Chronic dry eyes have been a symptom of my inhalant allergies since the beginning of their time. September 2002 to be exact. During periods of good health, I’ve had months, and once, a whole year and half without needing to use artificial tears. Lately, I’ve been using a whole pack of Bion Tears a week; these are prescribed by various doctors. They’re not a prescription medicine but for patients who need to use a lot of them and are eligible (as in on a Disability support or Aged pension), they’re on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS); they are also preservative free. I suppose, until and if the Liberals change this, Bion Tears will stay on the PBS scheme. This means I can get them at the same cost as commonly prescribed drugs. Lucky for that because I’m using so many, it costs $6 a box (30 single-use vials of tears), which is heaps less to pay out compared to the $25 a box, I’d pay if they were not on the PBS Scheme! (The way my mucosal tears are drying up, during the election, I’ll be voting for whoever leaves Bion Tears on the PBS Scheme!)
When airing out my shoe collection over summer, musing over whose skin exactly was on my adorable set of clogs (Dog skin? How do we know… And it’s not like many people even care! However, I do, and rightfully so, feel like a shit person for owning so many pairs made from skin… ), I couldn’t get over the vegan irony of getting painfully, chronic dry eyes from trying to air out my shoe collection.
When this type of exposure happens (exposure to fumes while out in the sun), I lose all mucous-type tears. I’ve had the Schirmer (results are below) test for dry eyes. And I was flat out dry because even just petrochemical fumes dry and sting my eyes, whether it be coming from a new pair of shoes or the exhaust of a car, my eyes dry out and sting to the point of distraction: I just became the pain in my eyes, and that’s all I am until I get the soothing relief of Bion Tears. In 2013, I wrote about how all the symptoms first started:
Some nights, I’d wake up and, painfully, my eyelids would be stuck to my eyeballs. Excruciating! Opening my eyes felt as if there were dried paper stuck to them and just the tiny movement of attempting to open my eyelids, made it feel as though paper that had been stuck down to my eyeballs, and as I fully opened my eyes, it was being ripped off of them. It got to the point where I’d sleep with the drops under my pillow, scrambling for them on awaking. I wore dark glasses and a hat to go outside; and I avoided sunlight like a character in a modern day vampire television series. (Not only do I wear a mask out in public places, but I always, always wear a sun visor to protect my eyes from air-borne fragrance molecules in the air.)
An Eye specialist, Dr J Doug Roydhouse at Vision Eye Institute, an Eye Clinic at Footscray, Victoria, Australia, whose area of expertise was General, Cataract and Medical Retinas, did a test call a Schirmer tear test, as requested by my specialist, Dr Colin Little. The test: 0 ml in 5 ml for the left, and 0 ml in 5 ml for the right shoes how dry they are. This guy had on a shit load of aftershave, which I didn’t realise at the time, probably contributed to the test results of my eyes being as dry as a dam in an Australian drought.
These are the Results of the Schirmer Tear Test in Relation to Chemical Sensitivity:
One of the Doctors who I saw that actually went fragrance free way back when I was tested for Sjogren’s syndrome, was Mr Neville Quinn, also an Oral Surgeon. He was pretty cool. Very gentle, with a kind nature, as I remember it. Going by my symptoms, he knew straight away that I didn’t have Sjogren’s, but ran the test as asked my specialist anyway. It’s a matter of elimination of all possible illnesses before being able to diagnose someone as sensitive to chemicals (which is not a diagnose (YET!) , nor does it have a disease code for insurance claim purposes).
Dr Neville Quinns Contact Details:
20 Collins Street, Melbourne
03 9650 1144
Fast forward 13 years and: It’s not just with my newer shoes this happens with: any exposure to hydrocarbons, gas, BBQ smoke, wood-fire smoke, especially at close range can cause painful dry symptoms. If I breathe in freshly sprayed aftershave, the chemical irritants used in the ingredients to make that ‘fragrance’, well these dry and sting my eyes immensely. If I’m in an air-conditioned room, I fair better; if I I’m in the sun, it’s the metaphorical equivalent to holding a blow torch to my eyeballs while spritzing solvents into them. Hot weather is be a nightmare for me if I don’t stay indoors with the air-conditioning on.
