Allergies or RA?
During my years of living with rheumatoid arthritis I’ve come to expect the unexpected weird symptom or illness. Unfortunately, I can’t predict what strange experience I may encounter, but I do know they will come, and usually at an inopportune time.
While doctors haven’t been able to explain these occurrences, I believe these issues are related to having a funky immune system and the convergence of overactive RA, while also being treated with immunosuppressant drugs. I feel the overlap between the RA, my immune system, and my treatment allows for strange things to happen.
For example, several years ago I came down with a nasty case of shingles. While this isn’t an uncommon issue, it is rare in otherwise healthy 30-year-olds. Luckily, I got early treatment and so was able to recover quickly.
Allergies or RA symptoms?
My latest surprise arrived recently in the form of hives. On a Friday afternoon, I began noticing my abdomen felt itchy and quickly spread from a small area on my stomach to my waist, legs, back, and arms.
Thinking I could save some calls to the doctor, I self-treated with Benadryl, but my symptoms didn’t improve. I conceded defeat and called my general practitioner (GP) on Sunday, procuring a prescription of high-dose prednisone to calm the hives.
While the treatment worked and the itchy hives faded after a few days, I never found out what caused them. During the next few days I saw my GP, left a message for the dermatologist and spoke with my rheumatologist. No one had an answer about where the hives came from, but the suspicion was that they developed as an allergic reaction. The rheumatologist said that people with RA sometimes do have sudden rashes and hives, but usually, we never know why or where they came from.
Hoping to find more answers, I visited an allergist. He told me that 95 percent of people who develop sudden rashes with hives never find out the cause. But he also tested me for some basic allergens and I discovered I had a lot of reactions to the usual suspects: molds, pollens, grass, and trees.
Now I’m wondering if there’s a connection between my RA and my allergies. Does active RA inspire allergies or vice versa? Do they have some other, more complex relationship? It seems logical to me that these immune issues may be intricately connected.
Should I call my Allergist or Rheumatologist?
While I have many questions, it still occurs to me that my RA and treatment can result in some strange experiences. One of the difficulties in handling this sudden rash and hives was that I didn’t know which doctor to call first! I ended up reaching out to several, playing phone tag and either visiting or talking via phone with a few doctors.
With an autoimmune disease and the creative illnesses that arise, a lot of responsibility falls on me to manage complex issues. It means tracking down multiple doctors for various perspectives, communicating between them and trying to make sense of treatment options. I have found that I need to be persistent with my doctors and unafraid of asking weird questions.
While my rash and hives were a comparatively minor health issue, compared to others I’ve experienced, it was uncomfortable and inconvenient, plus a bit worrisome. I kept wondering—will it get better? Will it go away then come back again? Can I have another occurrence any time?
I never know when a strange immune issue will arise, but I’ve got to be able to roll with it and learn to manage. With my doctors a phone call away and hopefully treatment soon to follow, my best guess is to try to stay as healthy as possible and take each day as it comes.
On a scale of 1(low) to 5(high), how difficult is it for you to talk about having RA?