Ho ho ho

by Nick  

Guess who saw Father Christmas at Birmingham Art Gallery & Museum on Saturday?

Ho ho ho

As you may judge from Ros's expression, we had some Glühwein (and, yes, I know it's full of cinnamon & cloves, but it was only one cup) at the German Christmas Market in Brum while we were there. Very cold, but a nice day out with Angie and Dave.

Chestnuts roasting...

by Nick  

...on an open fire. That's what we all miss nowadays. Well, apart from Flo and Jan who are the two people I know who've already got stoves at home. But apart from them, the rest of us miss open fires. Well, I've found the answer, and it's here. The iYule fireplace:


I couldn't resist buying it. For only £5 you get a range of DRM-free videos. They've got versions for iPods as well as up to TV resolution, with or without cheesy music! And because it's DRM-free, you can give it as a gift. Sweeeet! Buy one yourself for Christmas.

Allergy update

by Nick  

Just a quick one. I've been in touch with Amersham Hospital again, and they've confirmed which fragrance I'm allergic to. Turns out to be isoeugenol. It's used in lots of household products like shampoos, detergents and fabric conditioners, so is going to be a bugger to avoid in life. The big problem is that it's rarely identified by name. As a rule, fragrances get lumped together and labelled as parfum or fragrance.

Amusingly, because these chemicals occur in nature, it's not even reliable to stick to botanicals or "all natural" products. Apparently, even some "unscented" products still use these fragrances in small quantities to mask unwanted chemical odours.

The difficulty with avoiding them is that the reaction is delayed. I've had a couple of people thinking it was like an anaphylactic reaction to bee stings or peanuts - basically instant. But no, it's delayed after exposure, which makes it much harder to identify what actually caused the reaction. Apparently it's a type 4 hypersensitivity, so there.

In other news, Ros's mum is home from hospital after a hip replacement on Wednesday. I've just a chat with Val on the phone and she sounds very cheerful, which makes us all very pleased.

I'm a CAD

by Nick  

Chronic Actinic Dermatitis. That's the tentative diagnosis after my week in Amersham Hospital. It's an early case (it's usually a condition that affects the over-50s, I cheerfully learned), and fortunately still fairly mild, but that's the best fit for the results of the tests. I went through a battery of patch testing, prick testing (no sniggering at the back), and phototesting.

The prick test was the easiest, and quickest. After about 10 minutes, I learnt that I wasn't allergic to any of the airborne allergens tested for there - things like house dust mites, cats, dogs, pollen, mould etc.

They did three types of phototests; one with a monochromator (to test my response to specific wavelengths of UV light), photopatch testing (to see if my standard sunscreens were activated to become allergenic by light), and photoprovocation. The last of these involved sitting in a cabinet with 48 UVA tubes to zap my neck to set off my usual sunlight reaction. Nice.

The patch test involved me having about 40 aluminium discs taped to my back for 48 hours, each smeared with a substance known to be an common contact allergen.


This is where we struck gold, with some strong reactions:


This was a bit of a surprise, as I didn't suspect that I did have any particular contact allergies. The only thing I could think of was cinnamon, but I thought that was just because it was a bit spicy. Apparently, people usually present at the clinic with dermatitis because of the 'stuff', and they work out the photosensitivity afterwards - for me it seems to have been the other way round.

In addition to the standard chemicals, I also was also tested with patches of my usual sunscreens. Apparently it's not uncommon to find yourself allergic to the very thing you're trying to protect yourself with. Fortunately though, I seem to have been lucky here. So, the list of identified contact allergens for me is:

  • Propolis (which bees make from conifer tree resin)
  • Myroxylon Pereirae (Balsam of Peru, also a tree resin)
  • Fragrance

Interestingly (to me anyway), this fits with my perception that I get a bit of a reaction to cinnamon, as all three of these contain cinnamic acid and cinnamyl alcohol...

The other things I reacted to (although less strongly) were the following chemicals used as preservatives:

So, now you know what to wear when meeting me if you really hate me.

Anyway, the theory is that I get exposed to these things in ordinary life. For instance, Peruvian Balsam allergy indicates a likely sensitivity to chemicals found in cinnamon, citrus fruit peel, cola, vermouth, as well as a range of personal care products like toothpaste, cologne, shampoos etc. The preservatives are used in household products like fabric conditioner, furniture polish and air fresheners, as well as more of those personal care products.

Having been mildly sensitised by these things, I then expose myself to the right amount of UVA (eg go out in the summer or sit too close to a window on a sunny day) and, bingo, ten minutes later: eczema.

So, you ask (if you've read this far, or if you're me trying to remember all this), the answer is twofold. Firstly, try to cut as many of these allergens out of my life (cue an afternoon going through our bathroom cabinet). Secondly, UVB phototherapy to try to reduce the sun-related element by desensitisation.

Back again

by Nick  

Shocking, isn't it. Five weeks since I last blogged. I think there are three things at play here. Firstly, my colleague is only now starting her phased return to work after about 2½ months off; it's just been so busy at work keeping on top of things recently. Secondly, for the best part of a month, I've been suffering from a cold, so feel permanently under the weather and tired. The last, curiously, is probably Facebook. Because you can just type 3-5 words to describe how you are, it's easier to do that than to write some relatively prosaic narrative. Perhaps the answer is that I blog in a more snippety way. If anyone ever reads this, by all means comment to let me know what you think.

Anyway, ah yes, narrative. So what's new. Well, we've all suffered from aforementioned cold. With that, Jessie's english has improved apace with new words like cough and frog. As we predicted, she's turning into a chatterbox. She now answers to Jessica with Kaijak (nearly there). She's starting to combine words (I dinner, for instance). Yesterday in the bath she said beebles at least 40 times. To be fair, there were a lot of bubbles in there...

My first Nutella Thank you very much ladies and gentlemen, for my next number, Baa baa black sheep

She climbed out of her cot a wee while back, so the sides have come down and we've converted it into a junior bed (as they call it). She's sleeping fairly well, although wake-up time seems to vary between 5.50 and 7.30. Usually the former at weekends, and the latter on days when the alarm is set.

Tickle Kiss

She's doing well at nursery - we had an update with her key worker the other day, and she's apparently as confident there as she is at home. Ros and Jess have started going to a music group near home, where Jess happily goes up to the front and sits next to the leader. No guessing who's in charge there...

In other news, Mum's powerbook died, so she's bought a glossy new MacBook. Sounds very cute. We've replaced our nasty uPVC windows with lovely, new uPVC windows from a local firm, Prior Products. These have decent openings, proper insulation, and the right proportions for the house. As a bonus, water doesn't run down the inside of them.

Windows, before Windows, after

For my birthday, we went for an overnight stay down near the coast in Sussex, at a lovely B&B, Old Chapel Forge. We met up with my Mum in Chichester in the torrential rain, and again the next (windy, but sunny) day in Portsmouth.

Hat trick Victory

Anyway, I'd better sign off, as I've got to get packed and on my bike to go to hospital. I'm off to Amersham for a week, where they're going to do some phototesting to try to find out why I go all burny in the sunshine. Wish me luck!

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