( Originally Published 1938 )
Now long ago I met a friend of mine who had recently moved to the suburbs, and, like all suburbanites, he is very proud of his flower garden. So, of course, the first question I asked him was, "How are the roses getting along?" "Oh, just fine," he replied and his chest expanded just a little. Then suddenly he frowned. "But that neighbor of mine! The other day I called him over to see the roses you really should see them,and he was positively insulting. He grew popeyed and jumped back, started to grope wildly for his handkerchief and actually pretended to sneeze. Huh! Guess he was jealous. Anyhow, I fixed him. Had me over to dinner last night. We had some of his strawberries and I just pushed back my dish and told him I couldn't eat strawberries. That's a fact I never could they give me hives and I stay awake all night scratching. They're worse than mosquitoes."
I sympathized the best I could, while endeavoring to suppress my smiles. For both were suffering from the very same trouble, in spite of the difference in reactions. They were suffering from a condition, probably as old as the world, but very young from the standpoint of medical discovery, a condition which is known to the doctor as "allergy" and which he describes as "an altered reactivity of the tissues of the body to foreign substances". In everyday language allergy is nothing but the hypersensitivity of the body to outside influences; and these influences may be anything with which we come in contact food, clothing, heat, cold even polite conversation. The symptoms are probably a manifestation of the body's attempt to defend itself against these influences a very futile and imperfect. attempt.
It is possible for the entire population to be allergic, for the condition has little to do with the substance itself, but rather with the condition of one's body. You yourself probably can't stand shovelling coal, although thousands of men shovel coal for a livelihood. You actually get sick when you have to tend the furnace, as your family well knows, and so they good humoredly stop your heroic efforts to do your part, in spite of your protests. Secretly, of course, you are mighty glad you don't have to shovel coal, and really quite proud of your affliction, for no one else of your acquaintance has it. Yet probably only ten per cent of the population suffer from frank allergy. One well known authority, however, made a study of allergic manifestations in a small community, and found that about 50 to 60 per cent showed that they were afflicted with allergy at some time or other.
We must content ourselves with such estimates as these, for as yet there are no exact statistics of the number of sufferers of this unique disease, if we can call it a disease. For one reason, it has been fashionable for a very short time. Besides, it is not a condition that must be reported to the board of health and apparently most of its manifestations do not worry insurance companies. Adults seldom die of allergies, unless we consider the effects they sometimes have on the heart and other vital organs. On the other hand, they are known to cause sudden death in young children.
Another reason for the lack of statistics lies in the fact that the allergic individual often discovers by the trial-and-error method that he can be relieved simply by keeping away from the irritating substance, provided, of course, he wants to be cured. After all, some forms of allergy have distinct advantages.
There are statistics, however, that reveal that allergy is very often hereditary. Some authorities estimate that about three fourths of all cases of allergies are hereditary that is, "they run in the family". This does not necessarily mean that if your mother is Suffering from hay fever, a common form of allergy, that your allergy will be the same. Quite the contrary, you might faint every time you see a cat, or feel nauseated when it is suggested that you wash the dishes.
The symptoms of allergy are almost as numerous and varied as the allergens themselves. "Allergen" is the name given to things which excite an allergic condition. On the skin it may manifest itself as eczema, hives, swelling and pruritis or itching. Your skin may even blister or peel. Most of us get these symptoms when we come in contact with poison ivy. Of course, you may not have all these symptoms. Some of them appear only in the more severe and advanced stages. Usually the dermatitis form of allergy starts with a mild itching and redness.
The respiratory system may be affected, as is the case with hay fever and bronchial asthma and their concomitant symptoms of sneezing, coughing, tear-shedding and nasal congestion. Or the alimentary tract may be the victim. This is the case when one is sensitive to food, but other types of allergy may affect it. Canker sores often develop in the mouth and nausea, migraine, dizziness and toxemia are usually present. Severe gastric and abdominal pain attacks the victim, and with it, mucous colitis, diarrhoea, constipation and proctitis.
