A few months after I started having back problems, and after returning to work from my leave of absence, I started suffering tremendous nasal/eye pain. Now recall that I had already been forced out of contacts due to my eyes becoming allergic to them (giant papillary conjuctivitis, or GPC), and my eyes were extremely dry, so there were already significant problems in these areas. (In fact, in addition to using steroid drops to try to calm down the inflammation in my eyelids, I had "punctum plugs" [small silicone plugs] inserted into the drainholes in the corners of my eyes to try to retain moisture). But this was something different, a distinct and severe pain that radiated from my nasal passages outward to my eye sockets (in medical parlance, the "orbits") and along my cheekbones. The pain made my orbits, as opposed to the eyeballs themselves, feel "achy"; caused an exquisitely painful sensation to radiate outward from the corners of my eyes and bridge of my nose; and made my nasal passages swollen and painful (not the typical runny-nose, painless, allergic-type feeling).
I'm sure this pain sensation was not helped by the allergic response to my contacts (GPC), but it was not caused by this -- the GPC preceded this nasal/eye pain by almost nine months. So, over the next 2.5 years, I looked far and wide for answers to, and relief from, this pain. During this time, I saw three ear-nose-throat (ENT) specialists; had a C-T scan of the skull; a MRI of the brain and eye orbits; and tried every possible type of drug treatment including: prednisone (oral steroid), lidocaine (nasal-spray anaesthetic), Imitrex (oral migraine medication), Nasonex (nasal-spray steroid), Nasacort (nasal-spray steroid), Astelin (nasal-spray anti-histamine), Allegra (oral anti-histamine), Claritin (oral anti-histamine), Clarinex (oral anti-histamine), Flonase (nasal-spray steroid), and Atrovent (nasal spray that blocks acetylcholine to help runny nose symptoms). Nothing helped.
The ENT that I ultimately sought treatment from (and who had been practicing 35 years) was very puzzled by my symptoms. He could see "dusky" diffuse inflammation at the top portion of my larynx (voice box), and where my nasal passages drained into my pharynx (back of my throat), but he couldn't find an explanation. None of the scans provided any clinically-significant clues, although the MRI did show bilateral thickening at the back of both maxillary sinuses -- but this was more of a curiousity, and not the cause of my pain.
At one point, my ENT doctor referred me to a dentist for a TMJ evaluation. The temporomadibular joint, or TMJ, is the joint that hinges your lower jawbone to your skull, allowing your jaw to open and close. It is located just forward of your ears. TMJ problems are one of the most common, and most frustrating, orofacial conditions to treat. TMJ pain can radiate outward as facial pain, headaches, and neck pain, and can cause pain when talking, chewing, yawning, etc. Because a TMJ joint is the most complex joint in the body (it has both a rotating and a sliding motion, with a small disc that cushions these movements), it can be one of the most difficult to treat. Also, because stress can be a precipitating or aggravating factor for TMJ problems, many dentists feel there are too many complicating psychological factors to be able to effectively treat TMJ disease.
Anyway, in my case, the dentist did an examination, and determined that I did indeed have TMJ problems, particularly in my right TMJ joint, where he felt inflammation in the joint. He was surprised because I was currently taking Celebrex (an anti-inflammatory), which should have suppressed the inflammation. He recommended applying ice to the joint and to the muscle extending along the jawbone. He also made me an occlusal guard (i.e., an acrylic nightguard) that I would wear in my mouth over my top teeth at night while I was sleeping. The idea was that the guard would "balance" my bite -- by having indentations for the bottom teeth, my bite would be kept in a "neutral" position while I was sleeping, and this would hopefully reduce bruxism (grinding) too. Ultimately, I couldn't tolerate the nightguard, nor two others guards I tried. I apparently reacted to the acrylic and/or the nighttime interference with my bite, which aggravated my fibromyalgia and worsened my sleep. Notably, my TMJ pain was one of the first things to get better when I had my amalgams removed down the road.
Unfortunately, despite all of these drug and dental treatments, I never really achieved any great relief from my nasal/eye pain. It seemed to wax and wane, however. When it was at its worst, it was nearly unbearable. Who would have thought pain spanning a few inches across your eyes and the bridge of your nose could make you so miserable? Luckily, however, this is yet another problem that has predominantly disappeared since my mercury detox. A couple of mercury-related notes: first, I took those tetracycline-family antibiotics I've mentioned exactly three times. The first preceded my groin/leg/back pain by 12 days. The third preceded my back-pain explosion/start of narcotic pain-killers by 12 days. And the second course preceded the appearance of this eye/nasal pain by a few weeks as well, so the timing is particularly suspect.
