DEAR ABBY: I had to write after reading the letter about "Granny Clair" who reeks of mothballs. My mother's home was also filled with mothballs. All her clothing smelled like mothballs, too. About 15 years ago, she experienced bad vertigo and nausea. One doctor told her it was her inner ear. Another told her it was her eyes.
Three years ago, we visited her in winter while the house was all closed up. One morning I awoke with so much dizziness and nausea I could hardly lift my head. When I returned to California, I mentioned it to my doctor, who told me I had been poisoned by the mothballs. Later, my mother had to move to a convalescent home. After six months of living there, her vertigo disappeared.
Please let people who use mothballs know they should be careful how they use them. We're lucky neither of us died from it. -- DARLENE IN MISSION VIEJO, CALIF.
DEAR DARLENE: Thank you for the warning. I'm sure more than a few people will be surprised to learn that mothballs can be toxic to humans. (I was.) Read on:
DEAR ABBY: I'm very concerned about that 75-year-old grandmother whose house is permeated with the smell of mothballs. The main component of mothballs is naphthalene, an aromatic hydrocarbon, which can cause all sorts of neurological problems, as well as hemolytic anemia, kidney and liver damage and cataracts. Remember, this is a poison that is meant to kill insects, and humans or other mammals are not immune to its effects.
Other aromatic hydrocarbons include benzene, gasoline, phenol, styrene, toluene and xylene, which are known to cause neurological damage.
I would not take Granny Claire to an ear, nose and throat specialist. I'd take her immediately to her internist and explain the situation so that the proper blood tests can be administered. -- WORRIED ABOUT GRANNY'S HEALTH IN IRVINE, CALIF.
DEAR WORRIED: Good grief! I will contact the woman's relative immediately and make sure that it's done.
DEAR ABBY: I'm deeply worried about the elderly woman who smells of mothballs. There are warnings on the container about their toxicity and the danger of too much exposure to the vapors, which she is receiving if her clothes aren't aired out thoroughly before they are worn. She may be unaware of the danger, and feel that "if a little is good, a lot is better," which is common in older people who are unaware of the downside of pesticides.
Maybe one of her trusted relatives can work with her to limit the mothball use to one closed trunk, and help her air out her house and clothing. If there is a moth problem, there are other less toxic ways to get rid of the pests.
Thanks for helping to educate a lot of people today. Pesticides, including such common "harmless" ones as mothballs, must be treated with respect. -- JERI, AN R.N. IN MICHIGAN
DEAR JERI: I learn from my readers every day. I'm pleased to help.
DEAR ABBY: I bought a rubber garbage container with a tight-fitting lid. I roll my clothes so they'll take less space and fill it halfway up. On top of them I place a sheet of fabric softener or perfumed soap bars. Then I put the remaining clothes into the container, top them with another sheet of fabric softener and put on the lid. I never find any insects or critters later. I am a contemporary of "Granny Claire's" and hope she'll take my advice. -- EVONNE IN DENVER