Monday, September 13, 2010


There was a series of stories in the Toronto Star some months ago about a woman with severe "environmental sensitivities". Scents of any kind, personal care products, cleaning products, various building materials and a host of other things apparently cause her serious illness. Because of this, she cannot work and is on long-term disability and is practically house-bound. She was living in a rental unit of an old building in the High Park area of town, but the building was sold to new owners and slated for demolition. With a letter from her doctor and help from friends and supporters, she lobbied to fight her eviction. Although she lost this battle, the company that bought the property, offered her a variety of options, including relocating her to a paid-for home at a very reasonable rent either nearby or just north of the city. Even city hall stepped in and offered her help. She claimed none of the options offered to her were sufficient and chose, instead, to live on the balcony of her aged father's apartment. Reading about this woman irritated me (see the full story here I admit, I have, in the past, had little tolerance for this issue. It annoys me enough that I can't wear perfume to certain public places anymore. But, despite the note from her doctor, I was skeptical of this woman's claims. I was convinced that real allergies cause rashes, hives or anaphylactic shock, not migraines or muscle pain or other ambiguous symptoms.

Well no longer. I've mentioned before that I have very sensitive skin and wear Coppertone oil free sunblock because most others cause me to break out in a rash. Well last Monday, I realized I was completely out of my sunscreen. We went to the drug store but they didn't have any. I stupidly decided to try Aveeno. Tuesday morning I tried it and inspite of my face tingling and burning a bit, decided it was okay because I didn't break out into a rash. Tuesday I developed a horrible headache, fatigue, blurry vision and muscle pain. By Thursday I was worried and thought it was due to a sinus infection (I was also still congested from the cold I was recovering from)and went to see my family doctor. She said she wasn't sure it was a sinus infection but gave me a prescription nasal spray to try. My congestion cleared up but the headache, blurry vision and muscle pain continued until yesterday. Yesterday morning I skipped putting on my sunscreen before biking to the gym to teach my spinning class (it was cloudy). I felt better than I had since last Tuesday. I was full of energy, pain free and my vision was normal again. After I came home and showered, I put sunscreen on my face and body as usual. Instantly, my skin started stinging and burning, the headache came back, my vision blurred and my muscles started aching. I kid you not, it was seriously instantaneous! All of a sudden it clicked that the sunscreen was to blame. I insisted that we go to the drugstore so I could find my Coppertone ASAP. Thank goodness I figured it out because I feel so much better!

Now although I now understand the full range of symptoms that can be associated with an allergy or sensitivity, I still wonder if this woman is justified given the great lengths so many people have gone to in order to accomodate her needs. I don't know, as I get older I truly believe more and more that you really do have to walk in someone's shoes to understand them.