Second, note this interesting description of "micromercurialism" (chronic intoxication from long-term exposure to low levels of mercury vapor) from the German professor A. Stock, who coined the term in the 1920's:
First degree micromercurialism results in lowered working capacity, increased fatigue, light nervous excitability ... in the second degree there is swelling of the nasal membranes, progressive weakening of memory, feelings of fear and loss of self-confidence, irritability, and headaches. Simultaneously there may be catarrhal symptoms and upper respiratory discomfort, changes in the mucous membranes of the mouth, bleeding gums. Sometimes there are feelings of coronary insufficiency, shivering, quickening pulse, and a tendency towards diarrhea. The third degree micromercurialism is characterized by symptoms approaching those of regular mercurialism ... headaches, general weakness, sleeplessness, decline in intellectual capacity, depression. Among other signs are tears, diarrhea, frequent urination, a feeling of pressure in the cardiac region and shivering.
I like this quote because so many of the symptoms described 80 years ago seem so familiar, like the reference to swollen nasal passages I highlighted. This symptom is not surprising if you think about it, as mercury vapor from dental amalgams only has to travel a few inches upward to reach the mucosa of the upper nasal cavity, and from there a few inches backward through spongy tissue to reach the hypothalamus and pituitary gland, the brain stem, and the brain in general.
Another related problem I had was a chronic sore throat. Recall that the ENT doctor saw inflammation in my pharynx, which is the general region at the back of the throat, and at the top of my larynx, which is the voice box. The ENT doctor more or less blamed my reflux as the likely cause, but the GI doctor said that, after my Stretta procedure and tests confirming no reflux, this was impossible. The GI doctor thought maybe the nasal issues I was having might be contributing to the sore throat, which the ENT doctor disputed. Nothing like your doctors disagreeing with each other to build your confidence! In any event, I would even raise my bed and sleep at an incline to try to minimize any potential reflux effects (i.e., using gravity to make it harder for stomach contents to go up the esophagus), but I would still get that sore throat. At times it was so bad my voice would be croaky in the morning for days on end. I sucked on a lot of lozenges, that's for sure.
Yet another strange problem that plagued me while I was sick was a plantar wart from hell. A planter wart is a benign viral growth that occurs on the ball, heel, or sole (plantar surface) of the foot. They hurt because they are on the sensitive area of the foot, and because you are always applying pressure to them while you are standing. Risk factors for plantar warts include repeated exposure to the virus (e.g., walking barefoot in public gym areas), and/or a weakened immune system. To finally kill this wart took over 2.5 years of treatment -- 29 separate office visits, mostly to a dermatologist. I'm pretty sure I set some kind of record at this dermatologist's office for the most-resistant plantar wart ever. Amongst the types of treatments applied were: 8 liquid nitrogen freezing treatments, 6 pulsed-dye laser treatments, and 15 injections of Bleomycin. As I understand it, Bleomycin is like the "nuclear bomb" of wart treatments -- it is a chemotherapy drug that is actually used to treat cancer. When injected directly into the wart, it is very effective at killing the wart tissue. But, as it is injected, it hurts in a way that can't really be described. I mean, getting a shot into the ball of your foot is bad enough, but then factor in that the shot is into very painful wart tissue, and include a painful, burning substance, and you can see why it was tough not to scream (but being a good patient and a "man", I bit my tongue). At least I didn't need coffee to wake up on those mornings I started by going to the dermatologist's office!
Here's a strange, occasional problem I experienced: restless legs syndrome (RLS). According to Time magazine, "it's the most common sleep disorder you've probably never heard of." (Aug. 9, 2004). Apparently, RLS affects up to 10% of the population (roughly 30 million people), and causes nagging pain and discomfort along with an uncontrollable urge to move one's legs during periods of physical inactivity. I can tell you, although I only had it occasionally, it was pretty rough when I did experience it. It's a really unpleasant feeling, and can pretty much stop any chance you have of getting decent sleep. Also, sometimes when I woke up I would feel like every muscle in my legs had been "pulled", like a sports injury or something. The latest treatment for RLS being studied is Requip, a drug for Parkinson's disease that works by increasing dopamine. Interestingly, this same drug is being studied for fibromyalgia patients, and I first heard of it when it was recommended to me by the rheumatologist who diagnosed me with fibromyalgia. I never tried Requip, but I never experienced RLS again after detoxing, either.
