Today allergies affect about one billion people worldwide.
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Penicillin. Peanuts. Cats. All very common allergens. But strange substances causing allergic reactions is more of a modern phenomenon.
“If you lived 120 years ago, any allergy would have been considered unusual because they were virtually unknown before the late 19th century,” explains “The Allergy Solution” author Leo Galland, M.D. “Initially, it was just pollen or bee stings. But now it’s becoming substances that hide within other substances.”
Here are ten oddball allergies that real doctors have treated. And you probably haven't heard of them -- unless you’re one of the few people who suffer from them!
Read more: Seasonal Allergies Health Center
1. Guitar Strings
In “The Allergy Solution,” Galland shares the story of his patient -- a rock musician who became allergic to his electric guitar strings. Every time he played his guitar, his fingertips got red, scaly and flaky. The allergist figured out that his patient had become allergic to the nickel in his guitar strings.
After that, he had to switch to an acoustic guitar with nylon strings. The musician also began to avoid all jewelry and anything made with stainless steel (because that contains nickel). Lastly, he went on a nickel-free diet because nickel is found in many foods, including chocolate, oatmeal, almonds and legumes.
“It takes six months of avoidance to get nickel out of your system,” says Galland. “Slowly, I had him start eating nickel foods. Being exposed to something orally can desensitize you. Finally, after about nine months, he could pick up the electric guitar again.”
Stepping outside to get a healthy dose of vitamin D is good for you -- unless you’re one of the few people who are allergic to the sun’s rays. Dr. Sandra Hong, allergist-immunologist at Cleveland Clinic, says, “Certain wavelengths of light can cause solar urticaria, also known as sunlight-induced hives.”
If you break out in hives every time you go outdoors, what do you do besides live a vampire-like existence? “You need to cover up as best as possible: a hat, long sleeves, long pants,” Hong suggests, “and take long-acting antihistamines. Also, sunscreen that works by blocking all UVA rays -- such as Vanicream -- can be helpful.”
3. Mattress and Pillow Foam
What if you couldn’t get any shut-eye because you were allergic to your own comfy bed? Sad but true, we found out from Dr. Galland. He treated a patient who was allergic to the foam in insulation and pillows, causing quite a few sleepless nights.
He explains, “Foam is made from two types of substances: isocyanate and sugar alcohol. The isocyanate is what can cause allergic reactions.” Common reactions to memory foam can include rashes, difficulty breathing or insomnia. If you’ve been noticing a reaction, Galland suggests instead trying cotton or wool mattresses and pillows made of Dacron or feathers -- that is, if you’re not allergic to feathers.
Imagine you finally found “the one” -- funny, smart, attractive, good chemistry, common interests. But then you get intimate and hit a speed bump in the bedroom that makes sex unbearable: Women really can be allergic to their partner’s semen, according to allergist Robert Holzhauer, M.D., from the Allergy Partners of the California Central Coast.
The International Society for Sexual Medicine (issm.info) explains that it’s a rare allergic reaction to the proteins found in a man’s semen that causes redness, swelling, pain, itching and a burning sensation in the vaginal area. So what can you do? “Use a condom to create a barrier,” Holzhauer suggests. “But just make sure you’re not allergic to latex.”
If you were allergic to your own couch, binge-watching “House of Cards” would be more brutal than Frank Underwood’s machinations. How is that possible? Your furniture may contain formaldehyde. “If you’re allergic to it, handling something made out of it or breathing it in can cause a rash or asthma,” allergist Galland says.
Formaldehyde can be found in the glue in everything from plywood, particleboard and, yes, furniture to carpet and laminated flooring. The chemical is used in beauty and cleaning products. Even those who don’t suffer from allergies can avoid this potential carcinogen by buying furniture made from real wood, not glued wood, plastic and/or metal.
The Environmental Working Group advises looking out for these ingredients: DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, quaternium-15, bronopol (2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol), 5-Bromo-5-nitro-1,3-dioxane and hydroxymethylglycinate.
On a sweltering day, nothing feels better than the cool blast of air-conditioning -- unless you’re allergic to it. Then it means a whole host of health problems, including cold urticaria (large red welts caused from the cold) and difficulty breathing.
But a more common allergy culprit is actually mold growing in your air-conditioning system when moisture is allowed to settle in air ducts. Turning on your AC (particularly the first time of the season) can stir the spores up. And it’s not just at home.
Galland says, “Mold can also grow on your air-conditioning in your car and cause asthma, a skin rash, cognitive problems and excessive sleepiness.” These would definitely not be fun to deal with when you’re stuck in traffic. Luckily, there are products designed to kill the mold spores in your AC vents.
7. Jalapeños and Other Hot Peppers
For some people jalapeños are a must-have on everything from salsas and jams to pizza, sushi rolls and spicy margaritas. But if you’re allergic to them they can be downright dangerous. Dr. Holzhauer treated a patient who suffered from anaphylaxis anytime she ate anything cooked with jalapeño peppers.
He says, “She tries to avoid them, but it’s not so easy. The last time she had issues with it was when she was eating an omelet with hot sauce on it.” So what was it about these fiery peppers that caused her allergic reaction? The capsaicin, which gives them their spiciness.
If you’re allergic to capsaicin, you should avoid all chili peppers, including the most common ones -- green chilies, habaneros, hatch chilies, Scotch bonnets and Serrano peppers.
Roller coasters. The new 4-D movie theaters with motion seats. Your favorite battery-operated “boyfriend.” You could be allergic to all of these entertaining things if you have vibratory urticaria -- an allergy to vibrations.
“Vibrations can actually cause hives,” Dr. Hong says. “Nearby construction, the sound of a jackhammer, using household products like a blender or even vacuuming can make them appear.” According to a study led by researchers at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), people who are allergic to vibrations experience an exaggerated version of a normal cellular response to vibration.
If you suffer from this rare disorder, Hong advises, “avoidance and long-lasting antihistamines would be the best way to treat it.”
It sounds like a genius excuse, but according to allergist-immunologist Hong, being allergic to exercise is an actual problem. People can develop exercise-induced anaphylaxis, a rapidly progressing allergic reaction that affects the entire body.
“It can cause airway constriction, skin and intestinal irritation and irregular heart patterns,” she says. It gets even more interesting: Apparently, the exercise allergy can by triggered by certain foods.
If this proves true for a patient, he or she should exercise in the morning before eating, according to Runner’s World, as well as carry an EpiPen (self-injectable epinephrine), the antihistamine Benadryl and Medic Alert identification in case of emergencies.
Imagine taking a refreshing sip of cool water and then experiencing severe itching and breaking out in hives. It may sound like science fiction, but, says Hong, “aquagenic urticarial -- also known as having a water allergy -- is a very real thing.”
But the good news is that it’s very rare. Only about 30 cases have been published in medical literature, according to Livescience.com, which also states the allergic reaction consists of lesions that only last about half an hour.
As far as treatments, the National Institutes of Health says that, due to the rarity of the condition, information is limited about their effectiveness. However, H1-antihistamines, phototherapy, Durabolin (an anabolic steroid) and creams that create a barrier between water and skin have shown varying degrees of success.
What Do YOU Think?
What the strangest allergy you've ever heard of? Do you have an allergy and how did you find out that you had it? Tell us in the comments!