I can’t think of a single day that I have not had an allergic reaction to something. I see so many people just going about their day and seemingly oblivious to the things that ail me. I’ve never had a doctor tell me I have Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS) specifically, but when I tell them about my symptoms, their advice to avoid whatever causes those symptoms (itching, rashes, sneezing, wheezing, burning eyes, hives, etc)
And so my life has become a choice of taking a chance, packing tissues and an inhaler or avoiding the pain:
I used to try and enjoy hiking, would take an antihistamine pill and eye drops and pack my pockets with tissues, so many tissues, for the inevitable runny nose and watery eyes. The scenery is not as enjoyable through blurry eyes though. I still do this, but not as often as I might otherwise.
I used to try gardening, but can now only attempt it if I can shower immediately afterwards, or I will have blistery painful, itchy rashes some where that something brushed against me innocently. We hire people to do most of our yard care.
I used to enjoy sitting out in the sun, until the sun itself started causing a painful rash on exposed skin. (seriously, this one still ticks me off. Want to tell the world to bugger off and leave me alone, no one is allergic to the sun. Apparently a few are, and I’m one of them)
I have never enjoyed the cold dry air of winter, as it triggers wheezing and asthma. As a child I watched my brothers playing outside in the snow through the window. As an adult, I watch my own children playing outside in the snow through the window.
I used to put up with a real christmas tree in my house because it made Hubby so happy, even though the pine needles would give me welts, and the pine scent he loved burned my eyes, throat, and lungs. We have a lovely artificial one now.
Friends and family always give those thoughtful gifts of smelly soaps and candles that girls are supposed to love. I try them and pay the price of yet another rash or headache.
And this last weekend, was, well pathetic. I had to exclude myself from my friend’s birthday gathering. We all had a nice dinner at a restaurant, and then moved to an artsy little bar owned by another good friend. This bar had a candle burning on each table, and the scent hit me like a toxic wall as soon as I entered the room. I thought I could put up with it for a while, suffer a runny nose and tight chest now, and headache later, like I usually do – but it was way too strong. I felt the panic creep in like it always does to warn me of impending asthma constriction and told my friends I had to go. They were so confused, they didn’t even notice the candles. Luckily Hubby was there, or I may have been alone, or forced someone else to pity me and go with me. Hubby and I went to another bar down the street and I felt so embarrassed and ashamed to be me. How stupid to be out with friends, but at different locations? And don’t get me started that no one else came with me, that no one understood, that they couldn’t change their plans for me – I can’t linger there in that thought process too long at all without the old feelings of “Why would they? It’s just me, and I am nothing”.
Even if I had no abuse in my history, even without my wobbly, limping leg, I still feel like a freak and an outsider. Why am I allergic to things that everyone else loves? Why must my choice always be to either exclude myself, or suffer the pain?
Get ready for the patheitc whiny pity train – I need to complain. I do everything I can to minimize my contact to certain chemicals – I have unscented deodorant and dryer sheets. I could not hide my gray/white hair with a dye that is my natural color because I am allergic to red – it causes painful blisters on my scalp if I try anything with a reddish tint, so I am now a light brown, which is better than white so I made peace with that. Yellow food dye also gets me, like that in doritos or cheese puffs, makes my tongue numb. I can’t wear cute strappy brown leather sandals, terrible rash from that took several weeks and steroids to clear up. I can’t wear any costume jewelry, and can even get a scaly irritation from a light gold chain if I wear it too long. I can’t tolerate ear rings at all. No matter what kind I try, my earlobes swell up, turn bright red, and then start oozing, which completely defeats the purpose of wearing something pretty. I gave up on them years ago.
Why am I so sensitive – to every freaking thing in this world?? Sometimes I think I was born on a different planet and that’s why this world, and the people on it, seem so foreign to me.
Seriously though, there is some research now that shows a link (not a cause, that is flawed logic, I’m just talking about a link, a relationship) between highly sensitive/allergic individuals and childhood trauma. Trauma can be abuse, or injury, or medical conditions, and I have had my share of all three.
Drug Allergies and Childhood Trauma in chronic Pain Patients from National Institute of Health National Library of Medicine
Elevated plasma histamine levels in trauma patients: Results of a well-designed cross-sectional study with polytrauma and two control groups from Springer.com Medical Journals
Some of this makes sense to me, the hyper-arousal of the nervous system in PTSD, which is basically chronic trauma – could induce more severe sensitivities due to chronic histamine release. And it may explain why a daily dose of antihistamine does not prevent all of the symptoms, since I think there is a much more complicated system of chemicals and pathways being triggered than just histamine. We need histamine, we would die if we took enough antihistamine to blocl all of it, assuming that is even possible of course. Same thing with those stress chemicals, like adrenaline and cortisol. We need them. They save our lives, but if they stay elevated, can cause all sorts of trouble.
Another interesting (scientifically interesting, as someone living with it, it is just plain sucky and not interesting whatsoever) is that histamines are involved with motion sickness, something else I suffer to the extreme. A long car ride always includes some nausea. A plane ride must be a large plane – never again will I save money and take a turboprop. A boat ride is unthinkable. Amusement rides? Not amusing at all. I can barely watch those things spin and twist, let alone actually ride on them without losing my lunch. So not too surprising that motion sickness pills (like dramamine) are actually antihistamines. What I just learned is that it is also an anticholinergic, very interesting info here.
Anticholinergics – “Anticholinergics are a class of drugs that block the action of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in the brain. They are used to treat diseases like asthma, incontinence, gastrointestinal cramps, and muscular spasms. They are also prescribed for depressionand sleep disorders. The drugs help to block involuntary movements of the muscles associated with these diseases. They also balance the production of dopamine and acetylcholine in the body.”
Acetycholine is needed for the function of many different nerves, but it is particularly important for some parts of the brain. For example, the parts of the brain involved in memory, learning and mood use acetylcholine extensively, ChemistryExplained.com notes. In addition, a 2008 article published in “Nature” titled “Attention Seeking: A Role for Acetylcholine” explains that research shows that acetylcholine may also be needed for the brain to be able to choose on what objects or thoughts to focus.
“Acetycholine is needed for the function of many different nerves, but it is particularly important for some parts of the brain. For example, the parts of the brain involved in memory, learning and mood use acetylcholine extensively, ChemistryExplained.com notes. In addition, a 2008 article published in “Nature” titled “Attention Seeking: A Role for Acetylcholine” explains that research shows that acetylcholine may also be needed for the brain to be able to choose on what objects or thoughts to focus.”
It is also involved in muscle contraction and related to twitches, spasms, and cramps. I am always amazed that a chemical can cause one thing to happen in the brain and have a totally different function elsewhere in the body, like keys that fit and open more than one door. I am now reading about inhibiting acetylcholine to minimize muscle twitches after spinal cord injury (SCI). And it makes me wonder, do we have a limited supply of these chemicals, neurotransmitters, enzymes, and minerals in our body, so if something is damaged (like my spine was over 20 years ago) or traumatized (like my brain) or stressed (like my nervous system), are my twitching muscles actually robbing my brain of the chemicals it would need to function properly? Do damaged people need more, or a more constant refueling of these stores, to function semi-normally?
That’s enough science for today, but what an interesting morning I have had. Back to spreadsheets and washing dishes and getting ready for another busy week to buzz past me. Our bodies are so amazing, why is the daily life we put them through so terribly mundane?
- Are you allergic to your Christmas tree? (sneezesnoozeclinic.com)