Can ozone make you sick, and is my dad a hypochondriac?
October 6, 2006 2:04 PM   Subscribe

I think my dad is a hypochondriac. He made us get rid of all the house plants because they were causing him to cough. Now he thinks that "ozone" put off by either the (desktop) computer, the box fan, or both is making him sick.

He is driving my mom and I crazy. We already can't wear perfumes because the smell bothers him. If we make any odiferous food - not just pungent smells, like onions or garlic - simply popping popcorn or, heaven forbid, one time my mom made BROWNIES - he turns the fan on and aims it back towards the kitchen so the smell blows away from him. Who doesn't love the smell of fresh-baked brownies?!

He doesn't get out of the house - since he had prostate cancer in 2000 (he is now considered fully recovered) he just sits in his recliner all day and night and watches TV. He even sleeps there because he is afraid that, if he lays down, he'll die. I'm sure that doesn't help if he does have indoor allergies, but my mom and I can't take it anymore. And we want our house plants back, and not to have to feel bad about cooking! Is it even possible that the fan or computer give off ozone that could make him sick? If so, is there anything we can do to either fix him or keep ourselves from going insane?
posted by IndigoRain to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Are there any smells he does like that you could overwhelm him with?

also, I like the charcoal mask idea.
posted by trevyn at 2:15 PM on October 6, 2006

Uh I think this has nothing to do with smells. I think he has some serious depression issues. Probably definitely needs to see a doctor about this.
posted by geoff. at 2:23 PM on October 6, 2006

Best answer: Sounds like control issues brought on by depression, as my $.05 Internet doctor Dx.

But I mainly wanted to say that sunlight helps prevent prostate cancer, so, sitting in his chair is worse than not.. not that it sounds like he wants logic right now.
posted by kcm at 2:30 PM on October 6, 2006

Yes - depression or even the beginning of senile dementia (hyper resistance to any change in his environment etc) -- to the doctor and/or therapist, stat. Even if you have to trick him into going by saying that you've made an appointment "to get his smell-sensitivity checked out" or something else that fits with his perception of his own health. Go with him and explain to the doctor what you just told us. At a minimum, maybe the doctor can prescribe some out-of-house activity/exercise "as a cure for the smell sensitivity".

Computer fan could be moving dust around, and he could be allergic to dust. Computer monitors can hurt your eyes and give you a headache, esp if you're in bad indoor lighting all the time. But the real problem is he needs to get out of the house.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:34 PM on October 6, 2006 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Ozone is usually only created by electronic devices that run with such high voltage that the power supply needs a spark gap (which is what creates the ozone).

Copy machines are famous for this, and some old TVs that were pre-flyback transformer also did this. Oh, and if you have a tesla coil in your living room, then he's definitely right about ozone.

A CRT computer monitor will probably not emit ozone, an LCD monitor won't, and the PC itself certainly will not.

Ozone has a distinctive scent, and no special abilities are needed to detect it. If you can't smell it, and he's claiming that it's unsmellable, then...well, from the above, it's clearly another problem.

But ozone's almost certainly out.

From Wikipedia's page on Ozone:

Ozone may be formed from O2 by electrical discharges and by action of high energy electromagnetic radiation. Certain electrical equipment generate significant levels of ozone. This is especially true of devices using high voltages, such as laser printers, photocopiers, and arc welders. Electric motors using brushes can generate ozone from repeated sparking inside the unit. Large motors, such as those used by elevators or hydraulic pumps, will generate more ozone than smaller motors.
posted by SlyBevel at 3:28 PM on October 6, 2006

Best answer: So yes, it's possible that the fan produces a tiny bit of ozone, but if you can't detect it, then he can't either. And in any case, it would be far from a dose that would have any kind of effect....unless he's essentially kissing (and breathing heavily near) the fan motor. And even then, just no way.

There's a problem there, but it ain't ozone.
posted by SlyBevel at 3:32 PM on October 6, 2006

He should visit his primary care provider and rule out any possible organic pathology. A history of illness can be a predisposing factor in hypochondriasis. Once a person experiences a threat to biological integrity, they may develop fears of it recurring. Increased sensitivity develops and they are strongly in tune to any changes. Are there any times when this preoccupation with symptoms is worse? Is there then an obvious trigger? Be empathetic because that could help lessen any anxiety. Most importantly talk with the PCP about all this. Good luck to you and your family.
posted by dog food sugar at 3:34 PM on October 6, 2006

Computer fans are brushless and cannot produce ozone. Not a chance.
posted by ryanrs at 4:03 PM on October 6, 2006

Quite so, but IndigoRain also asked about a box fan, which will have brushes. So ozone? Maybe. Enough to make a difference? Probably not.
posted by SlyBevel at 4:09 PM on October 6, 2006

Best answer: There's a certain obsession some people acquire when they've faced death, and it's especially prevalent among cancer survivors. The obsession deals with "toxins" in the environment, and people who have this are obsessed with purifying their water, air, and food so that they won't get cancer, or have a relapse. I have a friend who lost her partner to cancer at an early age, and now she's a vegetarian, only drinks bottled water, and does all kinds of things to purify her body, such as drinking nothing but juice from organically grown vegetables for a week. Maybe she's healthier for it, but there's just something about it that feels like an neurosis.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 4:23 PM on October 6, 2006 [1 favorite]

SlyBevel, my guess is that a typical box-fan would have a brushless induction motor, just like a lot of low-torque low RPM appliances.
posted by Good Brain at 4:40 PM on October 6, 2006

Yes, but possibly not. Thus, the maybe.

