Pokemon Allergy

It is not every day that a physician from a small town like Ahwatukee gets to discover a new disease.  But this is just such a day and I would like to take this opportunity to announce the first reported case of Pokemon Allergy ©.

The discovery began when a young man came to our allergy clinic complaining of itching and rash of the lower legs.  The rash was not severe but the itching was quite annoying and he found himself scratching his lower legs so much that the thin skin above the shins was raw and bleeding.

My first thought was a contact allergy and so I questioned. “Have you been exposed to any new products?   Sun screens, lotions, soaps, chemicals?”

He had not.

“How about something where you work?”

He worked in an office, sitting most of the day at a desk entering data in a computer and nothing in that environment had changed recently.

“Do you have any new hobbies or participate in sports?”

Like a lot of young adults, his primary hobby (and sport for that matter) was playing computer games.  He was good at it and spent a great deal of his free time indoors on the computer. That environment had not changed either.

That’s when a chance comment about his gaming activities caught my attention.

“I have started playing a new game.  It’s called Pokemon Go.”

“Actually it’s not new.  My brothers and I used to play it all the time as kids. Back then our parents would drive us all over town to buy packs of cards that had pictures of these mythical, cartoon-like characters called Pokemon. The point was to collect all the characters, but some were rare and took a long time and a lot of work (and gas) to collect.

Pokemon Desert Foothills park ahwatukee

Pokemon Hunting Desert Foothills Park Ahwatukee

Now the game is played with a smart phone and the characters are virtually located all over the place –  parks, parking lots,  stores, on the side of the road; even in people’s houses. The most popular place to find them is in community parks.   I would go out to Desert Foothills Park to hunt for Pokemon at 11:00 at night and see hundreds of kids and adults walking around the park, staring at their phones like zombies.”

“Wait. You said walking around in the grass at night for hours.  Did the rash start before or after you started playing Pokemon Go?”

“About the same time.”  He said.  “Could it be related?  How?”

“Well, Bermuda grass causes a lot of allergy problems.

Bermuda Grass flower

Bermuda Grass flower

It is the most common grass grown in Arizona in the summer and likes to release pollen from it’s whirlybird-like pollen stalks during the cooler temperatures at night and early morning.  Although most people who are allergic to the grass will have respiratory symptoms such as sneezing, itchy, watery eyes, nasal congestion and even asthma, high levels of skin exposure  – which could occur when walking in the grass in shorts and sandals – can also cause a contact allergy with itching and rash.  I think this may be it”

It was.

The treatment for Pokemon Allergy?

Although strict Pokemon Go avoidance would no doubt bring about a rapid cure, the substantial health benefits derived from playing the game (spending time out of doors, regular exercise, face-to-face social interaction) in my opinion, make this option less desirable.   Instead, I recommended wearing shoes and long pants and showering after sessions, at least until the winter.

On a recent follow-up visit, the rash had resolved.  He was enjoying his new found life out of his room in front of a computer so much that he started running and hiking for exercise, entered triathlon races, quit his boring job, and enrolled in optometry school.  I never dreamed there would be an app for that.

Brian Millhollon, MD