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Being Allergic to the Largest External Organ

I want to start by disclaiming that I am in no way a doctor. While I joke with my mom that I could be one based on the amount of doctor-themed television shows I watch, I have no medical knowledge and will be repeating what I have been told during my doctor visits.

Starting a new chapter in your life is scary enough, whether it’s romantic, a new career move or, in my case, a new education. 

The winter before my first semester at Concordia University, my body betrayed me. I know this sounds dramatic, but that’s how it felt. I was all excited to start taking classes on a subject I wanted to make money off of eventually. Instead of planning and getting mentally ready, my body felt like it was the correct time to start displaying signs of an autoimmune disease. 


Some skin care products arranged next to flowers
Charisse Kenion

It started simply enough. I had started taking some meds for acne, and everything was fine, but then suddenly, my body started to produce hives-like spots. My first reaction was that I must have eaten something that I was allergic to, or my body was reacting to a soap. A pretty reasonable assumption, especially when you have two family members who are already basically allergic to life, I mean they are allergic to foods, seasons, dust, animals. 

Eventually the hives kept reappearing no matter what I did, the spots would look like rashes blotches, sexy right? Now I hate going to the doctor. Being a bit of a germaphobe, the idea of sitting in a waiting room full of sick people makes my skin crawl. There is also the fact that no matter how early you get there, you are left waiting way past your scheduled time. Keeping that in mind, I made my parents rush me to the emergency the moment that my body hurt too much to breathe because a slight movement stung like a thousand bee stings. 

For those who are lucky enough to go to the emergency room rarely, you should know that unless you have a severe problem or you come in with a noticeable injury, you could expect to wait a very long time. You will end up sitting on an uncomfortable chair and sometimes never even get to see a doctor because they have left for the night. My parents and I sat in the emergency room for hours, the nurse did a check out procedure and stuck a thing in my arm for an IV which if you read one of my earlier articles, you know I hate needles! The wait continued, and it generally takes a lot for me to show pain, but it got to the point that I was having a small breakdown, begging for meds to stop the pain. I mean, if you had your entire body feel like it has a significant sunburn, how long would you last before shedding a few tears? Finally, a doctor came and gave my parents a referral for an autoimmune disease specialist to come and see in the morning. So, after a whole night wasted, I had to go back early to see a guy who may or may not be able to help. Man, I love the medicare system.


Face mask and other spa items
Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Now ever since this whole thing started, my parents were on my case to take pics of my body. The photos were to show the doctors just in case that by the time we actually saw anyone with a medical degree, there was photo evidence. The images were helpful when my issue decided not to present on that day. Again something super sexy to have. I mean, why would a boy want nudes when they can have pics of skin full of bumps and rashes. 

The doctor was nice. I explained that I really wanted to figure out what was going on before school started. I am not superficial, but no one wants to start a whole new school with splotches everywhere and not being able to hold a pencil. The doctor told me to stop all medications and stated that he was unsure exactly was wrong, so he sent me to an allergist. Great, more doctors!

Stopping my acne medication did help improve my joints, but the hives kept coming, and my body still hurt. Living off Benadryl was not an option, and not being able to work or do anything because you’re drugged and drowsy most of the time is not fun. 

I have to know, are all allergists unpleasant, or only the ones I had the pleasure of dealing with? A nervous girl who is in pain comes into your office. You would think the doctor would have some sympathy instead of talking down to you and taking a pen cap to scrap your entire back to see what the reaction was. They did the pick test to recognize fabrics and other elements that would cause a reaction in my skin, and the diagnosis was – drumroll, please ladies and gents…Sensitive skin and Dermatographia!

Dermatographia is being allergic to your skin anytime it’s triggered. An allergist literally used these words. If I’m too stressed, or drink too much caffeine or alcohol or scrap my skin or it’s too hot or too cold, my skin will react. Fun, right?

The first allergist told me to take Reactine every day to make sure my skin doesn’t react which at first was fine but if you take into consideration how much a bottle of liquid reacting pills are and the fact that I need to take one pill maybe even two for the rest of my life, the bill gets high. Another allergist gave me a newer drug, but that would have cost $80 every month, again FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE. I found this to be ironic because I told him the reason I stopped taking Reactine every day was because of its cost. Finally, a dermatologist because, of course, we added another doctor for this issue, gave me a prescription that was covered under my insurance, and so far, my skin calmed down. However, I do get the occasional flare-up.


Skincare morning routine
Kevin Laminto

Having this diagnosis has dramatically changed my life. If you knew me in high school, then you would know I am someone who really could not care about what I looked like. My idea of makeup was mascara and maybe lip gloss unless my friend did a full-faced makeup because we were bored. Now, I am someone who has a seven steps morning and night-time skincare routine and I make sure all the products are organic and vegan because the idea of adding chemicals to my skin freaks me out. I got really into essential oils to help calm my skin down, and I’m hyper-aware of not irritating my skin using unscented products and sticking to the same stores because I know their products won’t cause a reaction. I didn’t completely cut out some of the things I love, such as caffeine and alcohol, I just decreased my intake.

It has also changed my relationship with my body. When I was first diagnosed, I hated my skin. I hate my body for not hiding my emotions. My mom loved to joke that her kid, who has such a tough exterior and rarely shows emotions, has sensitive skin. Making me second guess every item of clothing I wore. What if I wore a bikini during summer and suddenly, hives showed up or if I was at a dinner with a beautiful dress that showed off my back and because I got too hot or if suddenly something or someone grazed my back, that would result in a mark for the rest of night. Slowly, I got used to it and started not to let it define me. It’s annoying when someone points out my hives or spots. I am accurately aware of them, but I always roll my eyes and shrug.

So, next time you see someone with spots on their skin, be mindful and think twice before pointing them out because they may be suffering from a skin condition. Like me, they could be allergic to their body’s largest external organ.  

Ashley Cohen

Concordia CA '21

Ashley Cohen is a born Montrealer and studies English Literature at Concordia Unversity. She one day hopes to be a developmental editor for a big publishing house she now enjoys being a copy editor and honing in her skills. She is a sister of Delta Phi Epsilon sorority. She is passionate about books, food and animals especially her dog Chelsea.
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