I even get sick from my boyfriend if he is in a room with family and friends who are wearing hydrocarbon based products such as spray deodorants and designer fragrances that contain industrial solvents— (OH, BUT THEY ARE DESIGNER FRAGRANCES! AND, THE AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT WOULDN’T ALLOW THEM IF THEY WERE NOT SAFE, HEY? Which just means they don’t have to take me seriously cause it’s just me being… whatever.) Dan has even had to go sleep in another room because someone has hugged him or shook his hand and the solvents haven’t come off when he showered—even though he uses our unscented soap and bicarbonate of soda. He’s musing on becoming my carer, officially, but his family (apart from one person) refuse to stop using these products around him. I’m actually so sick of it that I am crying as I write this. I’m so over trying to live a life where I am not breathing in fragrance chemicals that sting and burn my eyes—even in my own home.
(When I used to visit people, like my boyfriend’s family, I’d insist on putting the air-conditioner on in all types of weather. I know, first I ask people not to wear fragrance, then I put the air-conditioner on to keep the fragrance residue still on their hair, clothes and furnishings from outgassing—I’m not very popular anymore. I used to be, before I became this sick, complaining woman—I guess this is why I’m not able to go to family gatherings anymore? It’s just too hard. For everyone but mostly me:
Fragrance, perfume, noxious hairsprays and spray deodorants containing industrial solvents and petrochemical are far more important than family relations… Don’t you know?
I’m not really family anyway. I’m not married, and I’m not the mother of my boyfriend’s children and I’m not Macedonian and, anyway, people gossip about me in regards to the life I lived way back when… But if I didn’t have the chemical sensitivities, even if I was still just a sick woman, I think I’d be welcome at all the family gatherings, weddings, birthdays and funerals that I used to go to if I didn’t have sensitivities to fragrances. Yes, my feelings are beyond hurt. And, yeah, in case you don’t know, I’m adopted so there’s already that sense of abandonment lurking, waiting for people to freeze me out so that I can feel a sense of abandonment once again. I’ll stop where I’m going with this now… I don’t want to depress anyone; I’d much rather be of some constructive help, somehow.)
In case you don’t follow the building section of our blog: We have just wrapped our house. The 23rd of February, my birthday, was a 38 degree Celsius hot day on the Victorian Surf Coast, and we spent it wrapping the lower part of the house in Kingspan AirCell 3 in 1 Building Wrap, using a high-powered staple gun and a stanley knife. Dan did all the heavy lifting, cutting, stapling and carrying work, I just stood there in the hot dry wind holding the foil for him. I wore my sunglasses, the ones that wrap around and cover my eyes at the sides; the ones I managed to buy from OPSM (and I was able to facilitate the disability accomodations needed to get them fragrance-free—in that they were not touched or tried on previously by people wearing fragrances!), so my eyes were protected, but my whole body dried out no matter how much water I drank. The next day I woke up feeling hungover, and we were back at it again: this time wrapping the top floor with noxious plastic wrapping. It’s clear and it’s designed to go under concrete. It’s been near on a week and my eyes are still painfully dry, reacting to all odours, chemical and natural, and I can’t drink enough water nor apply the drops fast enough before my eyeballs dry out again. (We could have paid someone to wrap the house but we need to find ways to save money; and there are no family and friends at this point in time who are able to go fragrance free by washing with our shampoo, conditioner and body wash—use our deodorant if needed—and arrive here in a car that doesn’t have a Fragrance Emitting Device (FED) spewing out fragrance chemicals all over them, and then help us with our Build and Allergy-Free, Eco-Friendly House project. If I could find a time machine, I’d go back in time and pay someone to wrap our house for sure: People go fragrance-free for money because it’s just a part of accomodating someone with a disability.)
Why Can the Symptom ‘Dry Eyes’ Happen in Regards to Allergies and Chemical Sensitivity?
Way back when I was first diagnosed as sensitive to various chemicals, mostly solvents, petrochemicals, formaldehyde and MEK in woodsmoke, fragrance and polyester, I was given a study by one of my treating doctors.
