Once in the bathroom I lowered my swimsuit and was horrified at the sight. Red welts the size of baseballs, raised a quarter inch from the surface of my skin, covered my stomach, waist, thighs and, yes, all parts in between. I cried out for my mom. When my mom looked she winced. She then, of course, calls my Aunt Kathleen, her sister, into the bathroom to investigate. Aunt Kathleen was a nurse, she would know what to do. There I was, 13 years old, standing naked in front of my mom and aunt as they poked and prodded and discussed the rash and welts that were covering my privates. Parts of me were so, inflated, so enlarged, so puffy, I thought that they were going to think...well, like I said, I was thirteen. I didn't know what to think. It was so, very embarrassing, my face was as red as the welts. They decided I had a bad case of hives. Hives usually appear at the warmest part of the body which is why they were all over my midsection and groin. That was when I learned I was allergic to certain red food coloring.
When I was 20 I had the same reaction to some type of "pizza" flavored snack. I took some Benadryl to ease the itching of the hives. Thirty minutes after taking the Benadryl I was taken to the ER because my throat started to close up. This is when I found out I was allergic to Benadryl which is the most common drug used to help with allergic reactions.
Over the years I have had episodes of hives and various allergic reactions to various foods, including an allergic reaction to a tattoo (a story for another time). But all of the reactions were most likely caused by the food coloring or dye.
Last Wednesday morning someone at work brought in some chocolate covered pretzels that were leftover from the holidays. I helped myself to a few as a mid-morning treat. A while after eating them I could feel my lower lip start to swell up. I thought that maybe I was getting a pimple or maybe I got bit by a bug or something. Although the lip stayed swollen the irritation went away. Around 11:30 I had two Hershey Kisses as a pre-lunch snack.
When I got home at noon for lunch Lauren looked at me and said "Good god! What happened to your face?"
I told her I was having a reaction of some sort to a bug bite or something and that nothing I did or ate that morning was out of the ordinary for me. Which it wasn't. When I returned to the office my brother, LW, who I work with, started calling me the Elephant Man. The entire left side of my face was swollen. It was at this point that the hives started kicking in. But they didn't start at the usual "warm parts of the body" spots. They went up and down my arms and face. Now I knew I was having an allergic reaction I just did not know what from.
Later that night, after breaking out again after eating some chocolate chip cookies, Lauren convinced me to take some Benadryl. We had the "dye free" kind and she thought it would be okay. It was almost 20 years ago that I had a reaction. She convinced me that my allergies may have changed over that time (you know the whole "you body re-generates new cells every seven years" thing). I was no longer allergic to certain red food coloring. Something else was causing my reaction now. So maybe she was right, maybe I was no longer allergic to Benadryl.
I took half a dose. My hands swelled up like balloons. I made a doctor appointment for the next day.
This is my lip 3x its normal size.
My arm covered in hives.
The doctor gave me some steroids and cleared it all up. Apparently my body has changed over these years. I am no longer allergic to red food coloring. I am still allergic to Benadryl. I am now allergic to chocolate.