Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

A doctor who listens: priceless

[A portion of this post was originally posted on Sherri Blossoms on January 21, but it’s relevant here, too, so rather than rewrite it all, I’m copying it.]

I went to the doctor last week, finally. I haven’t been since I found out for sure I was having a reaction to fragrance. Besides the cost, I wanted to wait until I had eliminated as much fragrance from my world as possible, to stabalize and see what healed and what didn’t. It seemed to be going pretty well, and then The Time of the Migraine hit the reset button, and I knew I couldn’t wait any longer.

I ended up crying at the doctor’s office. I feel pretty dumb about the blubbering, but it just serves to show how frustrated I am by the whole thing, how much I really need to figure this sinus thing out. The X-rays showed nothing abnormal (it so cool to see inside my own skull) so he gave me a course of antibiotics and steroids.

I told Doc I’d been dealing with this problem for 6-7 years, but as I look back I think it’s been closer to eight or nine. I’m not sure if Doc believes me when I tell him how my old doctor dealt with these chronic problems. With the backward lens of time and experience, it seems like the old doc hated me. I wish I could see what he wrote about me in my chart.

It won’t surprise me at all if antibiotics clear it right up. The old doc refused to consider it. I love having a doctor who listens to me, even when I’m crying.

And oh yeah, I told him about the fragrance thing and he didn’t laugh at me. He didn’t get defensive. He didn’t dismiss it. He said some people have sensitive airways, and that was it. I’m hoping that the fragrance sensitivity will shake out when my sinuses are healed. I’d probably never go back to the old level of stinkiness, but at least I’d be able to be around people again, which means writer’s cons and a job and TCoB in general. To be normal would be the height of awesomeness.

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Emerging from The Time of the Migraine

I have officially emerged from The Time of the Migraine. I say “officially” because it’s been a whole week since the constant threat lifted, and though I’ve had setbacks over this week, they were temporary and quite manageable.

I guess the extra stinkiness of the holiday season had me worn down to the point that I couldn’t heal up. I finally took to wearing a painter’s mask–you know, the kind that blocks paint fumes, fabric with a little yellow respirator on the front–to the store and when the kids got home from school, because the slightest whiff of any scent whatsoever caused immediate pain in my sinuses and eyes. The Time of the Migraine lasted two whole months, in which my husband had to do way more housework than he cared to,I  scarred my step-daughter for life when her visit left me clutching my head for three days, and I looked like a total Froot Loop having to wear that mask in public.

I will wear it whenever I need to, despite my lower hotness-factor, because the thing really worked. It blocked all scents, even vinegar (which I don’t have a problem with, but it shows the merits of the mask) and by wearing it in smelly places I was able to stave off the migraine for longer periods. I highly recommend getting one of these masks. I found mine in the paint section of Wal-Mart for five bucks, but I’m sure they carry them anyplace they sell paint.

My sinuses have given me trouble for years, and they are the root of my migraines. I’m pretty sure my sensitivity to fragrance arose gradually from the chronic sinus problem rather than the other way around, though I can’t be sure. I have thyroid issues, as well, so it’s hard to know where hormonal misery ends and sinus misery begins. But I finally have a doctor who listens and a course of treatment that may clear it up. My ultimate dream is for my sinuses to work perfectly, to be able to smell any damn thing I want to, and to never have a migraine again.

You don’t know how I feel

On Good Morning America I saw a report about a lady with MCS who built a shed on her property as a trigger-free zone. It’s made of metal and contains only metal and glass objects and blankets made of organic material. A judge ordered the woman to remove the shed because they didn’t get building permits or inspections.

I’m not arguing about the legal aspect of the story. What upset me were some of the comments calling this woman, and by association all MCS sufferers, insane. To me, it smacks of the medieval folks’ belief that disease was caused by evil spirits, simply because they didn’t know about germs yet.

It’s simple. We are surrounded by synthetic chemicals; thousands of new ones are manufactured every year. MOST of these chemicals are not studied on the human body before they are introduced into products meant for mass-consumption. In fact, a lot of the chemicals we are exposed to in everyday products such as perfume and air fresheners are known carcinogens. It boggles my mind that more people are not at least considering the connection between rising chemical exposure and rising rates of autism, asthma, ADHD, depression, and cancer.

Some naysayers point to lack of research in the area of MCS as proof that it doesn’t exist. A flawed argument. A couple of people said that in a study they read (but didn’t provide the link) that certain MCS sufferers were exposed without their knowledge to substances to which they claimed sensitivity, but incurred no reaction.

