Each time I visit weather.com to check if I should slip into my spring Soffes or my warm winter sweatpants, I’m met with an alert in a strict and bolded font. A warning sign that doesn’t tell of an upcoming tornado, windstorm, or even a heavy rain, but one that warns of high counts of pollen. The Weather Channel would like me to know that, although I’m not in any immediate danger of needing a basement with a strong foundation, I am in serious danger of sneezing all day.
Despite their concern, I don’t even know if I’m allergic to pollen. When its counts are forever at “high,” much like a brightly colored insect, it’s hard to imagine a life without pollen. Sometimes my nose runs, sometimes I sneeze, sometimes my eyes water – are these symptoms pollen induced? Only a painful skin prick test can tell. And when all that’s required is the occasional need for a portable pack of Charlie Brown-themed tissues, I will pass on the poking.
Once, after having a fever and runny nose, I was given the diagnosis of allergies – I live in Kansas after all, producer of crops and home to large amounts of pollen, how could I not have allergies? But despite my activities, the same symptoms do not return annually, and don’t always exist. Whether frolicking outside or spending the day indoors and at my desk, I intermittently have itchy eyes or wake up feeling like I chugged a bottle of sand. These allergens, they are allusive, and to make matters worse, the irritants can’t be seen. Ragweed, dust mites, mold – all can easily be hidden.
So now, after blabbing on for three paragraphs, you’re probably wondering if I have a point. And the answer is, sort of.
Allergies, known as a universal, solve-all diagnosis, can only sometimes be proven. The symptoms are so inconsistent, infrequent, and unpredictable, that people rarely know for sure if they even exist. Perhaps, rather than these “allergies,” drug companies insert symptom-causing substances into our foods. But, because seasonal allergies have to be tricky, these sneeze causers can only be introduced to foods at random, most likely through companies that make multiple products, like Kraft or Campbell’s Soup. (Possible product names: Cough-Os, Stuffed Up Mushrooms and Sneeze-Its.) Or maybe these substances are passed along by laundry detergent, dropped by airplanes, or injected into the paper bulletins at church.
No matter their origin – if allergies do truly exist – they are one of the world’s most illusive substances. Just like 007, mercury particles, and, yes, Carmen Sandiego, seasonal allergies can never quite be pinned down.