For a decade, Baltimore Sun journalist Mike Dresser couldn't figure out why his eye lids swelled so much that some days he was late to work because he could barely see well enough to drive.
“I’d wake up in the morning with my eyes swollen to the point where I couldn’t see through the slits,” Dresser, 60, told ABC News. “It’s really uncomfortable and itchy, and my eyes get very watery.”
Doctors could find no cause, so they eventually recommended a patch test, ruling out common allergens like cats and melons, only to discover that Dresser had an occupational hazard – he was allergic to the pine resin in newsprint.
“It gets on my fingers, then it can get on to my face,” he said.
- Most Common Allergy Culprits:
- Nickel, especially jewelry, clasps or buttons
- Gold jewelry
- Balsam of Peru fragrance in perfume and lotions
- Thimerosal, a mercury compound in antiseptics
- Neomycin sulfate, a topical antibiotic also in soap and pet food
- Fragrance mix in foods, antiseptics, soaps and dental products
- Formaldehyde in paper, paints, cleaners
- Cobalt chloride in hair dye and antiperspirants
- Bacitracin, a topical antibiotic
- Quaternium 15, a preservative in self-tanners, shampoo, nail polish and sunscreen
Allergic to Sex? Semen, Orgasm and Latex Can Be Culprits The prescribed treatment was to wear gloves to work, so the veteran State House reporter sent a humorous email to all his fellow staffers:
“The next time you see me in the newsroom, you may see me wearing the type of rubber gloves used by a doctor or a crime scene technician. Don’t worry, I won’t be administering any uncomfortable examinations or looking for blood spatter. It’s just that I found out this week after nearly 38 years at The Sun that I am allergic to newspaper ink.
“Seriously. Any sympathy is appreciated, but feel free to laugh. The irony is not lost on me.”
His story, after appearing on a blog in the Wall Street Journal, went viral.
“I didn’t intend to go worldwide,” said Dresser. “Honestly, I get the fun aspect of it. Certainly I would laugh at myself. But if I can also convey to others in my position, what the hell. Maybe, I get to do a mitzvah instead of being that guy.”
Dresser’s patch test also revealed that he was allergic to blue dye and was advised to avoid dark clothing.
“You might notice another change that will no doubt add to a certain reputation for eccentricity,” he writes to his colleagues. “Because of an allergy to blue textile dye No. 106, which is in wide use, I have been advised to avoid clothing with dark colors – not just blue but also blacks, greens and purples. (There goes Ravens Friday.) So if a new colleague asks why the old guy always wears white or cream even in winter, that’s the reason. This transition may take some time because of the expense involved. I’m looking at Mark Twain as a possible role model.”
And now, he wants others to know that even the strangest allergens can cause symptoms like his.
“If you have a recurring condition like that and have not been able to get an explanation – and you handle newspaper print at lot, you should probably get a patch test and connect the dots,” he said.
“He’s in the wrong profession obviously,” said Dr. Clifford Bassett, medical director of Allergy and Asthma Care of New York, who has not treated Dresser. “But we work around it and try to provide a safe work environment where they can prosper”
Bassett told ABC News that a simple patch test can determine if a person has a true allergy or contact dermatitis.
“I have people come in every day and 90 percent of them with puffy eyelids and we do a patch test to determine if its make-up or ink or a tattoo. Basically, it can be any product.”
In the world of television journalism, “half the anchors are allergic to their makeup,” he said. Lipsticks and sunscreen can also be culprits.
In the workplace solvents can cause problems and workers like Dresser must wear gloves. “It’s annoying but they work around it.”
“One girl had hives every day when she kissed her dad,” said Bassett. “She was allergic to the macadamia nut in his exotic shaving cream.”
“Silver and gold are among the top 10 allergens,” he said. “Nickel is the number one in women. I saw someone with a cell phone allergy. Every time she held it to her face her eyelids would puff. People are also allergic to the nickel hinges in eyeglasses.”
As for Dresser, he said he is beginning to show improvement wearing gloves and light clothing to work, as well as taking a prescription for antihistamines. Now it's his reporter friends who are the itches.
“I guess I would describe them as having amused sympathy,” he said. “They certainly don’t take any joy in my discomfort, but how can you not see the irony of my situation – apparently the world does, too.”
Here's the internal email he sent to all Sun staffers:
From: Dresser, Mike
Sent: Friday, May 16, 2014 3:41 PM
To: TBS-News BaltSun
Subject: Weekly World News item
Veteran reporter finds he’s allergic to newspapers
I thought this deserved a headline.
The next time you see me in the newsroom, you may see me wearing the type of rubber gloves used by a doctor or a crime scene technician. Don’t worry, I won’t be administering any uncomfortable examinations or looking for blood spatter. It’s just that I found out this week after nearly 38 years at The Sun that I am allergic to newspaper ink.
Seriously. Any sympathy is appreciated, but feel free to laugh. The irony is not lost on me.
The gloves were recommended as a way to continue to work around newspapers without causing the kind of symptoms I’ve been dealing with for years without any idea of why they were occurring. A patch test this week found a number of interesting allergies, including a strong reaction to pine resin, a component of newspaper ink. That allergy has been specifically linked to the eye trouble I’ve been having, as well as other skin conditions.
You might notice another change that will no doubt add to a certain reputation for eccentricity. Because of an allergy to blue textile dye No. 106, which is in wide use, I have been advised to avoid clothing with dark colors – not just blue but also blacks, greens and purples. (There goes Ravens Friday.) So if a new colleague asks why the old guy always wears white or cream even in winter, that’s the reason. This transition may take some time because of the expense involved. I’m looking at Mark Twain as a possible role model.
I make this public for three reasons:
1. Because you all deserve a good laugh.
2. So that I can limit the number of times I have to explain my apparent weirdness.
3. In case one of you or some newspaper-handling person you know has been dealing for a long time with severe puffing and irritation around the eyes and hasn’t figured out why. You or your friend should see an allergist or dermatologist and get patch-tested for pine resin allergy. Mr. Google tells me newspaper allergies more common that you might think – and not just among politicians and police spokespeople. And, yes, allergies can develop late in life.
I am relieved that this news comes at a time when I can consume the fine work my colleagues do in an electronic format. And over-zealous editors take note: I won’t leave fingerprints.