Migraine, dizziness and toxemia also result when the nervous system is affected and it usually is. But the nervous symptoms don't stop there the sufferer may have attacks of neuralgia, drowsiness and even psychoses.
Sometimes bladder irritations and renal colic are caused by food allergies. And some forms of dysmenorrhoea and arthritis are attributed to it.
Some forms of allergies manifest themselves almost as soon as contacted, while others take a period of weeks to years before there is a sign of any symptoms.
Probably the most familiar form of allergic disturbance is the asthma and so called hay fever type, caused by the protein fragments of certain pollens. Indeed, this type is described in medical literature as early as 1819, when an English physician discovered the unromantic connection between June roses and hay fever. This is perhaps the most uncomfortable and least compensating form of allergy there is, particularly since the sufferer is now robbed of his annual trip to the mountains or the sea to escape it. There are just as many protein particles there as in his native town and it has been found that if a person is allergic to one substance he is more than likely to be allergic to others. So, in addition to pollen the asthmatic individual today may have to contend with house dust, coal dust, feathers, animal hair, orris root,even insect wings.
Another common and probably more convenient type of allergy since it is easier to avoid is that caused by protein foods. While any food may produce an allergic reaction, experience and experiment have showed that certain foods are more likely to be allergens than others. Fish, including shell fish, shad roe and caviar, causes a great deal of trouble. Pork, veal, chicken and liver are more active allergens than lamb and that good old standby, beefsteak. Milk and eggs, too, frequently offend the sensitive person, which means he can't eat cheese, butter, noodles, salad dressings, custards, and what is worse, ice cream and cake. Among the fruits, strawberries and tomatoes have long been famed for the magnificent hives they produce, but oranges, apples, bananas and melons should be given their due credit. Unfortunately, many of the vegetables which we so highly praised for their rich vitamin content, are apt to cause an allergic reaction cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, onions, celery and the potato which must be a blessing to the lady who likes to deny that she is reducing. Wheat, corn, oats, rye and buckwheat have been found to produce allergies quite frequently, as well as nuts such as pecans, peanuts and walnuts. Among the oils, cotton-seed is chief source of trouble. And now some sad news for the "sweet tooth" person chocolate, cocoa, honey and spices are just as good at producing an allergic reaction as ice cream and cake.
You probably feel that there is nothing left to eat and are wondering why we spent so much time discussing calories and vitamins and the art of eating. Just bear in mind that only about one-tenth of the population is subject to serious allergy and that not all allergy is caused by food. Besides, many delicious and wholesome foods have been found practically allergy proof. We have already pointed out that beef and lamb give little trouble. Sugar, corn oil and corn syrup, olive salt, pineapple, grapefruit, pears, apricots, asparagus, beets, green beans, peas and rice, also rarely cause allergies.
One-third to one-fourth of all forms of contact dermatitis is estimated to be caused by allergens, and about one sixth of these cases, according to one authority, is due to the occupation of the individual, hence the name, occupational or trade dermatitis. The symptoms and effects have already been described in the chapter on bathing. In connection with this skin condition it should be kept in mind that, just as an allergic condition paves the way for bacterial infection, so bacterial infection may pave the way for an allergic condition. In fact, anything that lowers the resistance of the skin may increase the hyper-sensitivity of the skin. Ordinary chapping in cold weather lowers the resistance of the skin, as well as excessive perspiration and mechanical and chemical irritation. There is nothing unusual in this phenomenon lowered resistance of any part of the body or the body in general makes it easy for an allergic condition to be set up.
Almost anything you touch may cause allergy. Plants such as poison ivy and sumac, rubber, various metals, turpentine, alkalies, flour, silk, paints, finishes,varnishes, woods, glue, lacquer, disinfectants, sugar, furniture polish, fats and oils, dyes, phenol and other chemicals are only a few the list is almost inexhaustible. One of the most common irritants is soap partly because it is used so extensively. However, it is also due to the fact that soap contains many substances which by themselves are very active allergens. Perfumes, coloring matter, certain fats and oils, alkalies, resin and fillers such as sodium silicate have been tested and proved to cause much suffering. Orris, soap bark and medicaments of the phenol group are even more notorious for the trouble they cause.
