The driver of a cab I hired in Chicago told me that he was allergic to his new girlfriend. He didn’t know what it was about her, but he broke out whenever he got near her. He was certain it wasn’t anything obvious like perfume or cosmetics.

Far-fetched? Not at all. A few days later, I stumbled across a possible explanation. An allergist in that same city told me that sensitivity to human dander – hair and skin particles – has been written about in medical journals from time to time.

Of course, I never did find out how the cabbie fared. But his was just one of several types of odd allergies that I ran across while researching this book – allergies which I’ll review here in case you or someone you know happens to have a very unusual problem. Some of these allergies are so rare that doctors have had little opportunity to develop any real therapy – other than to avoid the cause of the problem. (Unless it’s something you’re willing to endure – like your girlfriend.)


Allergy to light may sound like the ultimate in hypochondria. But it does occur. And not only in people who are taking certain drugs or handling chemicals that activate skin problems in the presence of light, as we discussed in earlier chapters. Once in a blue moon (or sun), along comes someone who really is allergic to light per se – and then only to certain wavelengths: artificial light or light streaming through a window is okay, but direct light is a problem. The person’s skin gets red, swollen and tender, except for well-defined areas covered by sleeves, trousers or a hat – just like sunburn. But the skin flares up only moments after an exposure too brief to produce sunburn in most people. Sometimes the mock burn is accompanied by headaches, vomiting and burning eyes. Very rarely, light sensitivity can lead to anaphylactic shock.

People with allergy to sunlight don’t go to many beach parties. But they don’t have to go underground, either. Protective clothing is a must, of course. And sunscreens can be a tremendous help. Mildly sensitive people can build up their tolerance to sunlight by exposing small areas, a little at a time.


In a relationship with an agreed basis of fidelity, finding out your partner has had or is having an affair is usually its biggest challenge. It strikes at the heart of your self-confidence and trust and it can shake the foundations of the strongest relationship. Very few people can cope easily with the thought of the person they love having sex with somebody else. Above all it makes you question your own sexual adequacy, leaving you to ask, ‘Why wasn’t I enough?’

It has been estimated that there is an infidelity at some stage in around seventy percent of marriages. That makes the affair a common social covenant but one which is largely denied, and for good reason. There is a very real risk that it will tear the marriage apart. You see it all the time. But the question must be put: is society hanging onto a fragile facade of fidelity? It is more constructive to acknowledge the situation and look at it in terms of primary and secondary relationships, rather than using the term ‘affair’ at all.

Concealing a secondary relationship can be seen as a survival tactic for the primary (or what you perceive to be the most important) relationship. It is not so much a case of deception but a realistic fear of loss — of the primary partner withdrawing their love or just walking out. That’s why Rule Number One has always been … ‘Don’t get caught.’ So Rule Number Two is ‘Don’t catch anything.’ The reality is that any extracurricular (or secondary) sexual contact will increase your risk of transmitting a sexually transmitted disease to your primary partner. Without meticulous attention to safer sex practices, the risk is multiplied. Even without the health implications for your primary partner, a sure-fire way to ‘get caught’ is to ‘catch something’ and pass it on.

The reasons people have affairs are wide-ranging. Sexual boredom may be one of those reasons and some people will see an affair as the solution to discover new sexual and relationship skills. An extension of this is when one partner is not interested in sex, the other has a stronger libido and they are unable to reach a compromise. The partner with the stronger libido might not want to forfeit the primary relationship but still needs the sex. Many people also feel emotionally deprived or unsatisfied in a single longterm relationship. Some marriages are undoubtedly eroded by a secondary relationship. The painful truth is that many marriages are surviving and growing because of a secondary relationship rather than in spite of it.

If you marry young and stay with that partner you may reach a time when the curiosity to find out what sex is like with someone else becomes an irresistible temptation. The catalyst for this is usually a specific attraction to another person, rather than a deliberate effort to ‘just do it with someone else’.

If one partner is bisexual they may live in a primary relationship with someone of the same or opposite sex but, because of the dual nature of their sexuality, they may have a series of casual encounters or another relationship to satisfy this duality.