Thank you, and good night.
posted by SlyBevel at 5:03 PM on October 6, 2006

Best answer: I also think it sounds like the beginning of dementia, particularly if he has a short temper. When my father showed signs of dementia it took us years to accept it, as cognitively he seemed normal for a long time. It turned out that having worked as an engineer for so many years his intellectual abilities were much more robust than his emotional ones.

If the two (dementia and hypochondriasis) were present together I imagine it would be a pretty potent combination. If you do follow the advice above and see a physician, you could perhaps also see a gerontologist.
posted by claudius at 6:58 PM on October 6, 2006

control issues. bet he hates cigarette smoke too.
posted by brandz at 7:38 PM on October 6, 2006

Best answer: Mains-powered box fans all have brushless induction motors. Induction motors have fewer parts, are cheaper to make, and will run for long periods without maintenance. Box fans will not emit ozone.

Computer monitors and TV's based on CRT's do generate a high voltage for the CRT's final anode. There is good thick insulation all the way from the point where this voltage is generated to the point where it connects to the CRT; but if this insulation has pinhole flaws, small amounts of ozone can be generated. This is more likely to happen if the CRT is old and/or operating in a humid or dusty environment. Listen for a continuous hiss from inside the back of the case.

Some people (myself included) are indeed far more sensitive to certain smells than others. There are certain perfume ingredients that I simply cannot bear to be near; they make my eyes itch and my nose stream. It's not completely impossible that your dad has a similar reaction to the smell of burning vegetable oil, which is a major component of popcorn and brownie cooking smells.

But nothing in any smell he might be exposed to in your house is going to make him as sick as spending his entire life in a recliner watching TV. For one thing, a TV has a bigger tube than a computer monitor and its final anode will run at a higher voltage. If he's smelling ozone, I'd be looking sideways at the TV before blaming the computer monitor or box fan.

Maybe you need to cook more brownies, just to encourage him to get out of the house and go for a walk.
posted by flabdablet at 8:27 PM on October 6, 2006

Best answer: I thought a little bit about this question, and here are my thoughts. It seems to me that there is something wrong with your dad. I'm not quite sure what it is, and I don't think you can be either.

"Hypochondriac" is not really a term that doctors use much anymore; it literally means: below the ribs. That's because people who are under a lot of psychological stress sometimes get pains in that area below the ribs, even if their intestines and kidneys and what-all are working correctly. Doctors call this "functional" or "somatization" pain, and we think of it as being psychologic in origin. Point being, that I would say that if someone had this kind of pain, there was something the matter.

Your dad doesn't have that kind of pain, apparently; but he is having other problems. He is coughing, and he is afraid to lie down or go out of the house. He's also finding strong smells unpleasant. It's not clear to me that this is psychiatric; it's not, on the other hand, clear that it isn't. For instance - just as an example - people who suffer from migraines often can't abide strong smells, because they trigger really awful headaches. On the other hand, people with OCD or paranoia might not like strong smells for different reasons that might not make much sense to you. It's really hard to know exactly what's going on with your dad and I think I won't try to speculate.

What is clear is that the whole situation is not normal, he's in distress, there is something the matter. He must have some docs, if he got cured of prostate cancer in 2000; I think it's probably time he go for a visit so he can discuss whatever's on his mind with them.
posted by ikkyu2 at 4:05 AM on October 7, 2006 [2 favorites]

I'm wondering if the coughing and sleeping sitting up are related. Any chance he's got COPD, CHF, or sleep apnea? A lot of this sure sounds like it's in his head, in one way or another, but he could have some real issues here too. And in his head could mean something he read, or something that happened in there, or just something he's thought about way too much.
Could be a lot of things going on, and some of them could be treatable.
posted by unrepentanthippie at 9:09 AM on October 7, 2006

Response by poster: I talked to him last night. He said when we cook it's the smell of something burning that bothers him, so the vegetable oil thing could be right on. The "ozone" issue - he said he feels it in the back of his throat - it's not a smell. I suggested he go get his sense of smell checked out and he didn't answer. Oh, and he said he shut off the fan and computer one night and then felt better. He did thank me for taking the time to look up the info on ozone (which is what I said I did.)

The TV is on day and night too, usually... and it's a brand-new Sony WEGA CRT... I think it's around 30 inches.

We've tried suggesting he find a hobby and he just hasn't. He used to go fishing with my brother-in-law, but due to a huge family fallout, that's over. (No, there is no likely way to resolve this - it was that bad.) That's probably depressing him too - we haven't seen my niece (his granddaughter) in a year now. She'll be 3 in January.

We do have a senior center nearby, but I'm not sure he'll take that idea well - he's 60. I'm going to look on Meetup and see if there's any kind of group of men his age that get together to play cards or something.
posted by IndigoRain at 10:57 AM on October 7, 2006

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