I only want to not die.
November 20, 2006 7:44 PM   Subscribe

How can I stave off allergies to cigarette smoke for four nights? I'm really looking forward to going to my boyfriend's house for Thanksgiving--but his mom is a heavy smoker, and cigarette smoke and I . . . don't get along.

When I say "don't get along", I don't mean asthma attacks. I'm cool for an afternoon. But when I've stayed overnight in the house of heavy smokers just from the smell I inevitably wake up in the middle of the night with hives all over my body, a pounding headache, and wicked insomnia. One night is miserable. Four?

Boyfriend told his mom I have problems with it so she won't smoke around me, but she doesn't know how bad and I'd prefer to keep it that way. After all, there wouldn't be much she could do besides hire a cleaning service to baking-soda and air out the entire house.

So what should I do? Sleeping pills and anti-histamines? Have any other MeFites had this problem? I'm thinking I'll bring body spray and saturate the room before I go to sleep (the boyfriend says this would be OK), but I don't want to make it obvious how uncomfortable I am.
posted by schroedinger to Health & Fitness (24 answers total)
Explain the problem really nicely and sleep with your BF in the closest motel. That way she doesn't have to feel terrible about smoking and you don't have to die. Come back for breakfast.
posted by unSane at 7:56 PM on November 20, 2006

I wish I could! Unfortunately, they are in a small town (no motel as far as I know of), we're poor, sleeping with the BF is a no-no (they're not even cool with the public holding-of-hands until marriage), and while she wouldn't get angry at me if I slept out of the house, she'd feel completely ashamed and that would be seriously bad.
posted by schroedinger at 8:01 PM on November 20, 2006

Though I have thought about sleeping in a tent under the guise of "going camping".
posted by schroedinger at 8:02 PM on November 20, 2006

As much as I wish I could offer some helpful advice, I'd have to say that you're either going to have to suck it up and see if you can make it through, or don't go. I've been in a similar situation many, many times and although my symptoms are not as bad as yours, it is not pleasant.

I have yet to find a solution to this. It's her house and smoking is one of those "my home, my castle" rights that (and I don't blame her at all) you can't expect someone to give up their addiction for 4 days.

I'll watch this thread to see if anyone else has some ideas, but I can't see how you can make this problem any more tenable.
posted by purephase at 8:24 PM on November 20, 2006

- minimize nights, so try to arrive early on the first day and leave late on the last day
- perhaps invest in either an air filter/cleaner or a small fan to keep the smoke out of the room you'll be sleeping in, or try to sleep with the window open a crack.
- I'm not sure where you live, but maybe you could arrange for her to smoke outside during part of the time you're there. Some people are cool with this and others are not.
- bring your own pillow and/or bedding or give everything a good wash while you're there if that's acceptable.
- consider something to deal with allergies that does double duty as a sleep aid like benadryl.

If you're allergic, you're allergic and you're not going to really make things easier on anyone if you don't lay it out early. Otherwise your lack of sleep will show through by day 2 or 3 and she'll probably wind up feeling even more terrible that you didn't tell her sooner. Obviously I don't know what sort of people your SO's folks are, but you might want to see if you can talk to them about this beforehand and quell some of your anxieties about what the holiday will bring.
posted by jessamyn at 8:27 PM on November 20, 2006

There are very few towns without a motel of some sort. You say you are poor, but call the nearest motel and see what their rates are.

It sounds like no matter how clear you get the air of new smoke, the old smoke is going to get you. That's the stuff that won't come out and just lingers there. Nothing you can do about it, and it really isn't rude if you just explain that you have a medical condition that is aggravated by smoke.

I don't see much else you can do, although it might cost you a little money.
posted by cschneid at 9:00 PM on November 20, 2006

Can you invest in a room-sized HEPA filter? It's a machine you leave on all day, it traps the nasties and clears the air. My husband just bought one marked down to $75 at Sears (Kenmore brand). It's the only thing that keeps me from waking up with a sore throat in our dusty apartment. Keep it in the room you'll be staying in, and keep the door shut at all times.

This will only work if you're driving, not flying, I suspect. Although I guess you could check the filter in a suit case. They're not all that big.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 9:02 PM on November 20, 2006

Maybe try an over the counter anti-allergy remedy? Antihistamines or whatever they are?

Make sure that all the linens in your room are washed, keep the door closed at all times throughout your stay, and wedge something at the bottom to help keep it sealed. Definitely get a good quality air filter or crack a window in the room and bring a small electric heater.
posted by voidcontext at 9:08 PM on November 20, 2006

Unfortunately, not much will help. Even if they stop smoking while you're there, the tobacco is still in all the drapes and carpets.

