Nicotine – the Theory

Saying smoking is bad for your health has become so intuitive that there is a backlash toward smoking as being something to defend.  Movies are starting to have lead actors, the ones we are supposed to look up to, light up at random times or more frequently in times of stress.  It may not be cool to smoke, we know it’s bad for us, but by golly we’re going to do it and no one can say we can’t.

Working at a hospital, I walk through clouds of cigarette smokers, some in scrubs, some in hospital gowns with IVs attached to them, sitting in front of the hospital sucking on “cancer sticks.”  It’s their constitutional right to kill themselves.  Sure thing…

It’s time, however, to look even closer at second- and third-hand smoke and passive smoking.  Last year I discovered that my body does not metabolize tobacco.  In simple terms I’m allergic (genetic testing).  I get a foggy head, my neck/throat hurts, my lungs fill up and ache, I cough, I sneeze, my eyes go blurry and red and hurt.  Simple allergic reaction.  This reaction, however, is not coming from walking through the smokers in front of the hospital; it comes from the third-hand smoke that is being released in the office where I work.  Three coworkers who smoke heavily (as evidenced by their voices and the ashtray smell) joined our group in the last year or so.  After the second arrived, I started having problems, but not just allergic reactions.  Fibromyalgia symptoms increased slowly and steadily throughout the year.  2015 was possibly the worst year ever.

I attributed the increased pain to stress, because let’s face it, if you want to exacerbate pain, get stressed.  Stress was coming from all sides, work, personal life, finances…  And there was intense stress with the allergic-type reactions to the ashtray-like atmosphere in our small office and the discomfort of simply breathing.  I was angry that we were forced to work in this obviously toxic environment, angry that there was nothing my supervisor would do about it (and still hasn’t).  Anger + stress = pain, right?

Now I am reading about the effects of tobacco on fibromyalgia pain.  True, the studies are about the smokers themselves.  People with fibromyalgia should definitely not smoke.  Nicotine inhibits natural pain killers from being released properly and essentially dull the body’s ability to fight pain. But what about people with fibromyalgia who are exposed to second- or third-hand smoke?  Third-hand smoke has been determined to be unhealthy to children in studies looking at exposure to furniture and clothing with smoke residue.   Is it possible that being exposed to third-hand smoke on a regular daily basis for hours at a time could trigger the same response in a non-smoker?

My theory is that yes, it can.  First of all, when I go home at the end of the week, symptoms are at their worst.  By Sunday, everything has settled down.  By Monday morning, I feel fine, and then all week, I go downhill again.  It’s cyclical, and it’s frustrating.  The only way I can prove my theory, however, is to get away from this toxic environment and see what happens to my pain levels as well as the allergy-type symptoms I have.   But it stands to reason:  If a person has an allergy or sensitivity to nicotine/tobacco already, could it be that they are going to be hypersensitive to second- or third-hand smoke too to the point that triggers for fibro pain can kick in without exposure to actual smoke?  Makes sense to me.

NOTE: The biggest frustration with this issue for me is being treated like I’m the one with the problem instead of the person asking for a clean, non-toxic environment to work in.  But that’s a different soapbox.

ADDENDUM: I made a change to a completely different working environment in April and have had not quite three months to feel the difference.  There is absolutely no doubt in my mind.  I’ve sneezed twice since I’ve been there, and while I had a fibro attack probably related to the stress of changing jobs, it has settled and is getting progressively better.  I don’t go home with headaches; I’m not flat on my back at the end of the week.  The cycle is broken.  My question remains, however.  Does third-hand smoke affect people with fibro in general? Or was it my intolerance that was really causing all the problems and the stress of the situation causing the pain?