- A 52-year-old hairdresser developed a life-threatening blood disorder called methemoglobinemia where the body doesn’t deliver oxygen to body tissue that needs it.
- If left untreated, methemoglobinemia can lead to death.
- The woman’s doctors believe her condition was the result of “Brazilian blowdry” treatments she’d been preparing for clients. The treatments contained the chemical formaldehyde.
- Signs a person may have exposure-related methemoglobinemia include blue-coloured skin, headaches, fatigue, shortness of breath, and feeling mentally off.
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A 52-year-old hairdresser developed a life-threatening blood disorder her doctors believe was the result of “Brazilian blowdry” treatments she’d been preparing for clients.
The case, published in the January issue of BMJ Case Reports, is the first of its kind.
The UK-based woman came to the emergency room with grey-looking skin after collapsing in her home. She told doctors that, before passing out, she felt abnormally tired and had no appetite for two weeks and also vomited and had trouble breathing the same day she collapsed.
On the way to the hospital, paramedics found the woman’s blood pressure was extremely low, so they gave her oxygen and once at the hospital, doctors did screenings of the woman’s heart to see if she had any existing heart problems that led to her collapse.
When they saw the hairdresser’s heart was in normal condition but her hands and ears turned dark purple, they decided to monitor her blood pressure with a needle in one of her veins.
That’s when one doctor noticed the woman had chocolate brown-coloured blood and realised she likely had methemoglobinemia, a blood condition where the body doesn’t deliver oxygen to body tissue that needs it, according to the National Institutes of Health.
If left untreated, methemoglobinemia can be deadly.
Methemoglobinemia is caused by exposure to chemicals, though it can be inherited in rare cases
When a person has methemoglobinemia, a portion of their hemoglobin, a protein that carries oxygen throughout the body to keep it alive, turns into methemoglobin, another type of protein.
The mutation means it’s unable to carry oxygen throughout the body. The more methemoglobin a person has in their body, the more severe their condition is.
Although rare, a person can genetically inherit methemoglobinemia. The most common cause of the condition, however, is exposure to toxic chemicals in local anesthetics like lidocaine, prilocaine, and benzocaine, some antibiotics, and nitrites added to meats to preserve them.
In the hairdresser’s case, her doctors believe toxic chemicals in the hair treatments she was preparing caused her methemoglobinemia, since she didn’t have a history of recreational drug use or any recent exposure to antibiotics, two other classic causes of methemoglobinemia.
According to the case report, the woman had prepared an “unusually high number” of Brazilian blowdry treatments, which are used to chemically smooth and straighten a person’s hair. (They didn’t specify how many.) The hairdresser said the treatments contained the chemical formaldehyde, which is common for Brazilian blowdry formulas, according the Environmental Working Group.
The doctors who wrote the case study said the hairdresser is the first recorded case of a person developing methemoglobinemia from a beauty product. Previous exposure-related methemoglobinemia cases came from people who worked with pharmaceuticals, rubber manufacturing, electronics disposal, and pesticides, according to the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
Doctors treated the hairdresser with an injection that reversed her methemoglobinemia
To treat the woman, doctors gave her a 1 milligram injection of methylene blue, a drug designed specifically to treat methemoglobinemia that’s also available in an oral form.
After 30 minutes receiving the treatment, the hairdresser’s symptoms began to go away and the only side effect was bright green urine from the methylene blue.
A day following her treatment, the hairdresse was well enough to leave the intensive care unit and doctors said she didn’t sustain any permanent organ damage from her condition. Three days later, she was able to go home.
Signs a person may have exposure-related methemoglobinemia include blue-coloured skin, headaches, fatigue, shortness of breath, and feeling mentally off. If a person notices these symptoms, they should see a doctor right away to prevent the condition from potentially escalating to a seizure or death.
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