nos-trum. pronunciation: \nos'-trum\. noun. Etymology: Latin, neuter of noster our, ours.
1. a medicine of secret composition recommended by its preparer but usually without scientific proof of its effectiveness.
2. a usually questionable remedy or scheme.
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Friday, December 17, 2010

Egad! There's Formaldehyde In Our Clothes!

That's why you don't have to iron them so often.

The New York Times (Dec 10) alerted us to this calamitous exposure.  We are surrounded by formaldehyde "fumes" from clothes, sheets, linens, etc.  And some people can experience a "contact dermatitis" due to an allergic reaction.

Well, wait a minute.

Yes, a tiny amount of formaldehyde is used in products that make our clothes and linens "wrinkle-free," or mostly so.  But you never smell it (no fumes) and you never swallow it, and you never breathe it.  And it won't embalm you.  Plus, as you know from your "wrinkle-free" clothing, after you wash it a few times it aint so wrinkle-free no more.

And, "contact dermatitis" is a medical catch-all for "itchy and red, and sometimes just a little itchy with no redness."  It's not a disease, it's a feeling (itchiness), sometimes accompanied by an appearance (redness).  The redness, when it occurs, is a sign of an inflammatory reaction, that could be due to allergy, or just to irritation.  People who have severe contact dermatitis have it because they are experiencing some other disease or complication.

The joke among physicians is that the whole of dermatology could be practiced with a stamp for patients' charts that said, "Diagnosis: dermatitis, Treatment: cortisone."

The rare person who is sensitive to formaldehyde avoids wrinkle-free clothes, just like those "hens teeth" people with peanut allergy (that's a different story) avoid peanuts.

Yes, if you work in a factory that makes or uses vast quantities of formaldehyde, you have to wear protective gear.  That's all prescribed by federal regulation.

So, we're left with a Scaring Ourselves To Death article from the NYT about a trivial issue.  I say this recognizing that there are a few people with dangerous allergies.

So, forget formaldehyde.  If you think you're allergic, you're probably not.  Only about 10% of people who think they're allergic actually are (the same with penicillin allergy).  Most of the time I fully evaluate somebody who thinks they're allergic, I find they've falsely associated some adverse event with the exposure because the event happened sometime around when they were exposed.  I once had a patient who was convinced a vaccine made his scalp itchy and flaky.  Even when his wife pointed out that he regularly had flare-ups of dandruff, he wasn't convinced (Belief is stronger than evidence)

Or, rather, remember an example of a hyped hazard.

Maybe the NY Times could generate a movement to kill off chiggers.  They REALLY make me itch.  Plus there are hundreds of "natural" and "organic" things that plants and animals produce that are irritating.  Let's get moving; form an Legal Reform to Outlaw Irritation in Nature movement.

Say, I used to get itchy when I jogged in cold weather. Could we outlaw cold weather?

Doc D

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