While soap allergy is so common that it is often known as "washerwoman's or housemaid's dermatitis", if care is taken in the selection of both laundry and toilet soap, there is little to fear, although sometimes one may use a particular soap for years before' the allergy manifests itself. Choose that soap which agrees with your skin and stick to it, regardless of advertising claims or the marvelous effect a soap has on a friend's face, don't use it if it reddens your skin, roughens it or makes it feel itchy. If you are wise you will choose a mild soap, and one that cleanses thoroughly, yet leaves your skin soft and smooth. Avoid expensive imported soaps they are apt to be rancid anyway and avoid highly colored, strongly scented soaps, as well as those which boast of containing magical ingredients guranteed to get a husband (or wife) over night. The magic of a good soap lies only in its miraculous ability to cleanse without irritating.
To be beautiful is the secret obsession of every woman. Oddly enough, her ideas of physical beauty are still primitive even barbaric. Never contented with her natural loveliness and possessed by a stupid desire to look just like those near her, from her boss to her maid, she must adorn and disguise herself with powder, rouge, lipstick, mascara, colored nails, dyed hair and permanent waves and all that goes with them. She spends thousands of dollars and thousands of hours testing this cream, that lotion, the lipstick that looks so well on her friend, the latest shade of sun tan powder in fact she is willing to try anything. If you could but peep into her cosmetic chest, you'd find it filled with all sorts of beauty aiders, almost untouched for reasons known only to herself. Finally, however, she finds a powder that makes her look ten years younger or a rouge that manages to captivate her fancy a little longer than the others. But alas! a dreadful calamity occurs indeed, life doesn't seem worth living. A hideous rash breaks out on her face and not only does it look hideous, but it feels almost unbearable. She has contracted a cosmetic allergy and there is nothing for her to do but to go on experimenting.
Cosmetic allergy is increasing at an alarming rate, in spite of the fact that it is neither as chic or as advantageous as some of the allergies. One reason, of course, for its increase is the present widespread use of cosmetics it is estimated, for example, that at least 90 percent of American women use powder. But a more important reason lies in the fact that cosmetics, like soap, contain very common allergens. Indeed, the allergens are almost the same as those in soap. Orris root is one of the outstanding offenders.
But coloring matter, perfume, certain fats and oils, strong alkalies and a host of other ingredients are very active, too.
Nevertheless, the calamity is not as serious as milady thinks. At least four large firms have taken pity on her plight and devote their time exclusively to manufacturing cosmetics which are practically non-allergic. They contain no orris root or other wellknown allergens and are of wide enough range to satisfy the whims of the most beauty loving and variety loving of the fair sex.
Probably one of the most distinguished, in spite of its recent appearance, is what is known as physical allergy. It is caused by a hypersensitivity to heat, cold or physical effort. Some individuals have been found to be so highly sensitive to heat or cold or the slightest physical exertion such as conversation, that they suffer from severe digestive disturbances. Others are known to contract asthma, hysteria, dermatitis, heart trouble, headache, paralysis, phobias, convulsions, coma and shock. Sometimes death results, it is reported.
Physical allergy also results from pressure or scratches. Children who develop hives when they are spanked, should be corrected in other more modern ways. Even laughing, crying, anger, or the sight of your neighbor's new car, or the announcement that your in-laws are to be expected any minute, can bring on an attack of asthma or hives. So don't let yourself be accused of being temperamental that's old fashioned anyway but assert your rights and make it clear that you are acutely suffering.
Just why certain individuals have such violent reactions to apparently innocuous substances, the doctors as yet do not know. One large group of doctors believe that allergy is due to a deficiency of calcium in the system. Their reason for this belief is that a large number of allergic patients have been greatly improved or even cured by taking calcium or eating foods that contain a large amount of calcium.
