Living with Chemical Hypersensitivity

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Posted on March 28th, 2011 by Sharon Gripp in Applicators, Consumers

This week’s blog was written by Donna Plummer, who is on the Pesticide Hypersensitivity Registry. The Registry was discussed in last week’s blog. Read Donna’s perspective to gain an understanding of what living with chemical sensitivities really means.

Getting Diagnosed
I was a mess when this ailment first reared its ugly head. I could not talk without hoarseness and had a constant sore throat that would not end for weeks; and being a teacher, I needed my voice. The excess mucus that would form in my breathing tubes to protect my lungs made it difficult to breathe. I was first diagnosed with pneumonia. When I did not get better after a week of bed rest, the doctors continued taking all sorts of tests. Finally, not until after months of tests and medical bills into the hundreds of dollars did I get my diagnosis.

I knew that it was something in my work environment, as it cleared up when I left for a two week Christmas vacation to another state. Within two weeks after I returned to my workplace, I had the same full blown ailment again. In my workplace, a new floor wax product was being used that caused alarm. We believe that the chemicals in the product were lifting the formaldehyde from the floor tiles. Bingo! I knew that I was allergic to this chemical. So this is my story.

My Sensitivities
Living with Multiple Chemical Sensitivities has been an utter nightmare! When I was first diagnosed with a Reactive Airway Disease, it meant having a severe lifestyle change immediately, as things that I would smell or breathe in would often make me run in the other direction. My sensitivities include formaldehyde, ethanol, tobacco smoke, common household chemicals–cleaners, laundry and dishwashing detergents, chemicals that create vanilla and fruited scents in home air fresheners and candles–and that green mulch which is sprayed along the road to grow grass.

No matter where I turned, it seemed that I would get into some allergen that would cause me to react. Places that I once ventured were no longer an option to me, like bars where I loved to dance and restaurants with smoking. Even those with non-smoking sections, I could still smell the smoke throughout the restaurant. I have to cover my nose when I pass by specialty soap and lotion displays since the smells are overwhelming to my sensitive body.

Even when people give me gifts of scented candles, I have to immediately return to the store or dispose of outside. I had to ask my students in my classroom who were wearing perfume, hair spray, shampoo, or lip gloss carrying the vanilla or fruited scents, or anyone who lived in a home with a tobacco smoker with the scent on their clothes, to sit in the back of the classroom. Now, that was a delicate situation!

Finding a Safe Place to Live
Then my lease was not renewed by my landlord because I was complaining about the new tenants who were cigar smokers–all six of them. The smoke was somehow getting into my space, which I had lived free of smoke for seven years. Despite my efforts to have it rectified by trying to acquire the building code regulations at the Township, or getting help through my State House Representative and a lawyer, I finally had to leave my apartment. Finding a new place to live took over a year, since I had to be so careful about where I lived. I finally found a condo that was smoke free. However, soon after I moved in, the roof heating vent cap blew off, and I found myself once again plagued with unwanted cigarette smoke and wood burning smoke filtering into my apartment from other apartments and outside. To date my condo association sees no need to install an appropriate cap that would stop the down draft of smoke which continues to come into my home on occasion. They feel the make-shift one put on by the roofer is enough. But it is really not for someone like me.

Then I considered buying a house, but could only afford a townhouse/condo, since most of my money is channeled into my health. Because I share separate walls, I run the risk of having a smoker buy the one next to me, but that is all I can afford. However, I was stopped cold when the home inspection uncovered moisture from poor water drainage in the walls, as I am also allergic to mold. I lost $1,000 in that deal. Sigh. I finally purchased the condo that I had been living in for the past two years because it was a safe bet, even though I am now strapped for cash because of the purchase, and still breathe smoke from time to time.

Always on Guard
Some of the chemical lawn companies are my biggest concern, since their chemicals affect me the most. I was in a panic one day when a lawn care truck parked nearby while I was leisurely walking with a friend in her neighborhood. Before I could get out of the vicinity, the application was already coming through the hose. I covered my nose and ran to get away from the allergen. However, my lungs had already been irritated that day from another teacher’s varnish that was brought into school to finish a personal project during their free time. They had no idea that the varnish would have such a severe affect on me. Overall, I needed three to four days to recover from these two chemical exposures.

This is my life. I hope someday that I will be able to live normally, yet until then, I am always on guard!

Until next time,
Be Safe!!