Staying Active and in Control Despite Their Allergies
Meet four people with allergies who combine medication, alternative therapies, and the right attitude to maintain control over their lives.
Liz Erk: Runner, Rower, Skater
Liz Erk never believed she was strong enough, fast enough, or tough enough.
A runner in her youth, she would quickly run out of breath, wheezing and
panting for air. The same thing happened when she joined the rowing team at
"I used to beat myself up," says Erk, 31, of Boston. "I just
thought I was out of shape."
Fitness wasn't the problem. The same allergies that caused Erk to feel as if
she was suffocating when she was near a cat also affected her athletic
performance. Her whole family, in fact, is challenged by a bevy of allergens:
cats, trees -- particularly pine -- dust, and pollution. "I have memories
of visiting relatives with cats and we'd have to time the visits," she
says. "As I got to be 10 years old, I couldn't breathe around cats. It was
not a lot of fun."
As she grew into adulthood, her passion for activity was often curtailed by
unpleasant allergy symptoms that made athletics and even socializing a
challenge. Instead of retreating indoors, though, she decided to tackle the
problem head on.
First came the allergy medication, which helped ease her difficulty with
breathing and relieve her asthma symptoms. Next, she turned to acupuncture,
which provided more relief. Soon she noticed a marked improvement. The only
exception was when the foliage changed each fall and spring.
She still had a problem with cats, but then ironically fell in love with a
kitten named Mia. A doctor told her to get rid of the furry feline, but she
refused. Then a friend gave her some encouraging advice: Making a kitten part
of your home, her friend said, might allow your system to develop immunity to
the allergens as the cat matures.
So she did it, and it worked -- perhaps too well, she chuckles. Erk now owns
10 cats and volunteers at a cat shelter in her spare time. She even upgraded to
a three-bedroom home specifically so her cats would have room to roam. An
activity that she once considered "virtual suicide" has now become an
integral part of her life and lifestyle. No more wheezing. Her eyes no longer
swell shut when she hears a "meow" and the cat nuzzles her. She even
credits fighting against her cat allergy with improving her social life. She no
longer shies away from visiting friends who have pets.