Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Itchicoo Park

For a week I've been itchy. The kind of itchy that makes you kick off the covers so you can buff your bare calf with one sock-covered foot; the kind that leaves you with a map of angry red highways etched into your forearms; the kind that makes you claw at your sternum like John Hurt in Alien.

At first, I assumed I'd been slapped with this year's installment of seasonal misery, since pollen and I are longtime enemies. As a kid, I was perpetually cursed with the kind of puffy, bloodshot eyes seen in Phish concert parking lots and always kept one pocket stuffed with aloe-infused tissues, the other filled with an asthma inhaler. I spent every Monday afternoon at the pediatrician's office getting allergy shots but was so insanely sensitive to everything you'd color with a green Crayola that even the injections made me break out in hives. 1

Once a year, I had to do the prick test2 where they divide your back skin into a Bingo board of allergens, liberally dousing you with animal dander and dust mites and the other co-stars from vacuum commercials that will ensure you'll never put a blanket beside your face again. I'd always have violent reactions and they'd just assume I was still allergic to all carbon based life and make adjustments as necessary. One year, it cost my parents an Oriental rug; the next, we had to divorce our dog, sending her to shit in some other family's laundry hamper.

Eventually--whether because of the shots or in spite of 'em--I outgrew most of my issues, leaving them in middle school with spiral perms and a pair of Ocean Pacific pants I specifically bought because they looked like something the Fresh Prince would wear.3

Allergies don't cross my mind anymore, save for the occasional a.m. Visine eyebath or taking a pre-run hit of an Albuterol inhaler. Until now. Until this, which is taking twice as long to type because I keep stopping to see if I can gnaw my own shoulders.4

I've tried to pick my world apart to track down what's doing this to me. It isn't the pollen that blankets my car in its sickly yellow dust because I spent the weekend in West Virginia, where they're just wrapping up Winter 1992. It's not the Boxerbeast, because I itched even when we were apart. It can't be my apartment because I run two high-powered HEPA air filters that suck the dust off of anything that isn't bolted down. It's like living with Lindsay Lohan if she had three power settings and a retractable extension cord.

I cracked open a Diet Coke this morning, the first in the endless enamel-wrecking parade I guzzle every day and tried to figure out what aspect of my life to manipulate next. I've swapped all my fave things in and out of my life to see what happens. Meat for no meat. Milk for soy milk. Pants for no pants. I even stopped my final week of free tanning in the case I'd contracted some Abercrombie-borne illness from the Greek lettered co-eds that broil themselves in the beds every day.

Nothing helped.

As I stood in the kitchen digging the corner of the counter deep into my forearm it hit me. The Diet Coke is the culprit. The Diet Coke...MY Diet Coke. Within fifteen minutes of shotgunning enough artificial sweeteners to blow up a lab rat, the itching hit an all-time high. I stopped picking at my skin long enough to shake a fist at the sky and shout "ET TU, ASPARTAME?" How does something like this this happen? I've been chugging upwards of ten silver & red cans a day for years, so why now?

I'm devastated. The only thing that could give a bigger kick to my morale is if I developed a sudden intolerance to middle-aged English men. Ignoring the how or why, does anyone know the way to cure this? Because I can't function without 120 ounces of caffeine and caramel color and--even worse--I can't switch to Pepsi.

Please send help. I'll be the one who reeks of anti-itch ointment, listening to how her sobs echo out of a stack of empty silver soda cans.

1 Yes, I know the gentle irony of writing about my festering skin two days after I banged out a post about people who overshare. One day, we'll look back on this and laugh.
2 That's also how I refer to all my first dates. And by all, I mean that one time at Pig Pickin's.
3 Read that sentence again.
4 Yes. I can. My resume has already been updated.


Pam said...

Yep, aspertame... I was just given that "look" from my doctor (the one that they give before they give you the lecture that says you should have known better and have all the knowledge of the medical board bored into your brain) when I mentioned that I couldn't figure out what I was reacting to...
Apparently it causes asthma attacks... and itching!! Stupid diet coke with lime...

lacochran said...

I had this reaction to apartame some years ago when I was eating one diet popsicle after another while studying for an exam. It was the itchiest, most uncomfortable exam of my life.

Remove all aspartame from your life (trust me, read every label) and it WILL go away. Might take a month but it will.

Betty Underground said...

