Living With Petroleum Allergies In A Chemical World

By Steven Neil

I remember the slogan “better living through chemistry” from when I was a kid but never really thought about what it meant. Being born in the early Sixties, you didn’t think about gradual changes happening all around you as cotton gave way to synthetics, margarine replaced butter, and corn syrup replaced sugar until you needed a Doctorate in Chemistry to understand the ingredient list on the back of your Twinkies.

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About five years ago, I became concerned about the chemicals in everyday items so began looking at the back of packaged foods, deodorants, shampoos, and beverages and was shocked at the number of dangerous chemicals we ingest or apply to ourselves every day. I started buying more natural toiletries, avoided foods or beverages with corn syrups and tried other ways to eliminate toxins from my life. Little did I know that eliminating toxins would one day become an all-consuming priority in my life.

In May of 2018, I started a temporary position at a manufacturing plant in Spokane, WA. I inspected the incoming steel parts we received and compared them to blueprints to make sure they were correct. Because steel rusts, these parts would often be covered in rust inhibiting oil. To protect your hands from the oil and sharp edges, we were issued polyester gloves coated with rubber. The open weave of the back of the glove absorbed the oils which would rub off onto my face when I wiped away the sweat.

In August, I noticed a small rash on my left cheek and put some hydrocortisone on it to help with the itching. Within a few weeks, the rash had grown to almost the entire left side of my face and a small patch on the right side was forming. By this time, over-the-counter hydrocortisone wasn’t touching the itch and ice packs couldn’t cool down the intense burning.

In late September, the rash had reached my forehead and both eyes. I call it a rash but that doesn’t come close to describing it. My skin would turn purple, split open and my eyes would swell shut along with shingles like pain. In absolute misery, I was finally forced to go to the doctor for the problem. She determined that I had impetigo (staph infection) and contact dermatitis caused by the rust inhibiting fluids at work. I was devastated since I liked the job and didn’t want to lose it. She gave me some stronger hydrocortisone along with Prednisone and an anti-bacterial crème along with the warning that I needed to get away from where I worked because the rash was going to get worse. I returned to work the following Monday and by Friday the symptoms were so bad I had to go to the Urgent Care again. This time I listened to the doctor and filled out the Labor and Industries form and filed it as a Workers Compensation Claim.

I didn’t know it then but everything in my life was in the process of change. If I can, I want to tell of my journey through losing my job, misdiagnoses by dermatologists, medicines that made it worse, and my search for answers. My goal is to share information, offer insights, and tips on how I have learned to live with the debilitating disease of major allergies. Thank you for reading my post and until next time, Cheers, Steven

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