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Why Hugging You Is Not Good for My Health

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Before I became ill with chronic Lyme disease and co-infections, I used to love the smell of many things. When walking in the mall I would be drawn to those fancy candle stores or those luxury bath and body product stores to sniff and sample all the scents they had to offer. I didn’t avoid the perfume counter in the department stores and certainly never thought twice about hugging or sitting close to anyone who was wearing perfume, cologne, scented bath and body products, or strong deodorants.

However, since I acquired Lyme disease and co-infections, my senses have gone into overdrive, making me very sensitive to light, sound, touch, and smell. While all hyperactive senses can cause daily hurdles to overcome, the excessive sense of smell (in particular, smells created artificially from chemicals as opposed to natural smells from organic oils and such) has caused me the most difficulty in public settings. If I am at a party, a theater, a restaurant, or any other public venue, I can begin experiencing severe and debilitating symptoms from being exposed to these products.

I don’t have to avoid these situations simply because I don’t like the smell, I have to avoid them because the smells can actually make me sick, even if I find the scent enjoyable. For example, an exposure can cause my eyes to water, my sinuses to clog, and my nose to run excessively. Also, I can develop a disabling migraine that causes vision issues and extreme headache pain. In addition, if not removed from these triggers, I can become nauseous and potentially vomit. While asthma is not an issue for me personally, I do know that for other chronically ill people, chemically produced smells can cause asthma symptoms as well. Normally, all I need to do is remove myself from the source of the smell at the first sign of trouble and I can begin to feel better.

However, in some situations, I simply cannot leave or move to a new location. For example, hugging people who wear these perfumed products can cause a large set back for anyone who has sensory issues. Even the briefest of hugs can transfer the chemicals that produce these smells to my own clothes and body. This situation is more problematic because, unless I am home and can immediately remove my clothing and take a shower, I am trapped with the chemicals that cause the symptoms. No matter where I go so does the smell, disabling my ability to escape.

Since I can control the products I use on my own body and in my own house, I can create a comfortable, safe environment in which to live. However, for me and many other people, being in public can be an uncomfortable and unsafe experience. So, please consider not wearing perfumes, colognes, or other strongly scented products in your workplace and at social gatherings. You never know just how many people are struggling with these triggers. Also, if someone with a chronic illness politely declines a hug from you, please understand we are not rejecting you; we are simply protecting ourselves.

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Thinkstock Image By: AntonioGuillem

Originally published: June 27, 2017
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