First of all, if the study was real, I concur that their symptoms may have been psychosomatic. That changes the nature of their illness, but not of mine, and not of all MCS sufferers. When the symptoms come first, all other treatments have failed, and removal of certain substances relieves the symptoms, that’s about as empirical as a person can get outside the laboratory.

When I’m having a bad sinus day, I might suffer for several hours wondering why, then go outside and realize it’s my neighbor’s laundry day. Her dryer vents right between our houses, and the smell of the dryer sheets she uses hangs in the air. After this happened several times, it became clear to me that the fragrance chemicals seep into my house in low enough concentrations where my nose can’t detect it but my sinus tissue is still irritated by it.

Something that non-MCS sufferers might not know is that the effect can be very subtle. So subtle that even the sufferer herself may not attribute her slight headache or reduced cognitive ability to the trigger. It’s extremely difficult to measure the reactions, because it’s more of a quality of life thing than a yes/no thing. And the triggers can be widely varied, as can the reactions, plus we’re normally exposed to many substances at once so it can be hard to separate them. I could easily see where a person with MCS might attribute her symptoms to a red herring trigger.

Formerly doubted illnesses like chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and depression are now recognized by the mainstream medical community, and I’m certain that as more and more people come forward, MCS will be widely accepted as a legitimate illness. Still, as with the aforementioned diseases, there will always be those who believe other people don’t know how they feel.

A veritable barrage of chemicals

In my research across the interwebs, it has become clear that most people who have developed a sensitivity to one chemical are probably sensitive to others as well. Here is a report by PBS on how chemicals pervade our lives. (Link found at the Refreshingly Free website.)

It would be impossible to take all the synthetic chemicals out of modern life, so for now we have to live with them, but my suspicion of all things chemical has been piqued by this fragrance sensitivity. We’re exposed to so many chemicals in products that we assume have been tested for safety, but as the PBS report states, “In fact, until they are proven harmful, most chemicals are presumed safe.” That means that we are performing experiments on ourselves on behalf of large corporations every day! Do they have our best interests at heart? I think not.

So I’ve been unable to completely get rid of my symptoms, though they are much improved with the efforts I’ve made to ensure that at least my home is fragrance-free. I’ve noticed that my eyes lose focus when I’ve been on the computer for only a half hour. Closing them while I type doesn’t help, as I would expect in the case of eye strain.

Well, today I found out that outgassing of chemical components used in lots of products, like computers and other electronic circuitry, carpets, office furniture, etc, can give off chemicals which can cause reactions similar to my symptoms. And this corresponds with my situation, as well. I used to sit on the couch in the living room with my laptop, and while my eyes did get tired looking at the screen, a short rest of 10-15 minutes helped immensely. Since my laptop broke I’ve been using the desktop computer, which is in a room filled with electronics: new washer and dryer, electronic piano, wireless router, cable router, printer, monitor, CPU, speakers, cordless phone base. I spend many hours a day in this room, within arm’s reach of all these things.

I’ll be able to put my theory to the test soon. Not only am I ordering the part to fix my laptop, but I’m going back to dial-up Internet, so I won’t be sitting for hours in this back room. I’ll let you know what I find out.

Fragrance-free-for-all

I have a lot of fragrance-related things to talk about so this will likely be long and rambling.

First of all, the euphoria that I felt after recognizing the problem got lost in depression. The depression was triggered by several factors, but I can’t discount the lack of fragrance as one of them. Don’t get me wrong, it is a HUGE relief to be able to say, “I have a headache because of _____,” instead of wondering why my body hates me. But it’s common knowledge that scents play a huge part in our lives, our memories, our comfort, and I have effectively eliminated those from my home environment, where I spend 95% of my time. I’m going through an adjustment period, I guess.

I made a fairly fragrance-fllled foray into the world this weekend. Saturday I scoured the thrift stores for clothes to fit my burgeoning figure (another adjustment to going FF?), then went to the grocery store. Sunday I went to Wal-Mart and spent much time near scented products looking for the non-scented versions. Ironic, isn’t it, that in order to go FF I have to first be inundated with fragrance? While at Wal-Mart I saw an old high school friend, and our hugs hello and good-bye left his cologne on my clothes. That part was worth it, but still.

