Allergic to Life, MCS and PTSD, and SCI

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.

Scented Candle Take II - FuijiFilm Finepix S2950

Scented Candle  – why I had to abandon my friends (Photo credit: ladytimeless)

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 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, 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.

Read more:

“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, 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?


6 thoughts on “Allergic to Life, MCS and PTSD, and SCI

  1. I’m chemical sensitive. Explaining it is a pain. I didn’t know that about motion sickness, with which I also struggle. My sister and I wonder how much our body chemistry is changed by having lived on adrenalin for so long. Is it possible the body doesn’t know how to live without it after a steady diet of it? I saw a study recently that said PTSD changes the brain. Thanks for the information.

  2. I’m a firm believer that trauma is linked to asthma, allergies, and the like. I think it’s hard for the body to separate arousal from emotional trauma or environmental trauma and that we become oversensitive. And living in a constant state of “inflammation” has to have far reaching effects.

    I’m also a lifelong asthmatic and allergic to tons of stuff. I hope it helps to know you are not alone. My in-laws have dogs, and have long made me feel “to blame” for no longer wishing to expose my body to toxins in order to “be part of the family”. This has happened many times before, and I always felt alone and like a freak too. It can be hard. But there are people who understand.

    Also, something I noticed recently is that often the symptoms of the adrenaline of an asthma attack mimicked those of my anxiety attacks. I finally realized that characterizing myself as a child as “anxious and jittery” may have been more a physical reaction than the emotional reaction I thought I was having. But then, asthma and not being able to breathe, it seems natural to have an anxiety reaction to that. I mean, I’ve never seen a calm, drowning person. It all just seems to get so wrapped up together and it’s hard to sort out. Maybe though, as you get healthier, your reactions will decrease too?

    Also, just as a thought, have you been to a specific allergy/asthma specialist. I’ve found that “regular” doctors (even E.R. doctors) are WOEFULLY undereducated about asthma, treatments for asthma, and allergies (I’ve been giving medically inaccurate information more times than I can count). I found enormous relief from a doctor who got me on the right meds (I rarely use my rescue inhaler at all; I used to take it several times a week, if not several times daily). Just thought I’d offer that up.

    • I agree completely, that physical symptoms cause emotional ones and vice versa. I think asthma does trigger the body to release adrenaline to open the airways, but then your fear of not getting enough air also does. Makes sense. Sorry you have allergies/asthma too, it made for a not so fun childhood on top of everything else. Mine has been mostly nonexistent as an adult, I only get asthma tightness/wheezing after a cold virus or with exposure to chemicals or cold air. Most of the time I simply go to warmer air or leave the chemicals and I am fine quickly without an inhaler. Sometimes I need the inhaler to recover for a week or so after a cold. Really not too bad any more.

      I practically grew up at an allergists, saw him much more often than any other doctor, and was on terrible steroids until about age 10, ones they don’t give people any more. But now that you mention it, I have not seen an allergist as an adult, been too consumed with therapists I think. But it is high on my list to make an appointment soon.

      So glad you don’t need your rescue inhaler so much either, it is such a relief to just breathe!!

      My allergies now seem to affect my eyes, ears, and skin more than my lungs, and seems to be getting my joints now too, so a rheumatologist is on the list too. Can’t keep ignoring this, I know.

      Thanks for sharing your side of the story 🙂

      • I have been asthmatic and allergic for over 30 years, so I’ve been on treatments for a long time. I will say that I’ve seen A LOT change in the last 10 years (and it continues to), so you might find that what they would recommend now would be a lot different.
        I found when I got all of my allergies under control, it helped my anxiety because my body wasn’t constantly being revved up by that too. Just made it a little easier to deal with all of the other stuff going on. 🙂

  3. Just wondered if you’d looked into Mast Cell Activation Disorder (MCAD)? Stress has been shown to activate mast cells through corticotropin-releasing factor (a stress hormone). Mast cells live next to the nerves which release CRH. CRH release triggers mast cell activation. When mast cells activate they release dozens of chemical mediators into the body, including histamine. I used to have a MCS diagnosis, but this has now been changed to MCAD when I started reacting to foods and emotions (both bad and good) as well as drugs, chemicals, animals, pollen etc. etc.

    Mast cell activation has been recently linked to some mental health disorders, as mast cells contain neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine. I’ve certain suffered from low level depression my whole life, which I now feel is down to chronic mast cell activation. I also have acute anxiety during a reaction to something (be it drug, chemical or food) as my blood pressure drops, my heart rate increased to compensate and my body produces adrenaline to increase blood pressure.

    No-one knows why some people develop chronic mast cell activation, but stress is definitely implicated. My activation is through having a connective tissue disorder called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. Mast cells live in connective tissue, and mine is faulty. This seems to also make my mast cells faulty.

    There’s more info on my blog at

    Jak x

  4. Yeah I can relate. I’ve lived with MCS for about four years now, and also have a history of trauma. I’ve recently started EFT with some good results so far. So I’m very hopeful that focusing on the emotional side of things might give better results for me. Personally I seem to have hit a wall with trying to treat things from just a physical (supplements, etc) side of things. Thus far I’ve already started to see some positive change by trying to address the emotional issues which I personally feel were the foundation of this disorder for me. Hang in there!

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