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When even the smell of perfume can make you ill

30-year-old has multiple chemical sensitivities

Johanna Galea suffers from chronic fatigue syndrome and numerous food and multiple chemical sensitivities. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

Johanna Galea suffers from chronic fatigue syndrome and numerous food and multiple chemical sensitivities. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

When she wanted to meet her friends last December, Johanna Galea had to leave a bag of detergent outside her front door, which they used to wash their clothes before meeting the 30-year-old.

Ms Galea has been diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome and numerous food and multiple chemical sensitivities. When her debilitating condition flared up last year, she ended up housebound and could only eat eight types of food.

One year on, she is receiving treatment and raising awareness about misunderstood conditions similar to hers, in the hope of helping others who are suffering in silence.

“I was a happy newly-wed athlete and it was difficult to see my life slipping away from me.

“The last thing I did before becoming housebound was setting foot in church. As soon as I walked through the door, the smell of people’s perfume hit me and I felt like I was going to pass out. We walked out immediately and I started having one of my intense reactions which my husband says looks like an epileptic fit,” she told this newspaper.

I started having one of my intense reactions which my husband says looks like an epileptic fit

At 25, Ms Galea was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome and, after some months, she realised she was sensitive to artificial sweetener, so she cut that out of her diet. Her life went on as normal: she worked, trained and socialised. That was until February of last year, when she started getting ill every other day, waking up feeling extremely tired.

Ms Galea underwent several tests, but doctors – from her gynaecologist to the gastroenterologist – were as puzzled as she was, she recounted. “All test results came out normal but something was wrong,” she said, adding that she had no energy left for any form of sport and had to drastically cut down on her working hours.

Ms Galea was eventually diagnosed with numerous food and multiple chemical sensitivities, with her body rejecting more types of food and chemicals as weeks rolled by. She had to eliminate one food ingredient at a time until she was left with only eight that did not make her ill.

Her sensitivity to certain chemicals meant Ms Galea could only use specific cosmetics and detergents and the whiff of some perfume would send her into a fit.

“With nothing left to lose”, and under the guidance of a UK dietician, she eventually started training her body and brain to accept food without going into shock.

She is now doing the same with chemicals and “feels 80 per cent recovered”, gradually getting back to her regular routine of training and work.

Having regained some of her energy back, Ms Galea is reaching out to others going through a similar experience and she can be contacted on www.roadtozest.com.

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