Speaking of nickel, that metal is to blame for more skin allergies than any other metal – probably because it’s so widely used. Everything from zips and poppers to coins and costume jewellery contains some nickel.

What’s more, the salt in perspiration dissolves nickel. People who wear costume jewellery with no problem during the winter often find that in summer, the same jewellery will make them itch and feel prickly within just fifteen or twenty minutes. An hour or so later, they break out. Or they break out wherever pressure is great – where tight suspenders rub against thighs, for example. (Incidentally, tight clothing in general tends to be more troublesome – another good reason to keep your weight down.)

Nickel molecules also tend to affix themselves to skin cells, prolonging symptoms even after you’ve removed the article in question.

One in every ten women is allergic to nickel, and most of them, says Dr Schorr, are young women who have had their ears pierced and subsequently developed nickel allergy. The problem begins, obviously enough, on the earlobes, and later resurfaces on the wrist, neck or abdomen due to contact with nickel in watches, bracelets, necklaces, buckles and clips.

Nickel-sensitive people resort to various schemes to put a barrier between their skin and nickel. Earring fasteners can also be coated with clear nail lacquer (if you can wear it safely). You can wear powder underneath your necklace and clasp bracelets. And buy spectacle frames of plastic or with plastic sleeves on the stems.

If you’re going to have your ears pierced, you can avoid nickel allergy by having it done by a doctor, and requesting that he or she use a stainless steel needle. Wear only stainless steel, stud earrings for the first three weeks, until the hole heals over completely. After that, you can wear any earrings safely, says Dr Fisher (Journal of the American Medical Association).

Stainless steel is non-allergenic, even if it contains nickel, because the nickel is bound in so firmly that even sweat cannot free up the metal. Certain other metals – especially copper and silver – corrode readily and can occasionally cause trouble, especially when dampened by perspiration.

Gold is far less apt to cause allergy than other decorative metals. Some people can wear no jewellery unless it’s 24-carat (100 per cent) gold. But even ‘pure’ gold may be contaminated with traces of nickel or other metals. And sulphur and other chemicals in smog can tarnish gold. When a tarnished gold ring is slipped on the finger or a bracelet is placed on the arm, the tarnish may cause a reaction.



Vertigo is not quite the same as dizziness. With vertigo, you feel as though your head or the room is spinning; when you’re dizzy, you feel unsteady, but with no spinning sensation. (You can, however, have vertigo and dizziness at the same time.) Vertigo is sometimes also accompanied by blockage in the ear, buzzing noises, nausea and vomiting. A disease of the cochlea, the hearing mechanism in the middle ear, can cause vertigo. So can a disturbance in the balance-regulating portion of, the ear known as the vestibular system. Nerve damage in the inner ear is another possible cause. But there’s another cause that doctors rarely consider. Allergy.

‘Vertigo can affect children or adults who have an inner ear allergy which affects their sense of balance,’ says Dr Doris J. Rapp, in her book Allergies and Your Family. This type of allergy can be triggered by foods, drugs, chemicals or particles like dust, pollen and moulds.

Albert Rowe, Jr, an allergist in San Francisco, tells of a sixty-year-old woman who had disturbing attacks of vertigo for twenty years, along with episodes of colitis. An elimination diet designed to control her food allergies and cure her colitis also put an end to her vertigo.

Dr Rowe also tells of a man who frequently experienced falling sensations, along with migraine headaches. Tests showed he had no central nervous system defect or other neurological problem to otherwise explain the vertigo and headaches. By avoiding some fruits, vegetables and nuts – to which he was allergic – the man rid himself of both problems.

Other doctors tell similar stories of people who overcome vertigo by avoiding such common allergens as chocolate, milk, wheat, corn or orris root (a common fragrance). If you have allergy-induced vertigo, relief will depend on finding out what bothers you and avoiding those triggers.

