Today I read on StellaPlainAndTall about Stella’s chemical sensitivities, and all I could think of was, “Oh, yes. I know. I know.” My “asthma” was triggered three or so years ago by remodeling in the studio apartment in which I was living. I got a cold, which turned into bronchitis, which didn’t get better, which turned into increasing difficulty with breathing until I ended up in the ER on breathing treatments. Cough-variant asthma was diagnosed, but what I think I really have is a chemical sensitivity known as RADS. I first read about it in a link I found on the website for organic body products, Terresentials. The symptoms, the triggers, everything felt familiar. I don’t have asthmatic reactions to cat dander or dust, to hay or grasses or pollen, to anything natural. But I have mild to extreme reactions to anything containing formaldehyde. That’s cigarette smoke, the lumber area of Home Depot, wood stains and new furniture, carpeting and particle board, new buildings, paints, some perfumes… the list goes on. Exposure leads to uncontrollable coughing and wheezing, with eventual airway shutdown if I don’t get away from the trigger. Other symptoms are headache and fatigue.
Interestingly enough, my dean told me that he can’t enter our lovely new building, in which I have an office and — maybe — a classroom (if I can tolerate it, which right now I can’t). He has a formaldehyde allergy which took him years to get diagnosed. Plagued by headaches and exhaustion, he finally consulted a specialist in a distant town who discovered elevated levels of formaldehyde antibodies in his blood. Now he knows where he can go and where he can’t, and how to avoid the triggers that wore him down for so long. So do I. Only for people like us, it gets harder and harder as more and more chemicals enter our environment. Students who wear perfume are a problem for me, as is my daughter, who insists on wearing scents despite my pleas against it on her behalf (and mine). We have an agreement; she can only wear perfumes that I know I don’t react to — which tend, of course, to be the most expensive! I’m hoping she’ll grow out of the desire to smell like artificial flowers as she grows up.
In the meantime, I use only natural cleaning products in my older condo (no remodeling for me!). I don’t/can’t paint my house, or put in new carpets. I’ve found a carpet cleaner who is able to clean my carpets without causing a reaction. I fill my house with plants, and I use the highest quality air filter that I can buy in my air system. It seems to work OK. I’m better than I was three years ago, though I still have periods that challenge me. In the meantime, I’m glad I figured out what was wrong, and I live a more limited life than I would like, but I thank God/Allah/the Absolute/the Ground of Being/Fate, whatever, for the health I do have.