I CAN HELP! Or at least... I can offer a parallel story to perhaps guide you:

I love strawberries. Have eaten baskets of them my entire life. I even have a strawberry shaped birthmark. Okay, it looks like a blob that is vaguely strawberry shaped, by my mother used to tell me that is was a strawberry to explain my almost unhealthy attachment to the earth berries.

Two years ago, my lips puffed up to an Angelina Jolie meets Mush-ba Mouth-ba after ingesting 3 slivers of strawberries atop a cheesecake.

I blamed the cheesecake.

Then I consumed a strawberry on its own. Same reaction. I was devastated! The thought of never eating them ever again spun me into knots and had me rocking on the floor.

Then I spoke to a weird friend of mine. She smells of patchouli and I'm uncertain if she showers but she told me that it was not the strawberries, so I hugged her.

What she told me is that there was something else in my world that had changed and it was manifesting in a reaction to my most favorite food.

It turned out to be my office building.

Around the exact same time of the outbreak of fat lip, I had moved into a temporary office space. An old one. It was something in the genetic make-up of this soon to be torn down building that was messing with my Chi.

The day I moved out of that building, I ate strawberries. Much to my chagrin, I had the same old thin lips I was born with. No puffing, no itchy roof of my mouth. Nothing.

So now I guess I have to resort to collagen. And you should probably move.

Michael said...


It is certainly possible for anything, including aspartame, to cause an allergic reaction. But if you swill Diet Coke as much as I do (and, apparently, you do), it shouldn't all of a sudden cause a reaction out of nowhere.

It is possible that there is a trigger point-a point at which your body can't handle any more artificial sweetener.

But in my opinion, it is much more likely to be a seasonal issue-sudden, abrupt temperature changes and attendant changes in wildlife, humidity, etc, along with plain 'ol stress.

For example, where I am we have gone from 40 degrees and raining up to 90 degrees and dry back to 70 degrees and damp again within the last week.

tomorrow said...

Aspertame is fairly evil.

It adds *days* of cramps onto my monthly visit from Aunt Flo. So not worth it.

Try Pepsi One for your diet beverage fix. It's sweetened w/ Splenda (not quite as evil as aspertame).

My $.02.

The Dutchess of Kickball said...

What about Coke Zero? Perhaps the Splenda will do your skin better? said...

After her heart attack my mother was told that she had to give up her 3 7-11 big gulp of diet pepsi a day habit. Her response?
"Actually, the heart attack wasn't really that bad. Let's stop at 7-11 on the way home."

Joel said...

They make regular diet coke with splenda. You don't have to switch to Zero or that other brand.

Look for the yellow swoosh.

Bethie said...

Congratulations on making me itch and crave a Diet Coke of my own simultaneously. I hope that Betty's hippie friend is right and that you and the DC don't have to break up. I'd weep for days. Good luck.

M. Brooks said...

Have you seen what happens when you mix a few Mentos with Diet Coke? Not to be a pessimist, but your organs could be rupturing from the inside out.

Switching to real Coke might be your best bet. Maybe 5 Cokes per day is nutritionally equivalent to 10 Diet Cokes?

IRJessica said...

I am not a coke drinker, but know they make different diet cokes sweetened by different fake sugars. Do some grocery store reconnaissance, I think it may pay off.

inflammatory writ said...

Switch to Coke Zero...I think that uses Splenda? Anyway, I feel your pain. I am a Diet Coke junkie myself.

J-Money said...

Pam: Oh no. Maybe I'm safe because I don't drink the lime kind. Hope spring etern---aw, nevermind.

lacochran: All of my exams were itchy and uncomfortable, but that's probably because I took several semesters of Stage Makeup. True story.

Betty Underground: This is such a weird coincidence because I have a mole shaped like a Diet Coke can. I should probably get that checked out. And yeah, maybe it's the aspartame added to the stress of being unemployed and having no idea where/when I'll get another paycheck. Hooray!

Michael: You make a good point. I went from hypothermic in Boston last Monday to 90 degrees in North Carolina to a temperate 70 in Dubya Vee. Hmm...

tomorrow: NO, NO, NO, NO PEPSI, even if Diet Coke meant that I would have menstrual cramps that registered on the Richter scale.

The Dutchess of Kickball: You can see my horrible complexion from there? Wow. I'll be getting Coke Zero TODAY. I think your mother and I should hang out.