A huge problem I have dealt with has been chronic fatigue, although it showed up late in the game, so thankfully I didn't have to contend with it as much while I was working. Still, I dealt with it for years, starting from a time when I was taking some supplements that increased the toxicity of the mercury in my body (more on this in a separate posting). This wasn't the type of tiredness you get when you stay out too late and don't get enough sleep -- this was a bone-weary, drop-dead exhaustion that tends to sneak up on you, quickly wash over you, and consume you. It wouldn't matter if I was talking to the President when I was experiencing one of these attacks -- I would still pretty much shut down and "pass out". Also, there was an underlying weariness that was constant. And because my adrenal glands weren't working correctly, when I needed energy the most (e.g., in a very stressful situation), I couldn't get it -- like my "fuel line" was clogged. Actually, I even usually experienced what is known as a "paradoxical stress reaction" -- when I was in a stressful situation I would suddenly become even more tired. That was the worst -- a little stress and suddenly I was yawning and mentally whipped, right when I needed focus. Without a doubt the hardest part of chronic fatigue isn't the fatigue -- it's the absolutely intolerable levels of anxiety and stress from not having the energy necessary to deal with social or challenging situations.
By the way, one thing that seemed to often prompt huge waves of fatigue was a hot shower. About thirty minutes after a shower, I would just get more and more tired. Often, I was lucky just to crawl into bed in order to pass out for an hour or so, after which I felt ten times better. This phenomena happened with amazing consistency. A chlorine filter helped a little, but didn't prevent the fatigue attacks. I no longer get tired after showering, but even today I can still feel twinges of symptom flare-up occasionally after a shower.
I have read some doctors' claim that the number one medical problem plaguing Americans is fatigue. I'm sure there are many reasons for this, including not enough time for sleep, insomnia, hectic schedules, etc., but it also seems extremely likely that toxicity issues contribute to this social trend. Chronic fatigue syndrome may just be one endpoint of a continuum of fatigue problems. The good news is that elimination of the fatigue has been one of my clearest and greatest successes. During chelation, every week the fatigue would diminish just a little bit more. So, for example, one day after having been chelating for a while it suddenly dawned on me that I could drive down the highway and not have to fight overwhelming (and scary) tiredness. What a relief! And today, it's pretty much entirely gone. It took a while, but wow, what a difference this makes in experiencing and enjoying life.
Probably equally debilitating as the chronic fatigue is the "brain fog" I've suffered until recently. Actually, it often seemed to coincide with the fatigue attacks. I would describe brain fog as a rapid slow-down in reflexes and thinking ability, often with very quick onset, and often in stressful situations. The worst is trying to socialize with brain fog. Or work for that matter. At times, I felt like more of an actor than a thinking, contributing member of society, because I was just trying to "hang on" -- basically, to fake like I was fully present, cognizant, and alert. It felt like I had a 10-ton weight weighing down my thinking ability, so it was awfully hard to mentally track and respond to what other unaffected people were saying. Like with fatigue, the worst thing about brain fog is the inordinate stress created by being in this state and trying to interact with people (while usually being completely fatigued at the same time). A simple conversation required ten times as much effort as what normal people take for granted.
Other stuff --
Dysphagia: This involves difficultry and/or pain with swallowing. This is an unpleasant problem, and makes eating and swallowing pills difficult and painful. Based on my informal surveys, it also is apparently quite common, especially among mercury toxic people and possibly more so among women. It is definitely a symptom that got much better when I started chelation. On my chelation "dips", when other symptoms would flare up, this problem would sometimes return.
Cold hands and feet: I'm not sure how this relates, but I have a chronically cold right foot and left hand. The coldness kicks in when my other pain symptoms flare up, or when I have a drink of alcohol or anything else that challenges my immune system.