In the end, my parents both gave up smoking as opposed to not seeing their grandchildren at all. Every time we visited we had to follow it up with a trip to the doctor for both our kids and the doctor finally said they are basically allergic to tobacco smoke. We told this to my parents and (eventually) they both quit.

Had dad quit ealier, he might still be around...
posted by Doohickie at 9:11 PM on November 20, 2006

The best options (filter, open window, don't go) have already been laid out.

I'm a bit forceful on the subject myself - I was born with an extremely rare congenital lung defect - both my parents were smokers and I was told I would only live to be 15.

Look - it may be her house, but it's your life. Second-hand smoke has been proven to be extremely unhealthy. 4 days won't kill you - but everyone should be willing to give up things - my wife is allergic to cats, when I was dating her - I had two kittens. When we visit relatives with cats, they always put them away/outside (depending on time of year) and clean heavily - it's simply what you do.

(they're not even cool with the public holding-of-hands until marriage)

Sounds like they're religious - oooh, oooh - I've always wanted to do this (tongue firmly in-cheek, from a devout atheist):

I Corinthians 6:19-20, the Apostle Paul wrote to Christians, "Know you not that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which you have of God, and you are not your own? For you were bought with a price: Therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit which are God's".

In Romans 14:21 and Romans 15:1-2, we are taught not to offend our fellow-Christians and to take care to please our neighbors that they might be saved. While smoking will not be noticed by some and might please a very few, most people will be displeased by it and quite a few will be greatly offended by it.

In Philippians 2:3-4, we read ". . - Let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others". In other words, be considerate.

In a house-, cigarette odor will linger for 2 or 3 days. To non-smokers this is intolerable, to a few individuals smoke from other's cigarettes can produce dangerous toxic reactions. Smoking is against the principles of being careful not to offend and of being considerate.

Smoking is wasteful of time and of money. Christians are to be faithful stewards (Read Matthew 25:14-30), for, like our bodies, our money and our time, are not ours, but Christ's.
posted by jkaczor at 9:24 PM on November 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

Do use antihistamines; I find they work a lot better if I take one before I have contact with allergens. You might want to bring your own bed linens and towels. A smoke-free pillow would be good, too. It's not easy to use those unnoticed; you might have to make a joke about it and pretend you take them whenever you're a houseguest.
posted by wryly at 10:25 PM on November 20, 2006

jkaczor, they're not religious, just old-fashioned.

As I said, she won't be smoking around me, so it's not an issue of her blowing smoke in my face. According to my boyfriend, she's tried to quit quite a lot before, and his older brother hates her smoking so when he's around she doesn't smoke then, either, so not smoking around guests is not an issue. But it really is the stuff sunk into the carpets and drapes and bed and whatnot that will be causing the problem. The bed linens are a good idea.

It's a little late to invest in an air filter (I'm leaving tomorrow), but I will give that consideration if this becomes a regular occurrance.
posted by schroedinger at 11:09 PM on November 20, 2006

Definitely take your own bed linens and pillows, and go to the drugstore and get Claritin for the daytime, and Benadryl for nighttime. Also, you can take Pepcid, Tagamet, or Zantac along with the Benadryl - I know they're marketed as antacids, but they are H2 antagonists (meaning that they bind to a different histamine receptor than Benadryl, which binds to H1), so they work in conjunction with Benadryl to make you have less of a reaction. (IANAD - I learned this when I took my friend to the ER for a severe food allergy, but it works for a bunch of my friends who have various allergies.)
posted by bedhead at 11:20 PM on November 20, 2006 [3 favorites]

During my peak allergy/ hay fever times, I used to go to the doctor and get depromedal (sp?) some kind of steroid dose pack that helped me through my toughest times. I gained weight, acted weird, but no allergy symptoms. You can also get a shot instead of the doses of pills I think.
posted by thilmony at 5:12 AM on November 21, 2006

I really think you need to come clean with just how allergic you are - otherwise, she might get the mistaken impression that you're fussy, or making a big deal out of nothing. People are a lot more understanding of "oh, she's really allergic, and so she's going to do X," than "she said she had 'problems', but she'll hardly stay in the house!"

I'm quite sure there's a motel somewhere nearby, unless they're in a one-spotlight town. Investigate that option (if for only for next time) , and simply be honest.

