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.