Posts tagged ‘fragrances’

Hospitals Need a ‘No-Fragrance’ Rule

My 85-year-old mother recently had to go to the hospital emergency room for a subdural hematoma. She’s very sensitive to fragrances. Members of her bridge club and singing group know this and respect her wish for no fragrances. Otherwise her eyes and nose water, she gets headaches and has difficulty breathing.

Hospital personnel wheel gurney

Hospitals need to enforce rules because fragrances can aggravate the conditions of patients. Photo: U.S. Navy.

At the ER, a nurse who was very friendly smelled so strongly that I asked him not to come close. It was the beginning of the shift. He apologized and washed it off, thankfully, but he needed to hear this from a patient’s mother who is also a doctor! I do plan to contact the director of nursing services.

People who are pregnant, get migraines or other headaches, or have asthma often need to avoid fragrances. Many hospital staff members themselves are very sensitive because they have been previously TILTed.

– Related Post: How to Thank People Who Wear No Fragrances

TILT is short for Toxicant-induced Loss of Tolerance. It affects people who have repeated low-level exposures, such as in a “sick building,” or a one-time, high-level exposure such as a chemical spill or pesticide application. TILT can cause chemical intolerances that impair a person’s health, ability to work or go to school, and other everyday activities. There’s a widely accepted screening instrument to help identify TILT, called the QEESI, or Quick Environmental Exposure and Sensitivity Inventory. It’s free to download.

Hospital staff members need to avoid wearing fragrances. This is important because patients may be unable to speak for themselves. Even worse, fragrances may precipitate vomiting in chemotherapy patients whose treatments cause nausea. And there’s certainly a need for a no-fragrance rule around newborns, babies or children, and in the intensive-care or critical-care units.

Fragrance policies for the health-care industry are emerging. Some examples:

  • The Centers for Disease Control has issued a policy governing its installations.
  • A Canadian organization, Bryant Community Healthcare System, for example, applies a policy for both employees and patients.
  • And the Massachusetts Nursing Association published an excellent article as far back as 2006 explaining the value and way of setting up such a policy.

I don’t recall fragrances being such a problem when I was a medical student in the 1980s. Then it was tobacco smoke — first hand, second hand and third hand — and smoke retained in patients’ clothing and on their breath. We medical students would stand as far away as possible from these patients when we told them to take a deep breath and exhale. Now people come in the hospital and leave “vapor trails” of fragrances behind them — in elevators, corridors and stairwells.

Fortunately for my mother, I’m a professor and assistant dean for the dual degree MD/MPH program at the UT School of Medicine, which is directly across the street from the hospital. I’ve published many papers, books, and a screening questionnaire for assessing chemical intolerance, but not everyone knows this.

Before I left her bedside last night, she asked for a stack of my business cards so she could pass them around.

How to Say ‘It’s OK to Not Wear Cologne’

How can people convey to others that it’s OK to not wear cologne? A friend of mine does this very well.

Depending on the setting, she will say something like, “This is going to sound strange, but I want to compliment you on not wearing a lot of cologne or fragrance. I have a terrible allergy to fragrances and sometimes it is really hard for me to find people who I can sit next to without developing a headache.”

The chemicals in fragrances are designed to be perceived by our noses and cause emotional responses — hopefully positive but not for everyone. Some chemically intolerant individuals get angry, irritable, sleepy, or even confused.

The blog Now Smell This published a list of names for new perfumes and colognes. Some are spot on such as Heidi Klum’s “Surprise” and Gucci’s “Guilty.” This is not to mention “Japanese Cherry Blossom,” the perfume involved in a pending disability lawsuit.

Doctors Overlook Chemical Illnesses, Study Finds

Chemical intolerance contributes to the illnesses of 1 in 5 patients but the condition seldom figures in their diagnosis, according to clinical research published July 9 in the journal Annals of Family Medicine.

(Note: I was a co-author of the paper, which is available from the Annals of Family Medicine website. The study struck a national nerve, and it has been reported widely in the news media, including highly-read Medscape.com, which ran an excellent account. You’ll need a free Medscape login and password to view it. Other accounts are published at Science Daily and Fox News.)

Here’s a summary sent to the media:

Chemical intolerance contributes to the illnesses of 1 in 5 patients but the condition seldom figures in their diagnosis, according to clinical research published July 9 in the journal Annals of Family Medicine.

Clinical tools are available to identify chemical intolerance but health care practitioners may not be using them, said lead author Dr. David Katerndahl, professor of family and community medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

The study’s authors said physicians need to know how chemical intolerance affects certain people and understand that conventional therapies can be ineffective. Some patients would improve by avoiding certain chemicals, foods and even medical prescriptions, the authors said.

Patients with chemical intolerance go to the doctor more than others, are prone to having multi-system symptoms and are more apt to have to quit their job due to physical impairment, the authors said.

The study involved 400 patients who gave personal health information while waiting to be seen at primary care clinics in San Antonio. The researchers asked the patients to respond to 90 questions about their illnesses, mental health and ability to function.

In the end, the authors said, 20.3 percent of the patients questioned met the scientific criteria for chemical intolerance.

Researchers surveyed patients with chronic conditions such as allergies, asthma, diabetes and heart disease. They excluded patients who were at the clinics for acute conditions such as earaches, flu or bone fractures.

The origins of chemical intolerance have been the subject of much speculation, the authors acknowledge, but the condition is also understudied. People with chemical intolerance, or “CI,” are highly sensitive to common substances such as cleaning products, tobacco smoke, fragrances, pesticides, new carpet and auto exhaust.

“Apart from the debate over causality, the fact that so many patients meet the criteria for chemical intolerance holds particular relevance for primary care providers,” said Dr. Katerndahl.

Chemically intolerant individuals often have symptoms that affect multiple organ systems simultaneously, especially the nervous system. Symptoms commonly include fatigue, changes in mood, difficulty thinking and digestive problems.

Study co-authors are Dr. Claudia S. Miller, professor in environmental and occupational medicine, vice chair of family and community medicine, and director of the South Texas Environmental Education and Research (STEER) Program, among her roles; Dr. Raymond F. Palmer, associate professor of family and community medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio; and Dr. Iris R. Bell, professor emeritus in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine and research professor in the College of Nursing at the University of Arizona.

An added comment: Healthcare professionals as well as the public can assess chemical, food, drug and other intolerances using the QEESI, the Quick Environmental Exposure and Sensitivity Inventory, which I developed. It is available free for download.