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Stopping to smell the roses without an allergic reaction

Allergy patient experiences improved quality of life through weekly allergy immunotherapy program

Staff writer

Melinda Schroeder of Marion has battled allergies her entire life, but over the past several years, she has started to win the fight with reinforcements from an allergy immunotherapy program at St. Luke Medical Clinic.

“I never left the house without a Kleenex; if I did it was like oh no, just bad news,” Schroeder said. “I’m allergic to a lot different things. My ears always hurt. I’d cough and clear my throat a lot. My nose ran all the time, and sometimes my eyes would just start watering so much it looked like I was crying. I didn’t let it stop me but sometimes I was miserable; I really was.”

Schroeder is allergic to a wide variety of indoor and outdoor allergens, including elm and maple trees, multiple weeds and grasses, mold and mildew, house dust, carrots, watermelon, cantaloupe, sheep, and cats.

“Siamese cats are the worst for me,” Schroeder said. “Growing up, I had bronchitis and a sinus infection every year. What really surprised me in the ’90s when I was tested was that I am also allergic to dogs. I’ve always been around dogs. I still have three: Rex, Reba, and Lucky. They’re my shadows.”

She tried just about every allergy medicine under the sun before she decided to try weekly allergy shots in the ’90s as part of a desensitization program.

“I quit after a year of weekly shots because my arms were so leathery that the needles just weren’t going in easily,” she said. “Nothing is a magic cure, but it did help and worked for about 10 years.”

Her husband, James Schroeder, said she had a lot of trouble with allergy-related asthma and infections, too, so in 2008, after experiencing elevated allergy symptoms, she decided to be tested for allergens again, and restart the allergy immunotherapy program.

“She has gradually improved,” James said. “You’d like it to go faster but you know you take the good days with the bad days like with anything.”

Schroeder had to visit her allergist in Hutchinson before she started getting subcutaneous injections from registered nurse Sally Andrews and others at St. Luke. A group of about 10 patients is seeing success with St. Luke’s immunotherapy program, which works in tandem with out-of-town allergists, Andrews said.

“An allergist starts the process by coming up with the recipe for each vial of serum particular to the patient,” she said. “Some patients get four vials; most get two. It’s a little uncomfortable at first, but people get used to it.”

Similar to other patients, Schroeder started low and gradually built up a higher dosage for a year and half until her dosage was tapered off, administered every two weeks, then three weeks. Then the process was started over with stronger vials, she said.

Patients are asked to take oral antihistamine the day of injections to help minimize reactions.

“I can’t go to the highest amount because I had a pretty bad reaction once,” Schroeder said. “I was wheezing and couldn’t breathe; my lips and eyes were swollen. The nurse had to give me an epi pen.”

Andrews said most patients experience a little irritation, usually just red lumps.

“If it is too reactive then we let the allergist know and they reduce the dose,” Andrews said.

Now Schroeder doubles up on antihistamine before she gets her shots. She said she hasn’t experienced any more severe reactions in continuing the shot regimen. Persistence was a key to her success with the program. She noted, however, that shots didn’t seem to help her son, who also has allergies, but he took shots for only one year.

“I get four shots every time, and with as much as they put in each vial it’s expensive,” Schroeder said. “Luckily our insurance covers it.”

Schroeder said reduced allergy-related misery prompted her to continue shots. James said his wife could work around horses in the pasture without it sapping her energy.

“I wasn’t willing to suffer anymore,” Schroeder said. “Before I couldn’t sit in the grass or be around hay without starting to itch. Now I can mow my yard without sneezing or getting a running nose. And it has helped the allergy side of my asthma tremendously. Life is much better.”

Last modified May 25, 2017

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