Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Why Does Your Fragrance Bother Me? -- by Dorothy Parshall

Don't use perfume around me. Please. Here's the reason.

I’m sorry if this request -- or my behavior - offends you, but the chemicals in fragrance hit my brain like a glass of vodka does a ‘bad drunk’. These volatile chemicals affect my brain directly. They attach to receptors, reducing my ability to think, my coordination, changing my mood.

While ‘under the influence’ I cannot hear or speak properly. It may take me hours to recover. I may have trouble getting home.

It's not just me. 20% of the population suffer noticeably. Many more would notice an improvement in health and mental ability if they stopped using fragrances, perfumes and fresheners. Thank you for your understanding.

From Heartsick to Healthy

I was a hard-working professional ten years ago, the day I was poisoned. It was formaldehyde, a common chemical used to preserve dead bodies, or stop fungus in furnishings. This was in carpeting on a stair. It was brand new, and it stank. By the time I had walked up one flight, I felt as though I were going to collapse. I held onto a desk for support. A co-worker exclaimed, “You’re white as a sheet.” Knowing the cause, I left immediately. The damage, however, was done and will plague me the rest of my life.

My co-worker suggested I attend at the Occupational Health Center . They had no idea what to do. I went twice. The second time, a doctor whose son had been poisoned by drywall chemicals when he renovated his home, suggested I continue to go to a wholistic chiropractor, who had been able to clear enough of the toxins for my brain to function..

The effect of chemicals on the brain can be worse than on the body. The brain is clouded, thinking impaired. You don't realize how much you are affected. The body becomes sensitive to other chemicals. As my friend C---- drove me an hour and a half to the chiropractor, I kept thinking, “Open the window!" But could not get the words from brain to tongue. After my detox, getting in the van to go home I was able to say, “Do you mind if I open the window?” WOW!

I was only just functioning. I had severe ups and downs. I did not realize it at first but a lot of things had changed. Language was severely handicapped. I was hypersensitive to loud noises. They made me angry. I had days when it was a struggle to get up. I was able to do very little and became depressed by my inability to function at my usual high energy level.

After five years: I could not lose 30 excess pounds. Some days I had trouble getting off the sofa, could not turn the pages of a magazine. “I have no life. It isn’t worth living," I told C---. She responded,, “Maybe we better try de-toxing.”

She lived an hour away. Just getting there was an exhausting. She gave me a handful of supplements and a horrible tasting drink. Then she announced, “Now we need to walk for half an hour.” Horrified, I said, “But I can hardly put one foot in front of the other!” But then added bravely, “Alright, one foot after another. I will just keep doing it.” I was desperate. I wanted to be better or die.

So we walked, each with a dog on leash – might as well walk the dogs too, right? I could not do it. She ended up with both the large dogs as I plodded slowly forward. Next a sauna -- oh no! I have always hated heat. When I was a child, summer was a misery. C--- took pity and turned the temperature down to a tolerable level. I survived that first treatment, and four more like it over the next three weeks.

Came the fifth session: Walking the dogs, C---- suddenly said, “I can’t keep up with you!” I claimed it was the dog pulling me. But it wasn't. Miraculously, I had my energy back.

I had the energy of a hyperactive ten year old. Now I understood how the children with whom I was working felt when told to “sit still.”. I was again striding through life instead of dragging myself along. Within five months I lost the excess weight which had plagued me.. My brain worked better. Grace and joy seemed to pour into me until life was full again. I was elated.

I was healthy at last. But de-toxing needs to be repeated. Every time I go into a place full of chemicals (any city), I have to come home and take a detoxing bath. If the exposure has been heavy, I may need to do it again in the morning. My awareness of my energy level lets me know what I need to do.

I will never be able to stop detoxing. I worry about all the others who climbed that stairway. How many of them had symptoms? How many are still suffering from that exposure? Thank you C---- for your support all those rough years. I would never have known what was wrong with me. I would have gone from doctor to doctor without finding help.

Fragrance, anger and noise

The effect of perfume on my brain is immediate. When I am folk dancing, if someone wearing a fragrance is next to me, I lose focus and become unable to do the correct steps, even in a simple dance. I have to move out of range of the odour to recover brain function and continue dancing.

