Allergic Reaction - Phlebitis

Phlebitis is an inflammation of a vein or veins, usually in the legs, and it hurts like the dickens. In some cases, a tender, cordlike lump forms under the skin. When deeper veins are affected, a clot can form, blocking circulation and causing swelling and fluid retention (at that point, the condition is known as thrombophlebitis).

The pain and swelling make phlebitis very disabling. And the tendency to form clots makes it potentially life threatening – a clot that travels to the heart can cause a heart attack. Bed rest, anticoagulant drugs and sometimes surgery are standard medical treatment. Once the tendency toward phlebitis exists, however, the problem is apt to return. But for some people, a new approach may provide permanent relief.

A cardiovascular surgeon in Texas discovered that a number of his patients experienced total freedom from phlebitis when suspected allergies to environmental chemicals were diagnosed and controlled. William J. Rea, M.D., an associate professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Scholl, says the pain and swelling were so bad in these people that they couldn’t even walk across a room.

Anticoagulants and bed rest did no good. All were suspected of being allergic, and were divided into two groups of ten each. Those in the control group continued standard therapy, while those in the experimental group (all of whom were live in patients in Dr. Rea’s allergen free ”environmental unit” at the hospital) were tested for reactions to specific food and chemicals.

Tests revealed sensitivity to formaldehyde, phenol, chlorine, petroleum products and pesticides – all common household pollutants. People in the experimental group were then told how to cut down their exposure to those items by making certain changes in their homes and, once their phlebitis cleared up, were sent home.

The chemical cleanup worked. Among all the people treated for chemical sensitivity, there were only two episodes of phlebitis over the next five years. In fact, not only could they all walk painlessly, but some of them could bicycle up to six miles at a clip!

In contrast, the people not treated for allergy suffered a total of 101 episodes of phlebitis and clotting, 40 of which landed them back in the hospital. Dr. Rea credits the home oasis for continued relief in the treated group.

”In spite of being constantly exposed to higher pollution ... on the job and ... in society, it was clear that if the patients would have at least ten hours in their less polluted oasis at home they could remain phlebitis free,” he says, ”The patients in the control group continued to be miserable and did not function well. They developed a chronically ill attitude ... looked on life as hopeless ... and lay around their homes and did little constructive work.”

Dr. Rea is convinced that phlebitis is environmentally induced (or aggravated) in some individuals, and he speculates that irritation of blood vessels and clot formation are just two more possible manifestations of chemical sensitivity (Annals of Allergy, November, 1981).

When that same mechanism affects the small capillaries, people may bruise easily or spontaneously (see Bruises). When the coronary arteries are affected, heart spasms may result (see Heart Spasms).

Phlebitis is one problem you can't take chances with. To locate an environmentally oriented physician in your area, write to the Society for Clinical Ecology. Quite possibly, a doctor will recommend that you reduce exposure to chemicals in your home, in which case some useful tips appear in Clearing the Air.