Long-Term Immunologic Sequelae Secondary to Tea Tree Oil Allergic Contact Dermatitis

A long time ago, somebody (I forget who, but I think it was a family that is very close to my own family; they were classmates of my parents in medical school) gave me a small sampler set of four or five men’s cologne. I enjoyed using them once in a while, and noticed that within this small collection there were definite differences. One seemed to be floral; another seemed to be based on spices; and another seemed to be more musky, more animal. The colognes were not labeled, but I did Google searches and was able to identify most of them online (I have since forgotten what each of them were!).

Then one day (probably 2001 or 2002) I noticed a patch of dry skin, and self-diagnosed myself with ringworm, which I had when I was a child, and which is very easily treated with antifungal ointments. Instead of using conventional medicine, for some reason I thought I’d try “alternative medicine” and treat it with topical tea tree oil. The patch of dry skin seemed to redden, and I thought that maybe the ringworm was getting worse. So I kept applying the tea tree oil. The reddened skin got even redder. I kept applying the tea tree oil. The very red skin started to blister and ooze. Finally, I figured out what was going on. The ringworm wasn’t getting worse. It was the tea tree oil itself that was causing the skin reaction. I immediately stopped applying the tea tree oil, and my skin cleared up completely. And the ringworm was gone.

But the tea tree oil was not through with me. I discovered that ever since then, I am allergic to my colognes; the tea tree oil had induced some sort cross-sensitivity to complex aromatic (the word evokes carbon rings, with alternating double bonds) organic compounds. And I found that I could no longer use the brand of antiperspirant that I had been using; now I use a hypoallergenic one. Years later, I looked up tea tree oil on PubMed (the national database of peer-reviewed biomedical research literature, and discovered a case report that described my case almost exactly. This case report included graphic photos that looked very much like the skin reaction I experienced. Interestingly, the patient in the case report was Chinese, and I am part Chinese; I wonder whether certain ethnic groups are especially sensitive to tea tree oil.

And years later, every once in a while, I’ll try my old brand of antiperspirant. I am still allergic to it. The immune system can remember for a long time; it has memory cells.

One more tangential link in this Thought Chain: memory cells makes me think of the song Memory, the most famous number from the musical Cats.

Eight Orphan Ducklings

This past April 29, my mother telephoned from Fort Myers. Earlier that day, she had heard a racket coming from the small retention lake that borders property where she and my father live. She went out to the lake shore and saw feathers, but no dead body. And she saw eight little ducklings. She figured that some carnivore had caught the mother duck, and now the eight ducklings were orphaned. She tried to feed them (I think with crackers or bread crumbs), but the ducklings didn’t let her come very close.

The next day, after a few calls, she obtained a consult from the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW). A volunteer couple from Maine arrived with binoculars and a camera, and they documented the orphaned baby ducklings, still very young and fluffy. An adult Muscovy duck appeared for a few minutes, but then left; later, another duck appeared, as well as two immature tricolored blue herons.

The CROW volunteers said that a mature duck might adopt the orphan ducklings, but otherwise their advice was to leave the ducklings alone; the ducklings would fend for themselves, finding food among the wild grasses. The CROW volunteers warned that only 40% of these orphans will survive. The water in the retention lake is receding, and soon the water will be too shallow for the ducklings; and then predator birds will come for them. This is what happens in nature.

Later that evening, my mother met some neighbors who said they had seen a 200-lb (“small”) black/brown bear only a few feet from their car. My mother has seen unfamiliar animal droppings in the back outside the lanai, and now thinks that it was a bear that attacked and killed the mother duck.

The ducklings are dark brown with a yellow breast; it remains to be determined what species of duck they are. They “peep” loudly, are beginning to separate into smaller groups, and sometimes walk onto the embankment. They look like they’re doing well, so my mother will let them look for food themselves.

Her camera is currently malfunctioning, so she has no pictures yet.

Charity Work in Romania

My friend K.C. was in Romania, from April 17 to 27. Along with some other volunteers, she was there doing charity work in a poor neighborhood village named Tarlungeni in which many Roma families live, near the city of Brasov. The volunteers helped raise (not raze!) two houses for poor families. This work was done through the agency of the Fundatia pentru Asistenta Sociala si Tineret (FAST, or the Foundation for Social Assistance and Youth).

The lucky families selected for whom a house would be built are based solely on need, e.g., number of children, number of caregivers (usually the parents or grandparents), possible acute health conditions. When a family is chosen, they must agree for their children to attend the Ziurel community center for educational purposes, and the man of the house (if there is one) must help with building the house.

Of course, in addition to the charity work, K.C. had the opportunity to explore Brasov and surrounding environs. Below are some photos she shared with me.

Outside the community center, 'New Day'

Outside the community center, 'New Day'

Arrival at Mica's (Grandma's)

Arrival at Mica's (Grandma's)

All eggs in one basket [Hand-painted Easter eggs for Orthodox Easter]

'All Eggs In One Basket' - hand-painted Easter eggs for Orthodox Easter

Family No. 3

Portrait of Family No. 3

Atop Mt. Tampa - K.C. and other volunteers

Atop Mt. Tampa - K.C. and other volunteers

Aerial View of Brasov, Romania

View of Brasov from 1600 Feet (atop Mt. Tampa)

Old City Hall, Brasov

Old City Hall, Brasov

At the house, day 1

At House No. 1, Day 1

Hard at work

Hard At Work

Village kids

Village Kids

Former house for a family of 10  - note incongruous satellite dish

Former house for a family of 10

The neighborhood

The Neighborhood

House In Progress

House In Progress (House No. 1)

Family for whom the house was built

Family for whom the house was built


Supervising drywall installation (House No. 2)

End of the project

End of the project (House No. 1)

Bran Castle, of Dracula lore

Bran Castle, of Dracula Lore