Joel: When I read this, I heard the chiming sound from those The More You Know PSAs. I think I'll be switching to Splenda with the quickness.

Bethie: Itching and craving go hand in hand. I think they were actually a country duo from the late 70s.

M. Brooks: BUT REAL COKES HAVE CALORIES! If I switched to real Coke, I'd have to cut back on candy, which would make me throw back-to-back tantrums.

IRJessica: You guys are all 1) much better acquainted with the grocery store than I am; and 2) much smarter than me. I like you all so much.

inflammatory writ: This will be happening. And blogs will be written about it.

Not The Rockefellers said...

Do you clean the top of the cans before you drink them?

Is this the same batch of cans that have caused this reaction?

Maybe it's not the drink it's the can.

Test again from a bottle and see if you get the same reaction.

Sorry, I watch too much House.

Peace -Rene

joy refurbished said...

Ok so I may sound like a complete idiot here but . . . here it goes anyway. . . isn't aspertame only in DIET drinks? If that is true you could switch to regular coke. I know this isn't ideal. I would have a hard time switching my coke to diet. But barring other possibilities - at least you wouldn't be quitting cold turkey ish.

Julianna said...

It's probably the temp change and the fact that this allergy season (where I am at least) has been off the charts horrible since we had a very wet winter. Have you ever used Sarna lotion? It's the only thing that has kept me from de-skinning myself the past few weeks. It's over the counter, usually with the calamine and stuff. I also am a BIG fan of the children's benadryl Liquid which hits the ground running much better than the dumb grownup pills. There are adult dosage instructions on the back. Also: have you possibly switched your laundry detergent or done your laundry somewhere else? That could be the culprit.

kendrasue said...

Where I'm sure it is allergies, just be cautious because I thought I was just suffering from seasonal allergies but it turned out to be a skin infection received from a skeevy hotel I had to stay at for my grandma's funeral. Is that TMI? Sorry!

Stephanie said...

What about Coke Zero? It is splenda...i don't like it as much as diet coke...but it's not pepsi

BC said...

I had pretty severe itching once. It turns out I had crabs.

Sarah said...

It could be the aspertame, but it sounds like you drink it all the would have noticed more reactions than this.
It could be that the caffiene has boosted a reaction from something else though. Caffiene dilates your blood vessels. If you take meds with a caffienated beverage it gets to/through your bloodstream faster.
Hopefully you'll figure it out soon!

Maybe it's your snuggie?

-t said...

Maybe its Lupus... (I really watch to much house)

In terms of your alternatives, no pants is quite liberating. in college to discourage a roommates annoying girlfriend from coming over we had a "no-pants rule" after 7pm in the house. Boxers only. It was quite liberating.

Anonymous said...


Have you ruled out sarcoidosis?

I'll browbeat Foreman into doing a lumbar puncture.


Kat said...

Oh, God, I feel your pain. After 18 years of being a caffeine addict, I started getting vicious migraines - ones that made me go blind for hours at a time - the summer before college. My doctor determined that my body had rebelled against caffeine and now I cannot have it. The initial separation was horrific but, I promise, it gets better.

(Also, college with no caffeine? Sucked. All-nighters were not an option for me.)

Laurel said...

I have had that reaction to sunscreens since I was 14. It's an allergic reaction, and since it is all over your body it's due to something you put all over, like shower soap, or something you ingested. The diet coke might be a good bet. Onset of this type of symptom almost always happens quickly because your body has hit the toxicity point and there's no going back. I no longer remember where I read this, but I read that aspartame was developed as a rat poison, but the rats loved it so much the lab tech was suspicious and tasted it, and lo it was saweet! Because it's 1000 times sweeter than sugar individual servings are fairly low doses, but add a lot together and people have had all kinds of reactions to it. I know someone who blames it for his development of MS after a lifelong diet coke habit. None of this probably helps you but I hope you feel better soon! Oatmeal baths and ice (separately) were the best help I found.

Kristin Lynch said...

Your post made me weep. I can't even imagine what my life would be like without at least 8 cans of Diet Coke per day. I imagine I'd have to switch to beer (but not beer in cans...ick) just so I'd stop caring altogether.

Your post also made me itchy.

Twitter: @krislynch

Non Sequitur Chica said...

Coke Zero is the best!!

NY Wolve said...