Or I become angry. I don't mean to. It is a direct reaction to the chemicals. All I can do is put distance between myself and the exposure and wait for the anger to subside.

People don't realize this. Reacting to me -- the victim -- they too become angry. This solves nothing. Can we instead cooperate?

Here's an example. I was interviewing a family close to a powder room with commercial "air freshener". After a short time, my eyes could not focus and my brain was foggy. I was struggling to continue. I asked that the "air freshener" be put outside. 15 minutes later, my brain and vision returned to normal.

But some toxins are unknown and odourless. At times, I find myself unable to comprehend the written word.. On the first occasion I read one sentence over and over unable to make sense of it. I finally realized where the problem lay, left the building as quickly as possible, and, after a few minutes, was able to drive home.

On another occasion, a high note on a wind instrument caused a feeling like a knife stabbing into my brain. I staggered away from the dance and as far from the music as possible, my fingers in my ears. I was a wreck from the excruciating pain and had to go home, after sitting in the car for while to recover. I already had tissue in my ears to dampen the sound.

These hypersensitive reactions are known to be caused by chemicals in the environment. Also confusion of sounds: I find it difficult to stay in a room with loud noise.; the noise causes me to feel pain throughout my body. I am frustrated by people who do not speak clearly. I cannot understand verbal language unless it is enunciated clearly. My auditory processing ability has been severely affected by chemicals. I hear ALL the noises and cannot separate them sufficiently to understand what people are saying.

When the Brain Can't Hear
click on image to see details
I want to stress: it is not just me. In North America there are many thousands of environmentally poisoned people. Tomorrow, after an unexpected exposure or a build-up of toxins in your system, it could be you. Or, worse yet, your children. My fear for the children of this earth sometimes causes me to feel very angry. Our children's future is dependent on a safe environment, in their homes, schools and communities.

As a "canary in the coal mine", I had difficulty even convincing my own family that I have this disability. My son was giving me a hard time: "How do you know? You could at least TRY a hearing aid." I explained again. He responded, very softly, "If I talk very softly but clearly will you understand." "Yes, when there is no background noise, I hear and understand every word." He listened! He stopped harassing me! Speaking CLEARLY is what I need.

Teri James Bellis,
When the Brain Can't Hear explains brain differences which create auditory processing deficits or disorders. At last, a doctor who understands! It took me 9 years to realize that chemicals affect my ability to understand both oral and written language. I detox constantly but I am constantly exposed to more toxins. When the level in my body gets too high my brain seems to turn off: I often cannot read serious literature. I do NOT need a hearing aid; I need a toxin-free environment. I will keep on reading, in those times when my brain is clear enough to understand. I focus on books about how the brain works, trying to understand and looking for possible strategies that might help.

There is so much I would like the public to know and understand. Sometimes I just have to leave the room. Sometimes I cannot even smell the chemicals but my energy level drops, I feel angry for no apparent reason, or my head aches, I feel nauseous. All these, and more, are symptoms of sensitivity to toxins in the environment.

I hope this will help you understand those of us who are environmentally damaged. Protect your children. Hope that it never happens to you

Wikipedia on perfumes. These may include fragrances, essential oils, aroma compounds, fixatives, solvents and their health effects – with footnotes. Reactions (not covered here) have also been reported to balsam of Peru, benzyl alcohol, menthol, toothpastes, gum and perfumes in paper products, sanitary napkins, ostomy pastes, and detergents.
See also body burden, body cleansing; EU draft regulations on fragrances; a hospital’s fragrance-free policy; Environmental Health News.org.
Read and discuss with a qualified doctor: networks for sufferers; Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Syndrome (MCS) and MCS in Wikipedia; and Quackwatch.
Books: Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie, Slow Death by Rubber Duck: How the toxic chemistry of Daily life affects our health (2009); Dr Teri James Bellis, When the Brain Can't Hear: Unraveling The Mystery Of Auditory Processing Disorders (2003); Amilya Antonetti, Why David Hated Tuesdays, a well written book by a mother whose son was born hyper-sensitive and what she did to alleviate the problem.

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