Miscellaneous health problems

Various allergy doctors have also noticed that the following miscellaneous symptoms are sometimes caused or aggravated by allergies:

Eyes: blurred vision, sensitivity to light, weeping

Respiratory: hacking cough, laryngitis

Gastrointestinal: burping, dry mouth, metallic taste in mouth, rectal itching, thirst

Urinary: frequent, urgent or painful urination

Muscular: backaches

Emotional/Mental: floating sensations, forgetfulness, mood changes

General: chills, tingling, weakness


The maddening itch of vaginal inflammation may be caused by three different microscopic organisms. One is the yeast-like fungus Candida. As you might guess, Candida is biologically related to moulds in cheese; yeasts in beer, wine, vinegar and bread; yeast-based  vitamins; and mushrooms.

Most of the time, Candida lives compatibly in the intestines and vagina along with other microorganisms that keep Candida in check. Under certain circumstances, though, Candida can overrun its fellow organisms, causing infection and inflammation (candidiasis). The vagina is especially prone to Candida infections for a number of reasons. Mainly, the fungus thrives in the warm, moist climate of the vagina. And Candida from the intestinal tract can easily find their way to the vagina from the nearby rectum, multiplying the chances for infection.

Candida infections are a special problem for people with allergies to yeasts and moulds. Their bodies react to an overgrowth of Candida as they would to any other yeast or mould. Nystatin and other anti-fungal medicines – in tablets or suppositories – can help kill off the fungus. But in allergic people, the itching and inflammation may not go away until all forms of fungus, dietary and internal, are kept under control.

One tactic is to adopt a low-mould diet, says a gynaecologist we spoke to from Sulphur Springs, Arkansas. ‘Eating moulds or yeasts overloads the system, and the infection flares up.’

The low-mould diet is most effective when combined with yoghurt therapy. Yoghurt contains Lactobacillus acidophilus, a special bacteria that suppresses Candida.

‘Candida vaginitis can be controlled by applying yoghurt [live cultures] to the vagina,’ we were told. ‘Eating yoghurt, too, helps by controlling Candida growth in the intestines.’

Chemical irritants aggravate vaginitis of any kind. Women plagued by vaginal inflammation should avoid using deodorant soaps, perfumed sprays, bubble baths and colored or perfumed toilet paper in the vaginal area.


Do your ears ring? Or hiss? Or roar like the ocean? Or crackle like Rice Krispies?

These are the sounds of the ear problem, tinnitus. And they’re not just background noise. You can’t hear every word that’s spoken or enjoy radio or TV programmes without straining. In some ways, tinnitus is even worse than deafness – at least the deaf can concentrate on what they’re reading and sleep without being woken up by the noises in their own head.

People with tinnitus complain of noise in one or both ears, or a different sound in each ear. In either case, the noise can become louder or softer at different times of the day. And the louder the tinnitus, the more tense and irritable you become.

Infection or injury are common causes of the problem. But it can also be a symptom of Meniere’s syndrome, a hearing disorder caused by fluid retention in the ear, which in turn can be caused by allergies. And tinnitus can be a direct result of allergy-triggered inflammation of tiny blood vessels inside the ear.

As with other ear problems, allergy should be considered as a possible cause of tinnitus if:

- you have allergies of the nose, sinuses or respiratory tract (hay fever, asthma, sinusitis,

nasal polyps);

– your symptoms are linked to specific foods or inhalants; or

– skin or blood tests indicate you have allergies.

Sometimes the signs of ear allergy are very subtle. One man suffered ringing in the ears and increasing deafness for eight years. The only clues to allergy were post-nasal drip and a strong dislike for milk. His doctor put him on a standard elimination diet, omitting the most common food allergens such as milk, wheat, eggs and fruit. Within two weeks, the ringing and deafness decreased; in one month noise disappeared completely and the man could hear well once again. Relief continued for two months on the diet. Individual foods were then gradually added to his diet to test for allergic symptoms. Tinnitus and loss of hearing returned only when the man drank milk or ate wheat or eggs. By avoiding those foods, his tinnitus disappeared permanently.

