The hives first came the morning after I decided I was going to compete in my first jiu jitsu competition. It was about August. I woke up to go to a meeting at Longhorn (my part-time job) on a Saturday morning and realized I had them. At Longhorn my boss gave me some Benadryl and they started to fade.
Leading up to the competition I had hives repeatedly, but every time I took Benadryl or Claritin they would slowly fade away. My parents assumed it was stress due to the idea of the the competition but I wasn’t as sure, since I have always been a huge stress case 24/7 and never had hives in the past really.
The competition was on September 19th, the day after my birthday, and I was anxious to see if the hives would come back. There was only one night that I was agitated and got a hive attack, but then I went about a whole month without any hives. It was then that I started to think that my parents were right in that they were stress hives. I thought I was home free since the competition was over and mostly stopped worrying about it.
October 27th, the night before I was about to fly out to Florida on vacation, I had a hive attack again. I knew I was stressed about flying the next day and worried that they might lose my bag en route, so it still seemed to make sense that the hives were brought on in times of stress. While I was in Florida I was having a great time and had no worries in the world – no work, no responsibilities. After all, I was on vacation! I still got a couple of attacks while I was in Florida though. I took claritin while I was there and the hives would go away.
The week I got back from Florida I got back on a Monday night. I had the closing for the purchase of my first home scheduled for that Friday, November 6th, and we suddenly decided on Tuesday to move everything in that weekend, so it became a very high stress week for me. I had originally planned on using the whole month of November to move my stuff into the new place. Wednesday I started getting hives and even with taking benadryl and claritin they weren’t really fading away like they used to.
I just kinda dealt with having hives all of the time from Wednesday through Sunday, November 8th, which was the last day of the move. When I woke up on Sunday the hives were so bad and covering so much of my body that I went to urgent care to see what they could do. They put me on a 12-day steroid taper of prednisone and told me to take zantac and allegra every 12 hours.
At first the steroids and antihistamines helped, but then when I got closer to the end of the taper the hives were coming back again. Additionally, I went out and had a few drinks (3 angry orchards) with some friends and watched the UFC fights and the next morning when I woke up my upper lip and around my eyes were swollen. The swelling is what really scared me because I had already been feeling like my throat was tight a lot and I live by myself, so if I were to wake up with my throat swelling I wouldn’t know what to do. I made an appointment with my family doctor and she told me to get an allergy test and prescribed me more steroids, since it seemed that the steroids and antihistamines were the only thing keeping the hives away.
December 1st I met with an ENT and he prescribed me an epi pen in case my throat were to swell shut and set me up with his allergists, although I couldn’t get an allergy test scheduled until January 15th, with the results being reviewed January 18th. Obviously that was a long way away and I was suffering through the hives and other symptoms every day.
It was then that I really started hunting for a solution, because I started to realize that waiting for doctors to figure out my condition could take quite some time. I also stopped believing that it was just stress hives, because after I moved into my house my stress level went way down. The only thing left to stress me was the fact that I was covered in hives multiple times per day. I took to the internet and searched for information on chronic idiopathic urticaria – chronic meaning that they lasted more than 6 weeks, idiopathic meaning that they have an unknown cause and urticaria is simply the medical term for hives. I noticed that some patients had chronic idiopathic urticaria with angiodema, the angiodema being swelling. I was able to find a few medical articles about the link between chronic idiopathic urticaria with angiodema and thyroid autoimmune conditions like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
Remembering that about a year ago I had tested borderline low thyroid, I developed my own theory about my condition. I had already been prescribed synthroid for the low thyroid test by my gynecologist, but my previous family doctor had told me that since I was borderline low I didn’t really need to take the pills, so I never did. Once I found the link online between the thyroid and urticaria I dug out my old prescription and started taking the pills to head things off. I also made another appointment with my family doctor for December 3rd and asked her to test me for thyroid antibodies – specifically TPO antibodies and TGB antibodies. About a day or two later my family doctor called to tell me that my TSH (thyroid) levels are normal but I did test positive for thyroid antibodies. That confirmed my suspicion that I had a thyroid autoimmune condition, but I still wasn’t sure which one or what exactly to do about it. Luckily I had already started taking the synthroid, which is the traditional treatment for thyroid autoimmunity. My family doctor referred me to an endocrinologist, since thyroid is their specialty, but I couldn’t get an appointment until December 22nd.
More waiting. It may seem like only a couple of weeks but since I was getting hive flare ups at least twice a day as I would get close to my next dose of pills it felt like forever away.
With nothing left to do but wait for my appointments, I started doing more research on my own about autoimmune conditions and came across a lot of information on how autoimmunity begins. The following was one of my favorite visuals.
“Leaky Gut” or increased intestinal permeability is the root cause of all autoimmune conditions, which is why the graphic tells you to “fix the gut” if you want to fix autoimmunity. Pinterest is a huge resource for information on leaky gut, autoimmunity, and, as I was soon to find out, the autoimmune protocol.
I discovered the autoimmune protocol while I was researching online on December 7th and that same night I ran into someone at my jiu jitsu school that had a different medical issue but fixed it using the autoimmune protocol, or AIP. The biggest part of the protocol is what is called an “elimination diet” where you eliminate any type of food that might add to the inflammation in your gut. It also tries to include foods that help support the lining of your gut, like fermented foods and gelatin. Below is a good graphic of the difference between AIP and the paleo diet. AIP is similar to paleo in some ways but it is much more restricted as far as what you can eat.
I bought two books to help guide me, The Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook by Mickey Trescott, and The Paleo Approach by Sarah Ballantyne, PhD, and on December 9th I started my first day of AIP.
Today is the two week mark doing AIP, although I have had a couple of cheats so far, particularly today. There really is no “cheating” with AIP because you need to allow your gut time to heal and the standard is 30 days to 6 weeks of strict AIP before you reintroduce any food, but it is the holidays and I am trying to cope the best that I can with these drastic changes to my lifestyle. I have had a little chocolate once or twice which is on the restricted list, but I have a serious weakness for chocolate and I am just crossing my fingers that it isn’t one of my food sensitivities. Since my symptoms are hives and not stomach issues it is hard for me to know which foods “sit well” and which don’t, because my stomach feels like it can eat anything.
Yesterday I saw the endocrinologist and she officially diagnosed me with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, so I was right from the beginning. She is going to be testing me for celiac disease in a couple of weeks and I am also getting an ultrasound of my thyroid done to see what damage has occurred so far, if any. Dr. A (the endocrinologist) mentioned that since they will be testing me for celiac disease I shouldn’t completely eliminate gluten from my diet leading up to the test, so I am somewhat using that as an excuse to eat sushi today. Like I said, it’s the holidays and I want to allow myself at least one real cheat day for my mental health – besides, it’s Dr. A approved.
Figuring out my condition has been quite a journey and while I do feel that I am on the path to recovery, the journey to health is just beginning for me.