Nonallergic reaction to chemicals

Posted by waynes @waynes, Nov 11, 2020

For at least 13 years I have suffered from an undiagnosed malady. It appears to be caused by exposure to chemicals. Among the items that bother me are paper products (old and new), perfumes, deodorants, soaps and cleaning supplies.

It impossible to avoid these chemicals because they are all around me. Thus, every day I have varying degrees of stuffy nose, sinus drainage and plugged ears. These symptoms are inconvenient but I can live with them. The bigger problem is the major attacks caused by more intense exposures.
These can occur in one of two ways.

First, intense exposure for short periods will make me ill. If I were to read a book for half an hour or be exposed to a strong perfume for half an hour, I would immediately start to get sick. At this point even if I put the book down and stayed away from the chemical, I would continue to get sicker. Once it gets into my system, the illness will run its course. Severe exposures literally attack my throat. I accidentally bought a different brand of hand soap and it affected my throat instantly upon using it.

Second, attacks can be caused by prolonged exposure to smaller amounts of chemicals. Even if I didn’t read a book, just being in an apartment with books will in time cause an attack, especially during winter months when doors and windows are closed. The first sign I have been exposed is always a sore throat. By then, it is too late. I will get a prolonged attack even if I flee the chemicals immediately.

Attacks always run the same course. They start by attacking my respiratory system. I get a sore throat, then a cough, chest congestion and severe flatulence, followed by nasal congestion. Bouts of the illness have caused laryngitis and short-term hearing loss, the later was effectively treated with antibiotics.

It has proved difficult to diagnose. When not having a major attack, I am diagnosed with nonallergic rhinitis. While having attacks, I am diagnosed with severe cold symptoms. What makes it so destructive are the ease of getting an attack and the intensity of attacks.

Severe attacks usually last several months. The worst prolonged symptom is a racking cough. Attacks never cause vomiting, fever, skin irritation or shortness of breath. Also, I don’t get run down like with the cold or flu. Working or going for long walks do not exacerbate the symptoms, make me feel worse or prolong the illness.

I have been able to slightly contain the malady by living in a very small apartment and strictly controlling what comes into it. Still, once or twice a year I usually get exposed to whatever is bothering me. I have gotten ill from exposures to an artificial Christmas tree, cologne, fleece clothing and a polyester apron. I am becoming increasingly sensitive. I now get sick after smaller exposures that wouldn’t have caused an attack five or six years ago. My body is also getting worn down through years of battling the malady.

I have seen numerous allergists but have never tested positive for any allergies. Treatments such as cortisone and steroid and non-steroid nasal sprays have no effect. Ear, nose and throat specialists have never diagnosed anything other than nonallergic rhinitis. Azelastine HCI offers a little relief from daily irritation but is ineffective at preventing attacks.

I realize nobody can make a diagnosis based on this information. But at this point, I am looking for a start. If anyone has an idea what this might be, my general practitioner could send me to a specialist or tests could be performed to determine if that is the problem. I have been going through the same maze for years. I explain the symptoms to general practitioners, they send my to allergists, allergists say I don’t have any allergies, and there it stops. What I have is apparently rare and not allergy related, unless it is a rare type of allergy.

Interested in more discussions like this? Go to the Ear, Nose & Throat (ENT) Support Group.

@waynes Welcome To Mayo Clinic Connect. You have such intense physical reactions to so many common materials/chemicals but you have been unable to be diagnosed by the medical providers thus far. It sounds like you are doing everything you can to manage your environment and you are also seeking proper medical care. You health issue is obviously greatly impacting your quality of life and you need answers and treatment. I'd like to bring members @gardeningjunkie @gabrielm @jenniferhunter into the conversation. They may be able to help answer your question.

I'm wondering if you have or if you have considered seeking healthcare out of your area, possibly a type of specialist?


Please give us the exact name of your allergic tests. For example, was it the 5 Day Extended Patch Test or the simpler 30 minute environmental test? Many, including myself have multiple contact allergies to chemicals and natural elements. I know within a few minutes of exposure to certain fragrances, my symptom is an immediate headache in the frontal lobe going from ear to ear. I tested positive to cinnamic (I have run out of stores at Christmas time which are loaded with Christmas fragrance spray), also because of my rubber allergy I can't walk into a tire store without getting a blinding headache. This was determined on my 5 Day Extended Patch Test, yet I knew I had issues with certain elements because of immediate reaction. The most troublesome are the allergies that are delayed, as they make take days to cause symptoms and by then you can't know what caused it. That's why the 5 Day Test is necessary.

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