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Something in the air

MagazineDecember 1996 (Vol. 7 Issue 9)Something in the air

In Medical Monitor (September 4, 1996), Dr Richard Lawson recently recounted an unusual case of emotional illness

In Medical Monitor (September 4, 1996), Dr Richard Lawson recently recounted an unusual case of emotional illness. His female patient, whom he described as ordinarily "cheerful and open", complained of feeling dizzy and "muzzy", having heart palpitat

"However, she had noticed that she became very much worse whenever she went into the bathroom. As she said this, she produced a circular plastic air freshener out of her handbag and placed it on my desk," wrote Dr Lawson.

"I've been fine since I took it out of the house, doctor," she explained.

"She has remained well ever since, although she has to avoid heavily perfumed areas," he wrote.

A week later, a young woman patient of his described what would have gone on record as a textbook "nervous breakdown" anxiety, tremor, weepiness and feelings of unreality. Recently she'd been given to wandering outside at night. With the other case fresh in his mind, Dr Lawson asked if she'd been using an air freshener lately.

Yes, the woman answered. In fact, her mother had just placed one in her room three weeks before.

Within nine days of removing the air freshener on doctor's orders, she was back to her old happy, outgoing self.

To test the association between her symptoms and the air freshener, Dr Lawson requested that she return to his office and inhale the offending product. Instantly, she developed a rapid heartbeat, sweating, tremor, and nausea.

Since then, he has had some 50 patients recover from what is usually referred to as "anxiety/hyperventilation syndrome" as soon as they threw out these synthetic "fresh air" perfumes. One woman with similar symptoms discovered that it was the perfumes in her panty liner.


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