"I'm really sorry, we'd love to stay with you, but I'm so allergic that I'm absolutely miserable. So we're going to stay in a hotel."
posted by canine epigram at 7:16 AM on November 21, 2006

If you do stay under her roof, what happens if the antihistamines etc. don't work? If you wake up itchy, swollen and hurting, that may be a bit of an embarassment to your host too — especially four nights in a row, when nothing short of cleaning the whole house would make you comfortable.

I'd be prepared to move to a motel (alone) after night one if I were you. Scope out the options ahead of time, and find one that you could afford in an emergency.

(Of course, you might think that even one morning's worth of itchy, swollen and hurting might be too embarassing to your boyfriend's poor mom. In that case, just sleep in a motel from the get-go. Instead of a big embarassment, she'll get a little one — it's the polite thing to do. Just make sure to give her other chances to feel like a good host: admire the house, appreciate her cooking, and so on.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:18 AM on November 21, 2006

If you absolutely have to stay there:

Bring your own pillow and pillow case. During the day keep that pillow in a plastic trash bag.

Sleep with a respirator mask on. Can you go buy a medical supply store or med school bookstore and get a filter for you to sleep with? You can buy a box of N95 masks for not too much, and they're great for filtering out what you're breathing in.
posted by dog food sugar at 7:23 AM on November 21, 2006

Seconding personal bedclothes and a respirator mask. There's no need to be ashamed of this, it's not like it's anything you can help. She should probably feel embarassed that a bad habit she has can make someone else's medical issues soar.
posted by agregoli at 8:10 AM on November 21, 2006

Croutonsupafreak's solution offers the most hope, in my opinion.

Is there any chance of buying one after you get there? It might seem like a lot of effort, but maybe not, next to a four day foretaste of purgatory.
posted by jamjam at 8:16 AM on November 21, 2006

I find that a good dousing of Fabreze's Allergen reducer helps with my allergies. Take a bottle (or pick one up while you are there), hit the bedding, upholstered furniture, carpets, and drapes as soon as you are assigned a room. Do it again ~ 30 min. before you go to bed every night and keep the door closed to that room while you are staying with them. That should help. Bring plastic bags to store all of your clothes in for the trip home - you will stink up your car something fierce if you don't. I normally change my shirt in the car after I leave my parent's house and always leave my coats in the car so I don't have to go to the dry cleaners. Good luck.
posted by blackkar at 9:21 AM on November 21, 2006

I've been down this road, and can tell you that over-the-counter medication isn't going to do the trick with your respiratory-related problems here. Benadryl and other antihistamines are rebounders and, although offering a quick fix by, more than anything, knocking you out, your symptoms will simply return with a vengeance later. I'm not sure what your medical/insurance situation is, but I highly recommend visiting a doctor and having him/her prescribe Advair for you. This has saved my life (no exaggeration) in a similar, but undoubtedly worse situation: the violent cat allergy.
posted by chaosscontrol at 9:22 AM on November 21, 2006

I've known people to have good luck with vacuum cleaners which have HEPA filters. One of my exes was extremely allergic to everything (she would get physically sick from the offgassing from CRTs and plastics), and a Dyson vacuum cleaner helped tremendously. I think there are many competing models right now, so if you don't already have a good vacuum cleaner you might want to consider picking up one of the more affordable ones. If you do this in combination with some of the other preventative measures mentioned here (such as bringing your own linens and using febreze allergen reducer) it might help quite a bit.

From what I understand, though, if you don't have a HEPA filter, vacuuming can actually make things worse (by kicking up the tiny dust particles that had already settled into the carpet/drapes/etc.).

Good luck.
posted by kdar at 11:04 AM on November 21, 2006

Honestly, thinking you can hide a case of hives that will inevitably break out after one night of pervasive smoke is pretty weak. Sure, you can wear long sleeves, but what if they broke out on your face? You're going to be able to hide all the other stuff (obviously feeling unwell with no sleep and a colossal headache) for three days? I can understand not wanting to hurt her feelings, or giving putting up with the smoke a shot for 24 hours, but....four days sounds like it'll be way too much for your body.

I think you're going to have to be honest with his mom about this and bring your own tent if you absolutely have to. It's not like she can de-stank her house enough to not set you off at this point anyway.
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:24 PM on November 21, 2006

As an update--the house was not as saturated as it would be, and the anti-allergenic Febreze did the trick. It wasn't even necessary to break out the extra sheets.
posted by schroedinger at 7:13 PM on December 18, 2006

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