Since my house is mostly FF, I can better observe the onset of symptoms when exposed to fragrance. Some chemicals instantly stab the bridge of my nose and some gradually make it harder and harder to focus. And I’ve figured out that that is the migraine trigger, the straining to focus all day after exposure. So that’s a bonus. All I have to do is learn how to do my chores and watch tv with my eyes closed and I’m fine.

TIP: It can take ten washings to get the fragrance out of your clothes, but I found that you can get rid of most of it by simply hanging them outside overnight. Two nights might be better. Inside doesn’t work. Outside.

It was a successful shopping trip, FF-wise. I’ve been buying All Free and Clear laundry detergent, but this Wal-Mart (not my usual one) had a free and clear version of Purex, which is a third less expensive. Bonus. While on that aisle, a clear bottle of dish detergent caught my eye. I didn’t want to believe it could be true, but it was! Clorox Green Works Free and Clear has no fragrance. When I realized what I had found, my eyes misted over. I kid you not.

I haven’t been able to wear make-up for a couple of months. This was the biggest deal. I kept my Almay eye shadow and mascara, but everything else had to go. Luckily, this was the period of time my chin decided to break out with a mystery rash which wouldn’t heal and I couldn’t cover up. Add that to the under-eye circles, and…oh, the hideousity. The circles are permanent, but the rash is finally clearing up, now that I can wear makeup again. *rolls eyes*

The prices of the “good” make-up sent me reeling, but I had no choice. I ended up with a mix of brands, going cheaper where I could.

TIP: The key to finding FF makeup is to look for the words mineral, natural, or organic.

I can’t say all makeup containing these words are FF, but that is what I observed in my shopping trip this weekend. I was able to find Physicians Formula equivalents in Maybelline and N.Y.C. for much, much cheaper.

What else, what else… Oh yeah, my home made soap is cured so I’ll be using it now. Stay tuned for details on that.

Warning: Whining ahead!

I finally broke down and ordered some FF shampoo and conditioner from Amazon. The brand is Earth Science, apparently a pretty popular one. Shipping was $9. Eek! But seeing as how I’d have to drive all the way to OKC to MAYBE find some in a store it’s going to work out the same.

And now I absolutely must find some dish soap that I can tolerate until the dishwasher is fixed. For the dishwasher I use a mixture of equal parts baking soda and borax and it works just great. But in the sink, as I said before, it ain’t cutting it. The borax seems to lose its grease-cutting power when dissolved in water, and the body-wash doesn’t last long enough, nor does it take the greasy fingerprints off the glasses. It’s just a nightmare. I want to cry thinking about the sink full of dirty dishes, knowing that I will spend a futile hour washing them, only to have it full again in another hour. I can’t keep up.

And my sink stopper doesn’t work right, and I hate the bits of food floating in the water, and I can’t seem to get to the store for some rubber gloves, and the kitchen smells like lard from my third batch of soap, and I’m fat and my hair’s falling out and I need new clothes…

So how are you today?

Symptoms of my fragrance sensitivity/allergy/whatever

This is an edited version of a page on my other blog, Sherri Blossoms, where I tell a bit about my story and list my symptoms.

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I’ve brought up my symptoms to doctor after doctor, and the most common response is one of dismissal. To be dismissed by your doctor is disheartening, to say the least. They just don’t know about this problem.

So here I’ll list the chronic symptoms which I’ve recently been able to directly link to my exposure of fragrance. Don’t forget that your symptoms may not match up perfectly with mine.

  • sinus pressure
  • migraine headaches
  • eye fatigue
  • blurry vision
  • asthma-like symptoms
  • sore throat
  • inability to concentrate (such as not being able to follow a conversation or read a book or follow a movie plot.)
  • dizziness

All these symptoms seemed to worsen throughout the day, and especially while shopping. I thought I just had no stamina, now it’s apparent that the exposure to chemicals wore me down. I got an inhaler for the asthma, nasal spray for the sinus pressure, migraine drugs for the headaches, glasses for the blurry vision. None of these things helped much, if any. I felt stupid when interacting with others because I couldn’t speak intelligently with them.

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It’s much nicer to be able to recognize the symptoms for what they are, rather than hypochondria or weakness or idiocy. I haven’t brought it up with my doc yet, because I’m broke. And I don’t think he’ll be able to help, since it seems about the only thing one can do is avoid the offending chemical(s). But when I do see him, I’ll have plenty of subjective data to present, and hopefully he won’t dismiss me. I don’t think he will.