Here is the gist of it:
“The majority of dry eye symptoms are due to a chronic inflammation of the lacrimal functional unit resulting in a loss of tear film integrity and normal function. This leads to a reduction in the ability of the ocular surface to respond to environmental challenges. The underlying cause of tear film dysfunction is the alteration of tear aqueous, mucin, and lipid components. This may result from a systemic autoimmune disease or a local autoimmune event. A lack of systemic androgen support to the lacrimal gland has been shown to be a facilitative factor in the initiation of this type of pathophysiology. Tear secretion is controlled by the lacrimal functional unit consisting of the ocular surface (cornea, conjunctiva, accessory lacrimal glands, and meibomian glands), the main lacrimal gland and the interconnecting innervation. If any portion of this functional unit is compromised, lacrimal gland support to the ocular surface is impeded. Factors such as neurogenic inflammation and T cell involvement in the disease pathogenesis as well as newly developed animal models of ocular surface inflammation are discussed.”
Click here to read the rest. Or skip/read until the end of this post where I’ll insert the document as a Google Doc. Scanned it just for you xo
After I was tested for Sjogren’s syndrome, I saw an eye specialist, Professor Justin O’day, who offered to put latex plugs into my tear ducts to stop the tears draining away.
I couldn’t even understand what was happening, I was like: “Smells are stinging my eyes… ” Trust me. This is a dumb thing to say to people. Much better to rephrase it and say, “When I breath in perfume, my eyes hurt.” Look, I had no concept that breathing in a smell containing chemical irritants could do anything other than smell nice. This is why I have such patience for people who don’t understand my condition; I just find other ways to explain it to them—or give them a doctor’s letter.
Why Does Dry Eye Happen in Regards to Chemical Sensitivity?
My Immunologist explains our reactions really well when he has time. The following is a diagram he drew for me way back (like 2002-3) when dry eyes and a headache where the worst of my symptoms (Why don’t illnesses have a stoping point where we can just freeze them, stopping them in their tracks from advancing? I could live with the dry eyes and headaches, avoiding chemicals—no problem. But these symptoms I have 12 years later are often unbearable—until they pass.):
Remember, this was at the time my illness hit, like 13 years ago. I don’t blame fragrance companies. I blame my immune system. I take full responsibly for my illness. The fragrance industry runs itself in Australia. No one gives a fuck.), I just couldn’t believe that everyday products were the culprits; especially my own. I now have many ‘chemical’ based products I use on a regular basis. They just don’t have fragrance or solvents in them. Nowadays, if I don’t go out in my car or into fragranced buildings with too many people wearing sprays, and I stay home a lot, I don’t get that sick. If someone mows and I don’t shut my windows (my neighbour won’t text me before he does it; he won’t do it even though I gave him a copy of the doctor’s letter (He’s “too busy with 3 kids under 3 to send me a text”, he said. Legally, there is nothing I can do.), not only do I get dry eyes, I get chronically ill: my lower back throbs, it hurts to breathe—along with the dry eyes.
I think I need to find a way to ask more nicely when I’m being gassed physically by chemicals medical testing has shown to impact detrimentally on the state of my health:
I can try to manage my condition with avoidance to chemicals to which I’m sensitive to but moulds are looking to be a huge problem. Pullaria drops really helped. I’d like to be able to travel to the city and get testing for some aspergilious clearing drops from my allergist but my car has mould in it due to a leaking roof. The last time I drove to the city, sitting in the back seat, air-purifier running, mask cloistered to my face, it took a week to recover, so I’ve asked to get some sent out via express post; hopefully, these will be the right clearing dose, or they’ll just go in the bag in the fridge with the other 6 bottles.
In winter, since 2012, outdoor moulds during wet weather have impacted on my health to the point of losing tolerance to foods. It makes a raw diet impossible if you’re going to have a physical reaction to the tiny amount that’s on fruit; especially fruit AND green leaves that have sweated via aspiration in the fridge or during storage before purchase. Over winter, I could only eat cooked food, mostly white (Japanese?) sweet potato (the one with the purple skin!.) and zucchini.
What I have worked out myself, is that dry eyes are only symptomatic of a collection of symptoms (body overheating, dry mouth, constipation, dry skin and, what used to be anger (trying to control or flee the situation causing it) that have now manifested as extreme tiredness where I just have to go to bed; I’m sure there is something else ‘wrong’ with me, and I’m on a search to find out because one way or the other I will find my way out of the Labyrinth of chemical sensitivities.
(I will insert the study on dry eyes later, my scanner is not working properly and my iPad won’t allow me to get the photos in to PDFs.)