If You Can’t Breathe, What Are Your Options?

Not many, really. When your oxygen supply is cut off panic sets in. Then, depending on what’s preventing you from taking a breath of air, you consider what you can do to change things.

When little kids want to punish their parents, they sometimes hold their breath. Fortunately, most parents know that the little buggers will eventually let go and breathe on their own.  Most children don’t try that tactic after they figure out that, 1) it’s uncomfortable, and 2) they really can’t keep it up long enough to make it an effective tool of persuasion.

But what if you develop a condition that causes you to occasionally be unable to get the air you need? What if this condition doesn’t have a well-recognized name like asthma or emphysema? What if someone wearing perfume or other scented products can walk into the room, and you can no longer get the air you need to breathe?

Say hello to Reactive Airway Disease, a condition that can come on suddenly and render you helpless in the presence of some chemicals. A person with heavy application of hair spray, cologne, or even scented lotion can cause airways to swell up and stop functioning. Sometimes the application doesn’t have to be heavy, depending on the underlying chemical component of the product. When this happens, you have to get away from the source of the chemical. After that, a swift application of an inhaler or even an emergency injection of epinephrine is needed.

I’ve become very familiar with this problem recently. It’s not something I’m personally afflicted with. Instead, I have to watch my daughter suffer. It’s a bad situation, no question about it. But perhaps the worse part is other people’s reactions.

Working in an environment where the people around you don’t understand the situation is one thing. Most people, once they realize what’s at stake, will do what they can to help. When people become hostile and openly uncooperative after having been educated about the condition, the act of going to work each day becomes dangerous. A pulmonologist has given her instructions and prescriptions for care. He even supplied information to pass along to her co-workers and supervisors, explaining this condition, and the steps necessary to help her avoid having a breathing crisis. And yet people who come into her workspace multiple times every day have not been persuaded to leave off the scented products while on the job.

I’m not sure when women (and a considerable number of men) became intent on dousing themselves with fragrance each day. Even a hundred years ago, that may have been necessary in order to cover the fact that daily bathing was not yet in vogue. But certainly, in today’s world, the morning or nightly shower is the norm.

I suppose it’s a mindset. A petulant insistence that “It’s my right to wear fragrance if I want to!” attitude. I don’t know what that says about our society in general, but I know what it tells me about a small group of people in my daughter’s workplace.

I wish people were kinder and more sympathetic. Maybe someday, if something like this happens to them, they will understand. When that happens, I hope they remember and feel a bit ashamed.

3 thoughts on “If You Can’t Breathe, What Are Your Options?”

  1. Great post, Pat. Paula lives and works in a mine field of fragrances–man! Here’s the thing, I don’t think most people are malicious, just non-believers. I suspect many of they don’t think a little dab will do Paula any harm. The rest may just do hairspray, lotions, and aftershave as a habitual ritual without thought. Then there are those nasty few who decide that no one has the right to tell them what they can do. Hugs to Paula.

  2. Thank you Mom, for posting this and bringing a bit of enlightenment to a difficult situation. One of the toughest things about trying to navigate the world as I try to dodge fragrances, is trying to be polite and not offend, while safeguarding my health. When it’s your health at stake, you also have to make your point clear enough that folks “get it.” It’s a difficult balancing act that I wish I didn’t have to deal with everyday. And it’s all so sudden… coming on after a simple bout with the flu. Who could have known?

    It wears me out when, everyday, I encounter the same things… either the folks who don’t believe me so they continue as always (almost like they’re testing me) and seem shocked when my voice drops & I have trouble breathing… or the people who swear they are’t wearing any fragrance, and yet my airway starts closing-up whenever they are in the same room with me.
    Yet when they’re faced with the sound of my wheezing for air, they get angry & defensive. It’s such a “between a rock & a hard place” situation to navigate.
    At this point, I don’t want to slay any giants… or be the Erin Brockovich of air-quality at work… I just want to be able to do my job in peace & to breathe easily and in good health.
    So I look forward to working for myself… very soon!
    Thanks for the post! You’re the best.
    Love ya!

  3. Okay, Pat–I haven’t missed anything. No wonder you forgive me for not posting frequently. (Big smile) But I’m responding because I want to be sure you have my “real” email address for Inkydance Studios

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