The A-Words: Allergy and Aaaa-choo!
by Patricia Draznin

Every spring when the world is in bloom, I am amazed and humbled by one of nature’s great miracles: non-drowsy antihistamines. I am one of 35 million Americans exercising my right to remain congested, a proud tissue-carrying member of the pollen-intolerant—not to be confused with my allergies to food, pets, insects, small appliances, or retractable pencils.

Allergies date back to the Garden of Eden when the Tree of Knowledge sent forth some serious airborne pollen that has kept mankind sneezing ever since. And with Des Moines rated the 39th most pollen-producing city, Iowans never run out of reasons to sneeze. By April, I start breathing through my mouth while my nose takes a sabbatical, and my CHECK SINUS PRESSURE light flickers on and off until Halloween.

And now, a word about pollen. Pollen is the microscopic grain produced in abundance for reproduction. In other words, plants having sex. When pollen is transferred between same-species vegetation of opposite genders among consenting adult plants, procreation occurs. Next time you sneeze, remember that somewhere within 400 miles, a couple of happy ragweed are probably smoking a cigarette.

Meanwhile, back on the prairie, I have been blowing my nose for as long as I can remember having one. And while I am not proud of my Kleenex dependency, I’m thankful for their invention and grateful that I’m not allergic to whatever the heck they’re made of. Maybe this is not technically a dependency, since I can go for several minutes without sniffing. But every year the shareholders at Kimberly-Clark send me a complimentary case of Kleenex, and sometimes a gift. Last year they sent me a flowering plant.

Over the years I have perfected two styles of sneezing: 1) the polite, constricted little Chihuahua sneeze that makes my brain explode, and 2) the cathartic, industrial-size sneeze that makes my husband’s brain explode. Either way, accommodating leaky valves in public is so, how-you-say, unattractive. To minimize the humiliation, the rules of nasal etiquette come to our rescue. They suggest 1) blowing your nose unobtrusively rather than honking, while 2) keeping your pinky finger extended in the teacup position, and 3) disposing of tissues pronto by carrying a small portable incinerator.

Fortunately, there are educational allergy support groups where sneezers can learn the basics, such as what they’re allergic to and how to buy tissues wholesale. They also offer coping strategies, such as staying indoors with the windows closed during peak pollen times—approximately 4am to 11pm, March through November. They also recommend taking lots of drugs.

And now, a word about drugs. Drugs are modern medicine’s way of saying, “We have no cure but we can mask those symptoms for you.” That’s what I call music to my ears, eyes, nose and throat. This is a departure from my normal standards for ingested substances, for which I require certified organic, free-range, virginal foods. But when I’m rubbing the corneas off my itchy eyeballs with my fists, I will consume anything that helps—Benadryl, Claritin, Sudafed, Drano. And don’t bother telling me about the side effects—effects—effects—effects. I just want to be able to think and breathe, and operate heavy machinery.

And finally, a word about relief. As every seasonal allergy sufferer knows, there is one remedy that never fails that’s just another one of those great miracles of nature. It’s called winter.

Copyright 2004 Patricia Draznin


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