Allergy – irritant, life-threatening killer, and sometimes penicillin

Allergic reactions run the gamut from sneezing, nasal misery, and fatigue to airway shutdowns. One person can shrug off a mosquito bite, while the person next to her develops a violent headache and a welt at the scene of the same bug’s attack. Someone stepping on an angry wasp might manage to say he doesn’t feel well and just wants to go upstairs to lie down. Personal experience tip: do NOT let him go to bed!

Everyone should know that extreme swelling is a common over-reaction by some bodies to an insect sting or inhaled or ingested toxin, which can quickly devolve into the throat closing off. While benign to many, almost any substance (e.g. tomatoes and other members of the nightshade family, milk, nuts, shellfish) can be an allergen, and its attack insidious: one young woman was fatally exposed to peanuts in high school when she kissed her boyfriend, who’d eaten some not long before. Someone else’s mouth might “just” have itched and been treatable with a drink of tomato juice. A boy already in the hospital had an allergic reaction and died there, despite their best efforts to mitigate the exposure and save him.

That some are allergic to antibiotics is well documented. Now, perhaps apparent shrimp/shellfish allergies are really adverse reactions to the antibiotics and other chemicals with which they are almost universally farmed, including, in some overseas operations, those drugs which are banned from use here in the USA. As happened with terrestrial factory farms, chickens and pork foremost in mind, the shrimp don’t grow as big in their dirty and overcrowded conditions, so drugs are added to get them to market size. As the saying goes, more research is needed.

When you have an allergy, it’s wise to thoroughly research similar though seemingly innocuous substances for possible triggers.

Chamomile is often recommended for stomach upsets. If you have hayfever, though, you’d better avoid it, because botanically, ragweed and chamomile are kissing cousins; if you suspect your child has hives because of Great-Uncle Joe’s walnut bread, do not let the small fry near pecans, either, as pecans (Carya illinoiensis) and walnuts (Juglans nigra, black walnut) are also similar enough to cause trouble. I was allergic to both nuts from age 5 through 50, but have been eating organic versions of them in moderation the past few years without incident.

If you were allergic as a teenager to penicillin and others, it would behoove you to get tested in-hospital by an allergist. With the glut of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, your healthcare providers need to know if there is anything left in the toolbox they can dose you with should the need arise. I underwent the tests: minute doses of the miracle drug at first, then increasing until I’d had a normal amount. It took several long hours, but in the end I was relieved to be pronounced not allergic to it anymore.

It goes without saying, do not take another person’s antibiotic (and not your pet’s either) even if your symptoms seem identical, take the entire amount your doctor prescribes, at the dosage and times indicated, do not take any that are leftover from previous infections, and if you develop hives or other untoward symptoms, call your medical person.


In the case of my husband in the yard, looking for all the world like he’d badly wrenched his ankle (though he did say, Something bit me); I gave him an old Benadryl from the fridge door and called poison control. Long and short of that was they said if he had any trouble breathing to get him to hospital. In the span of that short call, he slumped sideways on the couch, and I ran in to shake him.

“Get up! Get up! We’re going to the hospital!” “No – I just want to go lie down…” Knowing his aversion to commotion and needles, I demanded, “You get in that car or I’ll call the ambulance, and I bet you’ll be embarrassed then!” “Fine. I’ll go to the car.”

Not until we were in the emergency room bay did he tell them that he had been losing his peripheral vision, and, oh, it felt like something was sitting on his chest and clawing it open! Years later he would confess it had sounded like I was talking to him from further and further down a tunnel, until they gave him the injection: the shot shot him back to us.

Light at the end. Sometimes that’s about all we can hope and aim for.


About majaramirez

former assistant instructor in tai chi chu'an; current TreeKeeper (#467); former Master Gardener; member of American Bird Conservancy, Audubon, Fraternal Order of Police, and Mensa; recently retired career cop; wife and mom.
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