The Long, Itchy Night

file0002021278748Thursday night while trying to recover from a bad cold, I stayed up all night and sewed a blanket. You see, I’d been sleeping reclined on the couch for a few nights to try to stay more upright while my body fought the cold. I slept on our leather sofa, in a half-sleeve, cotton-poly blend shirt and cotton flannel PJ pants, under a quilt my grandmother made for my daughter, using scraps of old fabric from around her sewing room. Somehow through all that I’ve spent more time with my upper arms covered in lumpy, itchy rash and scratching my eyes (day AND night) than I ever do when sleeping in bed under cotton sheets, and I developed a lumpy itchiness on my lower legs. The upper arm rash was where my shirt was covering. Why not the rest of my chest? I’m not sure. The lower leg area was where my pant legs would ride up and my legs would contact either the couch or the quilt. The eyes? Your guess is as good as mine, but if something on this couch was affecting me and became airborne, you can bet my eyes would be affected.

It’s not the first time I’ve wondered if I have a problem with synthetic surfaces. Despite my requests for confirmation to the contrary, our couch is made with leather splits, meaning that the surface of the “real leather” is not. It’s PVC (polyvinyl chloride), or PUL (polyeurethane laminate). Since I’m allergic to polyurethane and sensitive to chlorine, I can guess that the coating’s the thing causing the discomfort. I have known for a while now that resting bare skin on the couch netted me a very clear rash in the area of contact. This is why I always have a blanket on the couch.

photoMy bras are another long-time observation. I used to love Victoria’s Secret. I have some beautiful bras in my drawer. Problem? Every time I wear one, I get horrible itchiness around my nipples. I switched to sports bras of cotton blends, and only wear them when I’m out. The plan is to make some pure cotton bras, but I haven’t had time yet. At home, I’m most likely to be found without a bra. That limits my itchiness to infrequently instead of constantly.

The couch blankets are another issue. I have some awesome polar fleece Doctor Who ones, but they seem to make me itchy, both skin and eyes. The only fibre in the polar fleece? Polyester. And short fibres are more likely to break off and enter the air. The huge fleece TARDIS blanket now is best used as an occasional hanging over a doorway, to make it look like a TARDIS entrance (oh yes, you can do that). I started using a wool/polyester blend blanket we got in Cusco, Peru, but that one wasn’t any better. Finally I had taken to using my daughter’s quilt, which probably has polyester fill and at least some polyester panels, but at least a little bit of it is cotton.

Thursday night, I got few up. I itched. I knew my creams weren’t going to work immediately, and I wanted a solution. I took back from my husband the rest of my personally confirmed natural linen-cotton blend stripe fabric. He was going to use it for medieval pants, but we originally bought it for blankets, so a blanket it would be. I picked up some 100% cotton sheeting that I keep around for testing patterns. I grabbed some 100% wool fabric that was going to fluff up too badly to make anything nice when washed and dried, and stuffed it into the center for warmth. I made the blanket long enough to contain me and a pillow without my feet hitting the end, and wide enough to fold over me with extra room to move around, like a sleeping bag. Basically, I made a huge square. It is thin but a bit weighty thanks to the wool and linen fabrics. I managed to sew up the top and sides before it was 5:45 am and I really needed to sleep, the itch on my arms finally abated. I took off the poly-blend shirt and snuggled into the beautiful white sheeting which makes you feel like you’re in bed under the sheets. I woke up…not entirely better, but with no new itchiness on my chest, the rash on my legs starting to deflate, and with less itchy eyes. Makes sense. I didn’t actually end up putting on cream last night.

Ethylene Glycol

Ethylene Glycol

On Thursday, a follower posted an article from another blog on one of the allergy Facebook groups of which I’m a part. The article mentions polyester briefly, and following the link explains that those allergic to propylene glycol may have issues with polyester. This is because mono-ethylene glycol (MEG, or 1,2-ethanediol) is used in its manufacture as one of the reactants. The two chemicals are similar enough that a cross-reaction could occur. With my background, I know that in a chemical reaction the reaction never completely eliminates the reactants, there is always a little left that can’t get to the other reactants to finish reacting, no matter how much you try. Trying too hard adds cost with very little benefit, and the reaction will still never 100% complete.

This means that allergenic (to me) chemicals could be leaching from the polyester in clothing, fill, stuffing and foam materials, blankets, tarps, bottles, tapes, LCDs, capacitors, wire insulation, car panels, and even high-quality wood finishes. Obviously there is only so much I can do, mostly to prevent direct contact with my skin. My polyester blend shirts could be contributing to my uncomfortable itchiness, but what can I really do there besides doing a complete wardrobe change (not in the cards for me) or slowly wearing them out and replacing them with more natural fibre options? I’ll be slowly changing things as I get time, but I guess this time I just snapped and had to make a sudden change.

Here’s the original article.

Do you have reactions to synthetic fibres? What have you done to stop the itch? Comment below.

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