How Oral Allergy Syndrome Ruined My Dream of Being an Expat

How Oral Allergy Syndrome Ruined My Dream of Being an Expat

“Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow.”
― Anita Desai

This affirmation is so very true, but even more for us, prone to develop new allergies people. I just didn’t know until it was too late.

I lived my first 26 years in the same place, with a dust mite allergy and a mild hayfever, my youngest years were spent in between asthma attacks, which I fortunately don’t remember. With the years and maturity, my immune system calmed down, and apart from troubles breathing after a vigorous walk or a burst of laughter, everything was fine. Later on, I got an inhaler because labored breathing was not the way to top a romantic night.

At 26 I left to Belgium to finish my studies, and enjoying the independence, decided to stay for a while and looked for a job. At that moment I didn’t know, but my body was going to be the one letting me down.

I had several health issues, being stress due to mobbing the first one, which caused me 8-month chronic back pain. I think that might have been the beginning of the end, as I’m a firm believer that all the stress our bodies suffer justs fill up our stress-tank, and after a while, it just overflows and things are never the same. I changed jobs and started feeling alive again, so much that I went one morning before work to jog to the Parc de Bruxelles. So proud of what I thought was going to become a healthy habit, I bought an apple at work with a smug smile plastered on my face, that I went on eating while in front of my computer. Soon after, a tingling sensation started on my gums, which I quickly disregarded, but when my mouth and throat started to swell I could not deny that something was going on. A visit to the ER later and some treatment, I was diagnosed with oral allergy syndrome, one of my nemesis since then.

The oral allergy syndrome or food syndrome is a crossreactivity of a pollen protein and a food protein. With a quite similar structure, the part of the immune system present in the mouth, throat, and nose, just can’t distinguish between them, and reacts as if you were eating pollen. After a couple of years living in Belgium I’ve become allergic to the birch pollen, one of the pollens causing the greatest crossreactivity. At that moment I didn’t know, but this pollen may crossreact with many fruits, wheat, carrots, tomatoes, green pepper, avocado, hazelnut, soy, beans, and many others. At that moment I was fine with avoiding some fruits, and after my experience with that apple, I didn’t feel tempted to try again.

My birch allergy became much worse, and during three months a year, I had constant asthma attacks. I tried to sleep propped up on several pillows, almost on a seating position. But it was bad, and I used to sleep little, just waiting for the dawn sitting on the couch in our living room. I also started having issues at work. Somehow the pollen got trapped in the airco vents and I experimented shortness of breath at work. Then I had lumbago in the middle of July. Belgium was not kind to me, so in the middle of winter, we decided to flee the county.

We decided to settle in Madrid (Spain), where it was moderately easy to find work. I just got a transfer within the same company, and as I was the only one of the team working in Spain, I was not given an office, so I worked from home most of the days. I enjoyed the change, the sun, the kindness of people. I was feeling alive again, and apart from pilates, I also started practicing capoeira. My grass allergy got worse, and I developed new airborne allergies after the move. It seems I shouldn’t decide to move many times in my life since every time I’ll pick the typical allergies of each region. Bummer. My allergist recommended allergy shots to make life more pleasant and breath better. I started those in November, five years and a half ago, and I was initially treated for dust mites and grass pollen, but two more pollens were added after a while.


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