British Man Develops Anxiety Due to Exposure to Toxin at Work

A British ex-naval engineer had never expected that his repeated exposure to a toxic substance at job would make him suffer from anxiety. During his five years with the Navy, the unidentified man had almost a daily exposure to trichloroethylene (TCE), a solvent used to remove grease, and clean aircraft and ships.

According to the journal BMJ Case Reports, the man, along with other members of the naval engineering crew, used to spray trichloroethylene, also known as trike, from a can onto a cloth. The exposure, as the 24-year-old engineer reported, made all the members “get high from the fumes.” Many a times, he ended up feeling dizzy due to the exposure to the solvent.

Though these mild symptoms did not last long, the feelings indicated that using trike as a solvent was not safe for use, said Dr. Joshua Au Yeung, who treated the man 20 years later at Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS Trust in Manchester. The man’s exposure to trike worsened his anxiety due to lack of adequate ventilation on the ship. Moreover, the Navy did not provide protective equipment like masks to minimize the exposure to the dangerous vapors.

Accidental detection

Surprisingly, the man’s first visit to a hospital had nothing to do with his exposure to TCE. In fact, it was after a week-long binge drinking session that he had to see a doctor for feeling extremely anxious, shakiness (tremors) and rapid breathing. Moreover, he also complained of dull headache, blurry vision and tingling sensation on the right side of his face.

The man had no history of regular or excessive drinking. And since the doctors did not enquire about his work, his exposure to trike was never discussed. Unfortunately, the psychiatrist who treated him misdiagnosed his symptoms as an outcome of a withdrawal from alcohol. However, over the next few months, he started experiencing symptoms of anxiety more frequently, reaching a stage when they would not go away, suggested the case report.

It made the psychiatrist send the man to a toxicologist to detect his exposure to poisonous substances, and a neuropsychiatrist for a comprehensive evaluation. Finally, the tests revealed the details about the actual culprit responsible for the man’s symptoms of anxiety. The reports detected that he was exposed to TCE while serving as a naval engineer.

According to Au Yeung, regular exposure to trichloroethylene can affect every system in the body. Once the toxin enters the bloodstream after inhalation, it could irritate and damage nerves directly. The irritated nerves, then, can cause numbness, pain and burning sensations, he said. The nerve damage caused by a toxin can change the amount of neurotransmitters released. For example, it could decrease levels of serotonin, thereby leading to depression, he said.

In this case, however, the toxic culprit was detected too late. It caused a delay in taking effective measures to minimize the absorption of TCE into the man’s blood. Consequently, the man developed severe anxiety and depression from the exposure to the toxin, the case report said. “The damage had been done in this case, so the man has not improved,” Au Yeung said.

Anxiety is common condition in US

Anxiety disorders are among the common mental health problems in America. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), anxiety disorders affect 40 million people aged 18 and older (18.1 percent adults) in the country every year. Despite being a treatable condition, only 36.9 percent people with anxiety-related problems receive treatment.

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