Other doctors are experimenting with the idea that allergy may be due to a deficiency of some glandular secretion or an oversecretion of another gland. It is known that the administration of the hormone of the suprarenal cortex (adrenalin or epinephrin) very often relieves the congestion and spasms of certain types of allergy. Based on this observation, one well known authority has advanced the idea that in an allergic condition the tolerance of the body for sugars is increased. Moreover a decrease of blood sugars results if the hormone in question is diminished. Therefore, if an allergic patient is given cortin, their blood sugar factors are raised which in turn aids in alleviating the allergic symptoms.
One of the latest theories and a novel one when one stops to consider all the fuss that is being made about acidosis and "keeping on the alkaline side"-is that allergy may be related to alkalosis. Many physicians now put their allergic patients on a diet that deliberately tends to the "acid side" or even give him hydrochloric acid. And it has been found that many cases have been considerably improved by this treatment.
Much work has been, and still is being, done that has thrown light on the nature of a protein allergy reaction. Scientists have shown that the reaction is due, as we previously stated, to the peculiar behavior of the body cells themselves. They become very tolerant to particular types of foreign protein. And this sensitivity or intolerance is nothing but an attempt to get rid of the intruder. For the body tissues themselves are made of proteins and when a foreign type of protein enters, the body protests so vigorously that it becomes sick, both mentally and physically. For example, suppose a foreign substance a germ or its toxin enters the body. Immediately the body starts to manufacture what is known as antibodies to fight off the invader. The anti-bodies may attach themselves to the cells and make them extremely irritable or allergic. Of course, not all forms of allergy produce anti-bodies or are antigenic. This characteristic belongs only to the protein group.
While the doctor isn't sure what causes allergy, he does know how to find out to what you are sensitive, which is probably more important. He does this by making a series of skin tests. For some substances, he simply puts a bit of the suspected substance on your arm and covers it with rubber silk or adhesive. For others he might find it better to scratch your arm and put a solution of horse feathers or house dust or other common allergen into it. Or again he might consider it advisable to inject the substance with a hypodermic needle. You'll know even before the doctor whether you're allergic or not, for if you are, your skin will become red and inflamed and very itchy. Even blisters may form. On the other hand, a negative reaction does not necessarily mean that you are not sensitive to a substance.
Unfortunately the cure hasn't quite reached the stage that detection has, although the doctors are working hard and have accomplished a great amount already. We have already mentioned that calcium, cortin, and hydrochloric acid have helped many sufferers. Injections of small amounts of pollen allergens have proved successful in preventing hay fever. This treament is known as desensitizing. However, this treatment has not proved successful in the case of food allergies, although why, no one seems to know. Nothing has been done about contact allergies, but most of the offending substances can be avoided. Physical allergy has been improved by giving the opposite as a form of treatment. For example, persons sensitive to cold respond to heat, those sensitive to muscular exertion feel fine when they are resting.
If this sounds discouraging and really should not just remember that the general body pattern or constitution has much to do with allergy. And if you keep your entire system in good condition your alimentary tract in good order, your skin clean and pliable, your respiratory organs in a healthy condition, you are probably much less likely to become allergic. It has been proven, for example, that a skin that is chapped, cut or unclean has a lowered resistance which may lead to an allergic condition.
And if you believe that you are allergic, don't trust the advice of unscientific friends only your doctor can help you, for the subject is truly a complicated one. You are likely to become more sensitive with increased contact with the irritating substance or if you experiment on yourself you might sensitize yourself to substances that never bothered your before. If the doctor finds that you are allergic, follow his advice carefully regardless of the laughter of your friends.
You really have the laugh on them, anyway. For doctors have observed and intelligence tests have proved that the allergic individual is usually much more intelligent than the non-allergic. He is bright and quick, rather emotional and high-strung. And he has a charming, magnetic personality. Surely that is worth a few sneezes or the giving up of strawberries or a horsehair mattress.