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Last Updated: Friday, 17 February 2006, 09:54 GMT
The woman allergic to modern life

Carl Yapp
BBC Wales news website

Louise Solomons
Louise Solomons lives in isolation
Louise Solomons' instructions were explicit: "Wear no body spray or after shave and leave your mobile phone in your car".

But as I entered her home in the hills above Builth Wells, she seemed on edge.

Seemingly unsatisfied that I had not followed her instructions, she sniffed my clothes as I sat in her living room.

Asking if we could sit further apart as she was affected by my clothes' washing detergent, she told me about life with multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS).

The condition has made Ms Solomons, 54, allergic to the things that are part and parcel of the 21st Century.

Diagnosed in 1988, she suffers with flu-like symptoms if she is exposed to anything chemically-based, from perfume and furniture polish to bathroom cleaner.

Frail and with delicate balance, I'm ultra-sensitive to heat, cold, light sound, touch and especially smell
Louise Solomons

Before her condition became too severe, she enjoyed a full and active life giving talks on music, playing table tennis and working voluntarily with children and blind people, among other things.

But so debilitating are her allergies, she says, she has been unable to work for 16 years.

Then three years ago she claimed she started having reactions to electricity too. This is a condition known as electrical sensitivity (ES) which some claim is a result of exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMFs) associated with electricity supply and electrical equipment.

The prevalence of MCS and ES has not been measured in the UK, but sufferers claim both conditions are on the increase.

In Ms Solomons' case, the combined impact of MCS and ES has caused a major upheaval in her life. She says her illnesses have cost her career, home, looks and faith.

Her increasingly poor health also led to financial difficulties and in December she left her native London for the Welsh countryside where "the air is cleaner".

She now resides in a rented home in a remote, hillside hamlet near Builth Wells, Powys, with just sheep for company.

However, by the beginning of April Ms Solomons will have to find a new home and is searching for some caring and environmentally aware householders who could help.

Louise Solomons in 1972
Louise Solomons pictured in 1972 before the allergies became too severe

"Frail and with delicate balance, I'm ultra-sensitive to heat, cold, light sound, touch and especially smell," said Ms Solomons.

"During my 20s I worked in a medical research laboratory, exposed to chemicals and low-level radiation.

"After a fortnight in a fume-filled hotel room, I returned with virus-like feelings. A family function in cigar smog was the final straw and I could tolerate less and less afterwards.

"Anything with a smell was a hazard."

She added that her life was now "unbearably bleak".

She claims that sewing too near a bright light led to ES. Symptoms are brought on by radios and televisions, for instance.

Ignorance of her condition is an extra burden to sufferers, she explained.

Over the last 30 years and all over the world, no links have been found between these symptoms and any form of exposure
Dr Michael Clark, Health Protection Agency

"People like me are treated like pariahs and acceptance of the condition comes hard," she said.

"But do you think I would have given up a satisfying life to live in the middle of nowhere with ghastly symptoms if I had a choice?"

Allergy UK said MCS had been described as the 21st Century disease.

It said the smell from soap powders and fabric conditioners, new carpet or furniture, paints, plastics, air fresheners, deodorants, some people are also affected by certain foods and food additives, and these could trigger a reaction.

As for ES, the Health Protection Agency (HPA) published a report last year about the condition, but scientists disputed whether it was linked to EMFs.

Dr Michael Clark, HPA scientific spokesman said about ES: "We don't contest that some people get some disabling symptoms which are very real.

"Over the last 30 years and all over the world, no links have been found between these symptoms and any form of exposure.

"For people with MCS it's a different matter. There is evidence that some people are sensitive to some chemicals."

Dr Peter Kraus, Ms Solomons' GP between 1988 and 2003, confirmed her health problems.

"There is no NHS facility for patients with the problems of Ms Solomons.

"I feel that she does not fit into any of the standard medical specialities and as a result is in a very vulnerable state. I am surprised how long she has survived in her current terrible situation."

Household chemicals health warning
15 Mar 00 |  Science/Nature
Living with allergies
10 Sep 99 |  Health


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