Something in the Air
Reader's Digest Canada|June 2021
If it wasn’t bed bugs or allergies, why was she waking up with her eyes swollen shut?
Lisa Bendall

IN 2016, JANICE BRISCO, a Thornhill, Ont. funeral-home worker in her mid-60s, started finding the occasional bump on her face. They often appeared at bedtime as a single rose-colored welt, about the size of an insect bite, or a small cluster. By morning, the bumps were usually swollen, red and itchy, and would take a few days to settle down. “I was wondering, do I have bedbugs?” she says. “What in the world is it?”

Although Brisco washed her bedding and mattress cover on a hot cycle, she continued to get outbreaks. They weren’t frequent, only about every other month, but they gradually intensified. Soon Brisco was having episodes in which her entire face was red and swollen. At the end of 2017, the reaction was more severe than ever: her face turned deep purplish-red, her skin drew painfully tight, and her eyelids, hit the hardest, swelled so that her eyes almost closed.

“My husband said I looked like Rocky after a big fight!” she says. “It hurt, and it was quite scary, because I could hardly see.” She booked an emergency appointment with her family doctor, who was alarmed by her condition. He recommended an antihistamine for a suspected allergic reaction and referred her to an allergist for testing. It was two or three days before her skin started to clear up again.

In January 2018, Brisco saw the allergist, who conducted skin prick testing, in which tiny amounts of allergens are scratched into the skin. She had minor reactions to a few substances, like cats and ragweed, but nothing that would account for her attacks. “I was back to square one, not knowing what it was,” she says.

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