Sunday, December 15, 2019

                                                                                                                                                                                                    Photo:  Alex Rosario

I would have never guessed that buying groceries and shopping for clothes would make me sick. 

Years ago, when my daughter was a pre-teen, we'd shop at Abercrombie & Fitch.  Minutes after making a purchase, my head would pound.  This happened every time we shopped there.  I finally figured out that the in-store scent was giving me a headache.

I've had migraines for over twenty years and I'm still trying to figure out all of my triggers.  It's kind of depressing because the list keeps growing.  In addition to fragrances, I've discovered wine (red and white) gives me headaches as well as preservatives and additives in processed foods.  I'm particularly sensitive to soy lecithin, an additive which is found in foods like chocolate candy and certain soups (Progresso tomato basil)—and this sucks 'cause I love chocolate and tomato soup.

But what is troubling is, though I can avoid certain foods, I can't avoid certain fragrances.

About 7:30 one morning while I shopped for groceries at Kroger, my head began to throb.  The store reeked.  I encountered a strong-smelling cleaner and the overpowering scent of pine, cinnamon, and cloves.  These odors were a double whammy for me.  Though I tried my best to avoid those areas, the damage was already done.  One whiff was all it took.  It was a real bummer because the grocery shopping had to be finished and there was no escaping the cleaning odor and holiday fragrances.   

I was frustrated about being so sensitive to fragrances.  So, I did a little research and found an online article.  In the WebMD piece "Fragrance Allergies: A Sensory Assault," medical journalist Colette Bouchez says, "We do have some control over what we allow into our homes and other personal spaces -- we can toss that magazine with the inserts or switch shampoo -- but it can really become an issue when our senses are assaulted in common areas, such as the workplace or a college classroom, places where we have to be."  

Olfactory researcher Pamela Dalton PhD, MPH says, "It's a loss of control over your personal environment.  And for some, it can have serious personal health consequences."   

Dalton adds, "From hair shampoos to carpet shampoos, from laundry detergent to shower gels, from home sprays to hair sprays to moisturizers, cosmetic, and personal care items, the scent industry has literally exploded.  And for many people, it's a real sensory overload."   

Photo: William Bout
"Sensitivity to one fragrance or odor can snowball into a crippling multiple chemical sensitivity that leaves its victims defenseless in the face of an ever-widening number of chemical odors and fragrances," says Dalton.

Bouchez reports that "some experts aren't even sure if it's the fragrance itself that is the real culprit, or just one part of a mix of chemicals (as many as 200 or more) that are used to create both fragrances we smell and the masking agents used in unscented products."  

Bouchez adds that there are a growing number of people who are sensitive to odors.  The American Academy of Allergy and Immunology calls this condition multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS).  Experts agree that people with chemical sensitivities should try to remove themselves from the offending fragrance.  Avoidance is the most effective treatment.  

Really?  I wouldn't call avoidance a treatment.  Nor, would I say avoidance is always possible.  Grocery shopping is a weekly necessity and if my family wants to eat, it's difficult to avoid Kroger.

There is no denying being exposed to strong odors or fragrances interferes with my daily routine.  It not only causes my head throb and it does weird things to my brain.  It's like I'm trapped in a fog and I get confused or can't think clearly.  My mind is totally f*cked-up.  Luckily, there's prescription medication that works quickly for me.  Otherwise, I'd never be able to do the things I love such as composing blogs, mentoring writers, marketing my brand, or editing new work.

Who would have guessed that Kroger would be as troublesome as Abercrombie?  Crazy, huh?  Luckily, I am not entirely defenseless.  There are three things I can do during the holiday season:
  1. shop at another neighborhood grocery store
  2. take prescription medication proactively on grocery day 
  3. communicate my concerns about store cleaning with the manager
By being aware of the chemicals and fragrances that I might face, I don't feel as helpless.  I'm armed with possible solutions that could make a difference because...when we can't change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.

✌ and