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Story of the Month

Airborne Anaphylaxis: My Son’s Fragrance Battle

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Rosa Silk with her son, Brandon

I am a proud mother to three wonderful children. The youngest of the three, Brandon, has an unusual medical condition that, sadly, has greatly affected his life. He has a severe, life-threatening allergy to the chemicals (fragrance) used in Axe Body Spray.

At least today we know the culprit behind Brandon’s reactions. Today, he is 16 years old, but it was back in 5th grade when he started to get sick at school. At first it was headaches, but then he started getting hives, and even had trouble breathing. I attributed this to growing pains, until one dreadful day when he went into anaphylactic shock. We were rudely awakened to the fact that there was something seriously wrong.

Brandon spent days in the hospital as doctors tried to figure out what caused the reaction. No one knew. They asked so many questions – and eventually came to the conclusion that it was something airborne that he must have been exposed to.

Learning this, I had many questions for the school: did they spray something, exterminate or paint? Had something gone on in the school that day that was different from any other day? I wanted to know anything that could help us find out what was going on. My questions went on and on, but there was no answer.

I did not want my son to be exposed again to something that could risk his life. I was at my wits’ end, but at the same time hoped it was just some sort of fluke.

As Brandon continued in middle school and then high school (which were in different buildings), we noticed a pattern. He was fine at home, but every time he went to school he would get sick with headaches, trouble breathing, and then welts on his face and arms, blurred vision and stomach pains. His health became unbearable, to the point that he had to be kept at home for weeks at a time before attempting to go back to school.

When he would return to school, the nurse’s office became part of Brandon’s day. It escalated to the point that he had several bad reactions, where he felt like he could not breathe. Each time the school nurse had to administer an epinephrine auto-injector before he was taken by ambulance to the hospital; his reactions to these still unknown chemicals were becoming more severe.

Years were passing, and we still could not figure out what was happening. By a small miracle, during middle school Brandon was able to correlate a scent in the hall to his reactions – he asked the students what the scent was – and that’s where our journey began. A challenge test done at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia later confirmed the reactions were being triggered by something in Axe Body Spray.

Since then, I have reached out to everyone that I could, including top-notch experts, hospitals, doctors and specialists in the field. Their only help and advice was avoidance of Brandon’s trigger, Axe Body Spray. But this happens to be a very popular product among teenage boys. How can my son avoid something in the air around him?

The worst part is that I am not allowed by law to know what chemicals my son has been exposed to. These ingredients are considered “proprietary” to the manufacturer. How can I not be allowed to know? Do commercial interests trump my child’s health? How can I be an advocate for my son?

Brandon’s doctors all had to sign a medical gag order to get the list of ingredients from the manufacturer, but still, there are no tests for these chemicals. I do not have the right to know the chemicals that trigger anaphylaxis in my son. I struggle every day with this.

Next page: Getting help from medical experts, politicians

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Allergic Living acknowledges the assistance of the OMDC Magazine Fund, an initative of the Ontario Media Development Cooperation.