From foods to chemicals – Anna Locatelli charts her increasing sensitivity to life...
In 2002, Michelle, whom I had met at the Allergy Exhibition in London – asked me to contribute to her Foods Matter magazine because I had just started reacting to practically everything I was eating and, in desperation, had gone to seek advice at the Fair. (See 'When only fresh will do...')Since then, my situation has worsened and I now have problems not only with foods but with more and more chemical substances. These belong to the new generation of products made for everyday usage and which fall under the heading of VOCs. The list of dangerous triggers for me has now become endless and my symptoms are always quite similar: avoidance is well-nigh impossible as these substances are used literally everywhere, outdoors and in public venues.
Every time I eat or go out it is liking playing Russian roulette! My reactions are always extreme and would appear life-threatening, especially to the onlooker. I turn purple, feel that I am literally on fire, sweat copiously, bleed through the skin (which is very visible) and internally (most gastrointestinal), develop violent diarrhoea and extremely high blood pressure. My hair starts to fallout noticeably and I become dyspraxic as well as developing a huge neck or goitre which is out of proportion to the rest of me.
If I manage to fall asleep, which is rare, I have terrible nightmares, as if poisoned.
My entire body feels distorted and the whole experience is utterly disabling. The symptoms can last for several days; I am unable to sleep or concentrate on anything and feel horribly ill. Once they subside, I go back to normal but am pretty exhausted. The only obvious signs in the aftermath are mottled skin and external cuts or lesions which clear up quickly. (This is surely a sign that my immune system is strong rather than weak). If I were put on medication the amount of pills I would have to take would be astronomical and I know that – in my particular case at least – this would only serve to make matters worse.
Conventional medicine can perform miracles in many respects but is not adept at coping with this sort of situation. The numbers of those suffering from MCS are on the increase: the only short term answer, currently, is medication which alleviates the discomfort, therefore more chemicals are used in order to counteract the side effects of exposure to the same.
Instead I take natural and homeopathic remedies of different sorts and follow my instinct, just like an animal. However, I am surprised that I am still alive as many times I have thought that my last hour has come, so violent are my symptoms. As with the foods, my only antidotes to the chemicals released into the atmosphere are dark chocolate and red wine, although there is obviously a limit to the quantity because of the effect of the liver. Before my allergy I was tee-total where as now instinct dictates that I should turn to the bottle and the chocolates! As far as food is concerned, foraging is a great help, especially in milder months when there is a profusion of wild foods.
The most poisonous chemicals I have encountered so far come from water-based paints (months of heavy nose bleeds with inordinately high blood pressure of 250/150); grit containing a solvent that was used in the winter on the pavements during the heavy snowfall; hair spray, water based detergents, disinfectants, artificial coal and now, more recently, fumes from the new, ostensibly cleaner, environmentally friendly petrol.
The petrol is the most dangerous, I think, as when I breathe in the fumes, I feel a severe burning sensation in the oesophagus and the gut: the subsequent gastrointestinal bleeding that this causes feels very dangerous. Each time I venture out, I am now obliged to wear a mask; the alternative would mean turning into a complete recluse and never leaving the house! It is not the definitive answer as the particles in the atmosphere are so fine, but it is the best I can do for the moment.
After having tried all sorts of masks, the most effective for me comes from a company in Hong Kong called Filligent – Intelligent Filtration. It was designed to trap pathogens (viruses and bacteria such as the flu virus) and is made of a very soft fabric which moulds itself to the shape of the face and is adjustable; it does quite a good job of filtering dangerous particles while allowing one to breathe fairly normally. (Click here for more on their filtration system.) However, Filligent have trialled an even finer mask which I found even more helpful which I hope that they may consider putting into production.
First published in October 2010