We are well into spring now and the triggers have begun to multiply along with the tulips. Most of us with hyper(re)active mast cells are probably all dealing with a barrage of springtime triggers that we have to look out for now that winter is behind us.
When I say “look out for” I mean we are supposed to do our best to totally avoid them, but it’s just not that easy. Many of us are ‘allergic’ to spring time itself it seems! Here are a few of the triggers we struggle with (and why):
Spring cleaning – the traditional act of deep cleaning your living and work spaces in the spring brings major, major challenges. We are easily fatigued, and easily triggered by dust, chemicals and physical exertion. Spring cleaning has to be done right, otherwise we will pay for it.
Sunlight & Heat – longer days and warmer temperatures can be very triggering for us and can throw off our already wonky circadian rhythms. Our sunlight sensitive mast cells can sometimes only take so much and for some of us bright sunshine is sheer torture and can lead to degranulation. So we have to do things like wear dark sunglasses (sometimes even inside), keep the blinds pulled, etc. .
Pollen – The pollen count starts rising as soon as spring arrives, and most days are in the red for me which means I have to carefully consider if it is worth going outside. Keeping the doors and windows closed and running the cooling system with the HEPA filtration and individual room air filtration units helps to keep it in check. So does regular vacuuming with my trusty Kirby using HEPA filter bags. When I do go out for long, I change my clothes and rinse off in the shower afterwards.
Gardening – Along with the pollen it brings, just the act of gardening can be triggering for many of us. Physical exertion outside in the sunshine and warmth can really make us sick, so we have to pace ourselves. I garden in the early morning and late evening and take my time. I will be using only organic methods from now on to treat our lawn and flowerbeds as well as my culinary garden.
Stinging insects – we are warned to avoid being stung by venomous insects because the histamine/immune reaction can push us into potentially fatal anaphylaxis. Taking precautions like wearing long sleeves, socks and shoes and a sun hat seem cumbersome, but the risk of death by insect sting induced anaphylaxis is is no joke for those of us with mast cell disease. Angela Kendrick’s family can testify to that. Keeping our epipens handy as well as a fully charged cell phone is a good idea when we’re inside AND outside.
Other airborne pollutants – spring time is when many fields are being sprayed with chemicals, which can trigger someone who lives in and around farms. Many places also spray for mosquito larva in the spring and many people are also burning things off or firing up bbq’s and backyard fire pits. Airborne pollutants are a major trigger for most of us and are difficult to avoid. Some patients wear surgical type masks to try to block out airborne triggers.
Travel – spring is when a lot of the best opportunities for travel and road tripping happen and we can have special mast cell related challenges when it comes to leaving our “safe zone”. A bumpy car ride can trigger us and so can eating out or staying in hotel rooms. Each step of the way is fraught with potential triggers and many of us (no pun intended) resort to avoiding travel as much as possible to appease our tempermental mast cells.
There are other spring time triggers to consider, like seasonal allergies (which some of us have along with MCAD) or exciting/stressful life events (final exams, graduation time) which can really send us over the edge so we have to be vigilant and take precautions wherever possible.
Sometimes that means loading up on extra medicines and changing routines, or even ‘sitting spring out’ if necessary. I’m doing my best not to have to do that myself.