As a preventive measure, anyone who works in a noisy area should wear ear plugs or ear protectors to avoid ear damage, which can also cause tinnitus. Tinnitus can also be aggravated by too much salt in the diet, overuse of aspirin, drinking alcohol or smoking cigarettes.


Sinus trouble is one of the most common complaints treated by allergists. The basic problem is swollen, inflamed mucous membranes in the sinuses – eight hollow cavities behind your nose, cheeks and forehead. The swelling blocks the sinus openings that lead to the nose. Trapped mucus then presses against the sinus walls, so that your entire upper face and forehead feel painful and tender. And your nose is stopped up. But if you blow your nose too hard, the pressure forces mucus in the sinuses even harder against the sinus walls, inflaming the area all the more.

In allergic people, sinusitis usually affects those with chronic hay fever. It can also be caused by an infection like the type that accompanies a cold.

The first thing to do for allergic sinusitis is drain the sinuses. Applying a warm flannel to the face thins mucus and coaxes secretions out of sinus cavities. (Run the flannel under hot water to warm it, but be careful that the flannel doesn’t get too hot, or you’ll burn your face.) You can also breathe warm mist from a kettle of boiling water. (Don’t get too close to the steam or you’ll scald yourself.) Or you can drink a mug or two of steaming herb tea. Herbalists say that fenugreek is good for breaking up mucus.

Using nasal decongestant sprays or drops is not a good idea. They help reduce the swelling temporarily, but your sinuses will flare up worse than ever when you discontinue the drug. Oral decongestants aren’t ideal, either – they tend to make you jumpy and irritable. Instead of drugs, try vitamin Ñ. It acts as a natural antihistamine, shrinking swollen sinuses and reducing the hay fever reaction.

For complete relief of allergy-induced sinusitis, use the methods outlined in this book to avoid whatever triggers your hay fever. Doing that will prevent not only sinus pain but also permanent damage to sinuses – and uncontrolled sinusitis can lead to post-nasal drip, in which excess mucus from sinuses drips down your throat. If you don’t take good care of your sinuses now, they’ll bother you nonstop later on.


Nasal polyps are smooth, greyish-white, gelatine-like bulbs that cling by thin stalks to the inside of the nose or sinuses. No one knows how polyps form. But they seem to crop up in people whose noses are continually congested from hay fever, especially people who suffer from a year-round allergy to dusts or other over-present offenders. Frequent bouts with colds or the flu also tend to over-activate nasal tissues and cause polyps. So if you have uncontrolled hay fever and frequently get colds, you’re more likely to get polyps.

‘Every patient with nasal polyps should have a complete allergy study,’ says Meyer B. Marks, chief of pediatric allergy at the University of Miami School of Medicine (Annals of Allergy).

You can have large nasal polyps and not know it. You can’t always see them yourself, even with a mirror. But you may have some clues. If your nose is continually congested and your sense of taste or smell isn’t as sharp as usual, ask your doctor to check your nose for polyps.

If polyps grow so large that you can’t breathe through your nose, your doctor will probably want to remove them surgically. But once you’ve had nasal polyps, they tend to grow back. To prevent that – or to prevent small polyps from getting larger -it’s important that you keep your allergies under control. Using an air filter in your bedroom can clear up congestion and other breathing difficulties in just half an hour or so – and give you eight full hours of total relief. Vitamin Ñ acts as a natural antihistamine clearing a clogged nose and sinuses. Regular exercise keeps nasal mucus flowing, so it can’t back up and aggravate polyp-forming tissues.


Many different medical disorders can cause aching or swelling in your muscles, including bone problems, too much exercise without proper conditioning or too little exercise, says Dr William G. Crook, an allergist in Jackson, Tennessee. ‘But still another cause of musculoskeletal discomfort is allergy.’

‘Almost all patients with extensive food allergy complain of muscular aching,’ says Frederic Speer, a professor of pediatrics at both the University of Kansas and the University of Missouri, and director of the Speer Allergy Clinic in Shawnee Mission, Kansas. ‘The most commonly affected muscles are in the neck, upper back and [arms and legs].’

