The unseasonably mild end to February has resulted in the nearby parks springing to life. Trees are beginning to bud. Flowers are beginning to sprout. Pollen permeates the air. Everyone looks forward to seeing the plants and animals return to an energetic state of being, but allergies can ruin any sort of enjoyment a person might feel.

Bee Collecting Honey

Allergies seem to be a problem that adults face when they've lived in the same area for a couple of years. The first time I can remember dealing with persistently itchy eyes was around the age of 12. I was staying at my mother's house for the summer in a very rural part of Southern Ontario and every morning would start with me rubbing a bunch of gunk out of my eyes, sneezing once or twice, then getting on with the day. If I were running around and playing with my sisters, then everything was good. If I stopped to read a book1, then my eyes would first begin to water, then itch, then turn red. It was not a fun time, but I quickly learned that I should walk around the 8 acres of lawn while reading if I wanted to avoid the effects of pollen … so I started walking, head down, with a book in my hands. A lot.

Some time around 1995 I was given an over-the-counter allergy medicine that worked pretty well. There was just one little problem: it was expensive. Every pill worked out to about $1.80 which, at the time, was a lot more than a cup of coffee. I have five sisters and two brothers. The family wasn't poor, but it wasn't exactly sitting on a huge pile of cash, either. As a result, I would get a box of 20 pills at the start of spring and it would be up to me to manage when those pills would be taken over the non-winter seasons2. April was generally the month when the allergies would first kick in, and August/September is when they would come back one last time to make me question how it is that humans ever gathered the restraint necessary to not burn the whole planet down, eliminating any chance of pollen interacting with our sinuses.

This was the pattern for the next few years. A box of Contact C in the springtime, and careful rationing over the next six months. After getting a "real job" it became possible for me to buy my own pills whenever it was necessary, but the years of careful rationing had been a good lesson to learn when not to take medicine.

In 2002 when I moved to the west coast of Canada, my allergies all but disappeared for three full summers. It wasn't until 2006 that the itchy eyes made a return along with a new twist: an untrustworthy nose. I would take the recommended dosage of Contact C every day for over a month, spending just over $70 for the luxury of being able to see and breathe. Exercise didn't help. Staying indoors at a place with a really good air filtration system didn't help. Going to the ocean where the wind would generally push pollen away from the beaches didn't help, either. These were miserable months.

Then I moved to Japan and the allergies disappeared again for three full summers. From 2007 to the tail end of 2010 I could enjoy the sights and smells of the country without considering whether the local vegetation was out to spoil my good health. But the autumn of 2010 saw the return of itchy eyes. 2011, not long after the Great Tohoku Earthquake, saw a complete return of itchy eyes and an untrustworthy nose, plus a new symptom: a scratchy throat at the very back of my mouth. When the three problems are competing for attention I consider moving further east in a bid to get a few years of peace … though this is all but impossible now.

With today being the first of March, I'm going to do what my parents did all those years ago when I started suffering from this insufferable seasonal punishment. I'll head to the nearby pharmacy and drop the $22 for a box of 20 allergy pills. The medicine will be kept nearby, but only called upon when the air is particularly difficult to contend with. If I were to take the recommended dosage every day regardless of need, a box would last just ten days and I'd wind up giving the pharmaceutical companies $150 for access to distraction-free sight and smell. This might not sound like a great deal of money, but it's more than I'd like to spend. Besides, taking medicine when the body doesn't need it is a recipe for disaster. If we build up a resistance (or reliance) on chemicals that make us feel better, then consequences await us. For allergy medicine, the consequence would likely be a prescription for something much stronger that also costs much more. This is something I'd really much rather not contend with.

  1. This particular summer, 1991, I read four Star Trek books. The one that I remember most clearly was a Next Generation book, Boogeymen, which was one of the first books I bought with money I earned. This would have been during the decade of Trek where I used a great deal of my free time to read every Star Trek novel that had been published. Up until I moved to Japan, I was able to say with confidence that I had read every Trek novel published by PocketBooks. I've gone back to read some of the older books from time to time, but the writing strikes me as incredibly simplistic and shallow compared to many of the more recent novels.

  2. Yes. My parents would buy just one package per year. If I took the pills on days when I could have just suffered through a mild bout of discomfort, then it was on me.