin.   I was miserable until once again, the welts and hives went away about 8 weeks later.

Are you beginning to see a pattern?

The following year, I waged war against the poison ivy when I saw it, and there wasn’t much of it.  I dressed in long pants, socks, long-sleeved shirt, a hat, gloves, and wore a bandana tightly wrapped over my mouth and around my neck.  I got the weed-whacker and whacked the one or two small poison ivy suckers to death, then ran in the house, carefully tore off my clothes, bathed and washed my hair.  I even wiped off afterward with rubbing alcohol poured on a cloth.  After that, wearing shorts and a t-shirt, I went outside to leisurely mow the rest of our lot including a huge stand of the wildflowers that had gotten out of hand, specifically bush sunflower.  I knew the sunflowers would grow back before spring was over.  They bloomed all summer long and were quite lovely. They grew everywhere, and I never had to water them.  They were perfect.

Not two days later, I was extremely ill.  Itching, oozing welts covered me from head to toe. That’s not an exaggeration.  I felt terrible. I felt exhausted and experienced a raging headache.  Certainly, this deserved a trip to my doctor, and I only visit the doctor when I’m on death’s door.

My doc confirmed I had allergic dermatitis. He gave me a course of oral steroids; a Z-Pak, I think?  Anyway, the steroids, along with some topical cream, provided relief in only 24 hours.  Happiness in the garden returned.

When I’d finished taking the Z-Pak, I immediately broke out again. That very day. How could this be?  I was sure I’d killed the poison ivy. I went back to the doc, and he told me I’d re-exposed myself.  How so????  He prescribed another round of steroids, and then finally August arrived, and the itch was gone.

Now multiple this by 7 years.  No joke.

By the 5th year of my ongoing poison ivy fight, my work colleagues knew I’d be covered with nasty oozing welts by mid-April.  They were compassionate and wore sympathy welts made with a hole punch, pink paper, and glue.  I thought this extremely thoughtful and creative on their part.

By the 6th year, when I’d break out, some of my joints would swell.  The doctor called it bursitis.  The first time this occurred, Mr. MD took an x-ray of my swollen elbow. He was puzzled. He said I shouldn’t have bursitis while I was on the 3rd day of a steroid.  The next visit got me a sonogram of my elephant ankle.  Doc thought perhaps I had a blood clot. He was worried. No blood clot.

And in the 7th year, I was enlightened.  (Isn’t the 7th year of anything kinda’ magical?)  I like the number 7, even though I’m not into numerology.

I was weeding in the spring and brushed up against one of the sunflowers.  No big deal.  The sunflower was sharp and scratched me.  I didn’t think about it until 3-4 hours later when the scratch became inflamed, and I broke out one more time all over with welts. This was a light bulb moment.

My welts weren’t caused by poison ivy.  I was allergic to these sunflowers.  Wow.  Sunflowers  covered almost my entire backyard from spring until fall.

I researched sunflowers and learned they contain latex (a common allergen), so it wasn’t actually the flower, but latex I was allergic to.  Every year for 7 years I wallowed in sunflowers such that the allergy became progressively worse with each new exposure.

What does this have to do with food?  Well, first off, surprisingly I can eat sunflower seeds. Yum! They have no latex, but foods such as figs, celery, kale, and many others do.  Of course, I had to find this out the hard way every time.  Latex taken internally gives me an itchy mouth and extreme three-day digestive problems that I won’t go into here.

Below is a fig in my current yard.  Boy, do I hate to give up figs.  My neighbor will be digging the fig up for her yard very soon.


Are there sunflowers in my new garden.? Not if I can help it.

Do you have unexplained allergies?  They might not actually be what you think they are.

In case you’re interested, here’s a list of cross reactive foods for latex.






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