Monday, October 22, 2012

Death by Deodorant

When I'm not reading and writing about MCS, I'm often reading and writing about addiction, because I work part-time from home writing articles on the subject. My entry into the field was more by happenstance than design, but I find the topic interesting, especially the research into drug-related brain effects. There's a lot of overlap between MCS issues and addiction science.

The abuse of inhalants, often known as "huffing," is especially interesting to me because of its obvious tie-in to chemical sensitivity. As a culture, we seem to be a bit double-minded on the issue of whether we think common chemical products can harm us. We sell them, buy them, and use them in huge amounts without seeming to think about their safety too much, but we do seem to acknowledge the dangers of inhaling them intentionally. Unfortunately, although dosage does matter, our bodies react in much the same way whether we're huffing in an attempt to get high or we're inhaling products in the air around us because we have no way to escape them.

Do you wonder if a product may be affecting you or someone around you?  A look at some of the known effects of huffing may help you figure it out. The National Institute on Drug Abuse  and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration note the following among the possible effects of inhalants:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Drowsiness
  • Lack of coordination
  • Confusion
  • Nausea
  • Hypoxia (oxygen deprivation) which damages brain and other cells
  • Memory impairment
  • Difficulty holding a conversation
  • Breakdown of the myelin sheath around nerves, leading to possible muscle spasms, tremors, or difficulty walking
  • Hearing loss
  • Peripheral neuropathy
  • Damage to the central nervous system
  • Bone marrow damage
  • Liver and kidney damage
  • Blood oxygen depletion
  • Loss of inhibition
  • Violent behavior
  • Heart palpitations
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Excitability
  • Low blood pressure
  • Slow or rapid heartbeat
  • Lack of concentration
  • Poor memory
  • Poor learning skills
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability

When people abuse inhalants intentionally, there is a significant risk of Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome, which is exactly what the name implies. Those who are simply exposed to inhalants throughout the course of their day are less likely to suddenly die from them. It's not impossible, however. I vividly remember hearing the story a few years ago of a 12 year old boy who collapsed and died after applying deodorant in his family home. A report of the event notes that the boy was fit and healthy and the pathologist found no evidence of substance abuse. Interestingly, when looking for the story, I found an almost identical one reported 10 years earlier. In 1998, a 16-year-old boy described as a "normal, healthy teenager who was not engaging in any form of substance abuse" was overcome by deodorant fumes and died.

What improved between 1998, when the 16-year-old died and 2008, when the 12-year-old met the same fate? Did the products get safer or did society become more aware of the dangers? It doesn’t appear so. How about 2018? Will things be different then? If anything is going to change, I suspect you and I are going to have to be part of changing it. I believe there are things worth dying for. Deodorant isn't one of them.

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