Skin problems: I definitely have lots of things going on here. First and foremost, I've fought seborrheic dermatitis for at least 15 years. Seborrheic dermatitis is a chronic inflammatory skin condition that causes redness, dryness, and flaking, generally in areas where sebaceous (oil) glands are most numerous and on the scalp (dandruff). I get it around the sides of my nose mainly and on the scalp. Men have this problem more than women, presumably because sebaceous glands are under the control of androgens (male hormones), and men have more androgens. In case you didn't notice this pattern with my problems, seborrheic dermatitis is yet one more condition for which the cause is not known. It is thought to affect 3% of the population or so. The prevailing theory is that yeast overgrowth in these areas may trigger an inflammatory response, although this has not been proven. Treatment is often with an antifungal cream and/or shampoo (e.g., Nizoral, Selsun Blue, Neutrogena T/Gel, etc.) or corticosteroid preparations.
Another skin problem I've had -- a more recent development -- is dermatitis on the hands, especially between the fingers. Dermatitis is an inflammation of the skin that occurs because the skin has lost its natural barrier ability, and thus irritants can provoke an inflammatory response. For me, it results in flaking, red, and cracking skin, although it's pretty minor overall. It comes and goes since I've been chelating (it first appeared after I started chelating).
Knee problems: These developed during the course of my back problems, but still plague me occasionally today. Actually, when I was at the height of my back problems, I almost certainly developed patellofemoral syndrome (PFS) (as diagnosed by my physical therapist), which is when the kneecap (patello) doesn't track in its groove over the thighbone (femur) correctly, causing inflammation and pain underneath the kneecap. You can't mistake it, believe me -- it can just kill when you are bending your knee. This was likely a result of the inflexibility/tightness in the muscles of my thighs, hamstrings, calves, or lower back from the surgery. But that knee pain is almost entirely gone today. I actually still have occasional knee pain today in my right knee, but it is a different, more diffuse knee pain, with no obvious physical abnormality like with the PFS. Again, in my informal survey of mercury-toxic people, knee problems are common, probably more so in women.
Insomnia: I've already discussed this in the context of my fibromyalgia a bit, but I thought I'd mention it again as a separate problem because, well, it is such a major problem. This has been one of the longest-running problems I've experienced, and seems to be the most resistant to treatment, including mercury detox. Undoubtedly, there are brain / neurotransmitter issues at work here. The pineal gland, which produces melatonin and provides the body's internal clock, is under control of the hypothalamus gland (recall the fibromyalgia-hypothalamus-mercury link). Interestingly, when I supplement melatonin, it makes me very sick, although I have no idea why. Currently, I take a prescription sleep drug, which has helped to an amazing degree. As my doctor says, if you can't sleep, nothing else really matters. My ability to sleep waxes and wanes with my other symptoms, so I know it is related to everything else.
Chronic sinusitis: This has plagued me since the time of that mysterious eye/nasal pain. I think it is a pretty standard symptom with mercury toxicity. Many mornings when I wake up I have congestion and stuffiness in my nasal passages. Also, at other times during the day this symptom can flare up, usually when my other symptoms flare up simultaneously (e.g., fibromyalgia pain). A Mayo Clinic study in 1999 determined that 96% of study subjects with chronic sinusitis had positive fungal (yeast) cultures from their sinuses. However, additional studies have shown that people who do not suffer from chronic sinusitis actually have similar levels of yeast in their sinuses, but that the sinusitis sufferers have an exaggerated immune response to the yeast. (Note the immune system connection again). Health care experts estimate that 37 million Americans are affected by sinusitis every year. And, as noted by the Mayo Clinic, the normal treatment for sinusitis -- antibiotics -- is often ineffective because they target bacteria, which is not the cause of chronic sinusitis according to their study.
Pre-diabetes: Yep, this is a strange one. As I mentioned elsewhere, I have a lean build, so the last thing in the world I thought I would have was any diabetic tendencies. Pre-diabetes is measured by a glucose-challenge test (i.e., you drink a sugar drink, and then have blood drawn every half-hour for a couple of hours). A person with pre-diabetes has blood sugar levels that are higher than normal, but not high enough to be considered diabetes. It causes no symptoms, but if changes aren't made to diet or lifestyle, most people with pre-diabetes will go on to develop diabetes. While 17 million Americans have diabetes, another 16 million are thought to have pre-diabetes, most of whom don't even know it. It's been over two years since I did the initial glucose-challenge test, and I haven't done another since to see if it has changed. It would be an interesting thing to check someday, however.