In fact, food allergy is a common but often overlooked explanation for ‘growing pains’ in children. An allergic youngster may complain that his legs ache even though his posture is good and he doesn’t have flat feet,’ says Dr Crook.

One of Dr Crook’s patients was an eleven-year-old girl with sore neck and shoulder muscles, who also had frequent bouts of wry neck (muscle contractions along the portion of the spine that runs through the neck). Various doctors had incorrectly diagnosed her problem as everything from arthritis to rheumatic fever. Eventually, her muscle aches disappeared completely when she simply eliminated corn from her diet.

Allergy-related muscle aches can also accompany hay fever, eczema, headaches, stomach problems or other forms of allergy. You may not associate your soreness with allergy at all. Yet when allergies are brought under control, the muscle aches may disappear.

For instance, an allergy doctor reports the case of a thirty-four-year-old man who had muscular pain in his neck and shoulders for fifteen years. He also had other symptoms typical of allergy, such as post-nasal drip. Tests showed that he was allergic to several foods. After he stayed away from milk, wheat, fruit, artificial flavorings and condiments for two months, his pain went away completely.

Dust, pollen, chemicals or other airborne allergens can also cause muscle aches. If you always wake up achy in the morning, you could be allergic to mattress dust, in which case using a mattress cover and thoroughly vacuuming the mattress will help. If you feel achy after a night of partying, alcohol or cigarette smoke could be at fault. And if your muscle aches are at their worst during spring, summer and fall, pollen allergy could be to blame.

Such was the case reported by an allergy doctor of a twenty-five-year-old woman whose arms, shoulders, neck, upper back and chest were sore. She suffered all year, but ached more than ever in spring, summer and autumn. Skin tests showed that she was allergic to several grass and tree pollens. Allergy injections for pollen wiped out all her symptoms.

In people with generalized muscular aches, allergy control relieves not only muscle soreness – it relieves the worry that they’re neurotic or hypochondriacs, imagining soreness that has no real cause. Relief gives them peace of body and peace of mind.


Coping with an allergy can make anyone cranky. A stuffy nose or itchy skin can leave you tense and tired.

But irritability can also be a direct allergic reaction to foods, chemicals and other inhalants. Their effect on the nervous system can leave you restless, emotional, tense, sullen and tired despite having had enough sleep. Allergists call allergy-induced irritability the ‘tension-fatigue syndrome’.

An irritable person may be described by others as argumentative, easily hurt, excitable, hard to please, highly-strung, hot tempered, jittery, jumpy, moody, nervous, over-sensitive or temperamental. If any of those labels apply to you, you may be allergic. An irritable, allergic child may be hostile, hyperactive and subject to fits of crying.

‘Although the most frequent cause of this problem is a food, such as food colouring, sugar, milk, chocolate, eggs or corn, it is also possible that other common allergenic substances can be at fault (pollens, dust, moulds, perfume odours),’ says Dr Doris J. Rapp, an allergist in Buffalo, New York.

Staying away from those allergens that spark tension can make life more pleasant for the allergic person – and everyone around him. For example, Dr Rapp tells of an eleven-year-old youngster named Sean who was irritable, clumsy, restless and hostile. Sean fought constantly with his family and schoolmates. Within one week of eating a diet free of common allergenic foods, Sean was much easier to get along with.

‘As foods were re-added to his diet, it was found that . . . food colours and sugar caused irritability, hostility and violent behaviour,’ says Dr Rapp. When Sean avoided those foods, he led a peaceful life. Several months later he tried to eat a normal diet. His teachers reported a dramatic return of irritable behaviour. Back on his allergy-free diet again, Sean calmed down and played happily with others.

Sean’s story shows how rearranging one’s diet to omit allergens can make a person less edgy and argumentative.

‘The allergic tension-fatigue syndrome should be considered in every patient who for no obvious reason is subject to [hyperactivity], irritability, weakness or sluggishness,’ says Frederic Speer, M.D., in his book Allergy of the Nervous System. ‘This is especially true if other causes have been ruled out. Certainly no patient should be classified as [neurotic] until allergy has been considered.’


« Previous PageNext Page »