Happy Spring Allergies

Let me take a break from my China travel series and have a little heart-to-heart chat on my favorite topic, Immunology.

Yesterday was a marvelous day. I pulled a near-all-nighter Sunday studying for my Immunology midterm. I went in Monday morning sleep-deprived but relatively hyper. I wanted to blast through the mighty midterm and have a good day. I blasted through it and I really hope I ace it. I am expecting Honors this time around because Immunology was my specialty in undergraduate. I’d be ashamed to show my face in Smilow if I fail to ace this topic…

I wanted to enjoy the beautiful, sunny day. Except there’s one blockade: seasonal allergies. Yes, I am allergic to those pesky plant sperm spreading their DNA to female plant ovaries. How perfect that I am studying Immunology and suffering through allergies, or immediate hypersensitivity. The other Friday when I dragged myself to the morning lecture on Allergies and Immediate Hypersensitivity, I was the perfect clinical example. I was sneezing and playing musical rhonchi through my stuffy nose. What is biologically happening in my body is a slew of abnormal responses. I inhale plant pollen, which is non-pathogenic, but for people like me with intense allergies, the immune system is activated. Pollen in my mucous membranes activates IgE antibodies, which consequently bind to Fc-epsilon-receptors on mast cells and basophils. A bunch of intracellular events get switched on, ultimately leading to the release of granules (degranulation). This break-out of granules releases histamine, the primary chemical mediator in an allergic response. It results in smooth muscle contraction, vasodilation, elevated vascular permeability.  Symptoms manifest in the form of sneezing (pollen irritates the mucus membranes of the respiratory tract and bronchial/intestinal contraction) and stuffy and runny nose (increased vascular permeability). Other symptoms include itchy/watery eyes, itchy/sore throat, congestion, and difficulty breathing. Thank you mast cells for making every spring so eventful…

The last time I wanted to enjoy a super Spring day, it was back in freshman year at NYU. I survived Manhattan because it’s just buildings and cars and pollution. If I stayed away from anything bushy or green, I was fine. But that freshman year, I thought I was healthy and immune to allergies in the city. It was a wonderful afternoon at Washington Square Park, before it went under construction, and I sat at the water fountain studying for my French final in a few hours. I took in the breeze and smelled the fresh air. Oh, what a bad idea… I got my pay-back during my exam, when I started crying my eyes out, snot dripping uncontrollably from my nose and allergens tickling the inside of my nose. Despite the symphony of symptoms, I still survived (and aced) my exam.

Today, I was tempted for a breezy, relaxing walk to West Campus. I first had to play doctor after lunch, then I could take my walk to the Student Health Services for a quick PPD shot for school. I strolled down Circle Road for 15-20 minutes, a warm and wonderful walk indeed. By the time I got to the health center, I started feeling mild symptoms, in the form of a stuffy nose and sneezes. I ignored them and went on with the day.

I met up with a friend to eat at the Green Cactus. Last time I did not go with a few friends for Cinco de Mayo because I was being lazy, but today was a good day. I was done with exams and I needed a leisurely day to indulge in myself. And so we went to eat Mexican food. I ate this well-portioned Mexican sandwich called the Torta. Packed with grilled chicken, lettuce, tomatoes, mayo, and guacamole, the Torta was a sure-fire win. I slowly ate my mighty sandwich over a comfortably-paced conversation with my dear friend. I hit my food coma halfway through, but I pushed through another quarter before I gave up on the sandwich.

Torta: Chicken

Asian girls and frisbee

The day was still early, around 6pm. To digest, we went to toss a frisbee at the nearby Strathmore Park off Nichols Road. The day could not have been better set. The sun was going down, the grass was green, Little Leaguers were playing baseball, and I felt free. Throughout high school, I hated frisbee. I was the one no one threw the frisbee too because I sucked. Today was different. My friend taught me some tosses and I learned the moves quickly, with some slip-ups and deviations. I was even catching the flying disc. Or maybe he was just good at directing the frisbee towards me and it was not flying at me full throttle. Also, it was hard playing in a dress and flats; when I was running or spinning to catch the frisbee, I was careful not to pull a Marilyn Monroe moment. It’s happened to me in Manhattan over those subway vents and vacuums in the residence hall, and it’s not happening again.

I got home at 7pm, showered, and crashed. Three hours of sleep were finally hitting me hard. I fell asleep talking to my sister and I woke up congested and in pain. My allergies were acting up again, despite my anti-histamine pills. The battle has lost against my favor and now I will say goodbye to the taste and smell of Spring. I do not regret having a wonderful day yesterday, because it was truly fun and revitalizing. While I had friends roam to the beach and the parks and shopping, I had a fantastic spring day =)


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