A very difficult position it is, and I have been drinking DC in the morning for over 25 years. Coffee isn't the same feeling of something cool, fizzy. Diet Pepsi is, well different, in a bad way. I have flirted with Diet Dr. Pepper in years past. Tab also.

DC with Splenda tastes different from DC. So does Coke Zero (real sweet -- almost like Coke, and NOT like DC). I suppose I'd go with DC/Splenda, its close enough and yet different.

Jess said...

Soda is gross. Diet soda is, like, double gross.

Drink water. Stop scratching.

emmysuh said...

Oh, Albuteral inhaler, you've saved my life on countless occassions. I used to have one that was orange flavored (I don't even know why, I guess it was to make asthma attacks FUN FOR KIDS) and it really actually was kinda nice, in the midst of the gasping and sobbing you'd get a big ol' mouthful of ORANGE and it was like, "HEY! Chin up! This medicine tastes good!"

Does Coke Zero have aspartmemememr? Or caffeine free sugar free fun free diet coke? (which in my opinion tastes better than diet anyway)? I have no idea, I'm a pure original Coke or no soda at all kinda girl. Mostly.

T said...

Oh god, the prick test! The first time I had it done they had to page the doctor because I swelled up so fast the nurse started shrieking. That's just what a scared 7-year-old wants to hear after having her back essentially flayed.

Ron Merlin said...

Three words, (have your doctor prescribe it)

Ammonium Lactate Cream.

Sounds stupid I know, but it works for EVERYTHING....itch-like....

lol, I'm a guy and I even use it now.

Sarah said...

That's ok. I'm allergic to myself. Really. It's called autoimmune urticaria and caused me to break out in massive hives for the past 6 months (well, antihistamines helped me not look like a fresh boiled lobster). I feel like this should give me some sort of superpower, but I don't know what it is yet. The power could have something to do with donuts.
Oh, and the things that helped (other than the new thyroid pill that somehow makes me not allergic to myself) were: ice packs, icy/hot menthol cream, cold showers, and oatmeal baths (best to take the cold shower after the oatmeal bath...). One particularly bad weekend I was up to 3 baths a day. Now I kind of hate baths. Suck.

Dan said...

I believe Jones Soda lacks aspartame. I got hooked on it way too long ago, when I discovered the unpleasant reaction of my intestinal tract to articifial sweeteners.

FYI: The Jones diet cream soda is great with a liberal dose of raspberry vodka. Just sayin'.

Lila said...

Google aspertame and you'll never want to drink or eat anything made of it again. My husband's mom was just diagnosed with Lupus at the beginning of the year ( was like a House episode but real) and she had been healthy her whole life but drank diet coke all the time and if you look it up aspertame is linked to lupus and all kinds of other terrifying diseases. The way it even got approved by the FDA is horrific. Aspertame is reallyreallyreally bad!!!

Katie said...

That would be enough to make me kill myself.

los_tartist said...

You're adorable. Itchiness and all. But are you sure it's the diet coke? I've been inexplicably itchy this week too and I don't drink diet coke at all.

But if it is the diet coke, maybe you could just add extra packets of splenda to regular coke?

Mike said...

After reading all these comments I can't remember what your post was about.

Kara said...

Four words: Diet Coke with Splenda.

Aspartame is evil to me, too, but it doesn't make me itchy. You don't really want to know more.

GYL said...


This might be the one time where the comments have been more entertaining than the actual post (not to say that the post wasn't top-notch)

Keep it up people! ;) I am itchy just reading all of this!

Shannon said...

I feel your pain. My allergies are 10x worse than they normally are in the spring. I've been taking 2 Aerius a day, plus I use Nasonex and Hydrosense and then an allergy eyedrops if I still feel like I have itchy eyes.

Carebear said...

Oh no. Since you ASKED if this happens to anyone else, you can't consider this oversharing. My six year old niece had a blistery rash on her bottom and vajay for months. The doctors finally determined it was an allergic reaction to the 12 oz of diet coke she drank daily (yes, I realize there is something wrong when a six year old has a coke habit. I blame Miley Cyrus). The only cure was to give up dc for h20. And my hubby also had to give up his diet pepsi addiction to get rid of his migraines. Niece has been coke-free for 3 weeks, but the rash is still there. Hubby hasn't touched diet pop in over a year, and no headaches either... Good luck!