Our People in Profile: Licensed Practice Nurse Danielle Linzel provides patients with chemical sensitivities a safe space to sweat
Danielle Linzel is a licensed practice nurse who is helping people with multiple chemical sensitivity improve their health and quality of life through a dry thermal (sauna) therapy program.
Linzel is part of a team at the Integrated Chronic Care Service (ICCS) in Fall River, Nova Scotia.
This team provides care for patients with complex and often unexplained health conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, functional neurologic and gastrointestinal syndromes, as well as environmental illnesses including multiple chemical sensitivity.
The ICCS is one of only a few places in Canada that treats patients who have multiple chemical sensitivity, which includes symptoms such as headaches, muscle and joint aches, fatigue, confusion, asthma, or rashes.
These symptoms are trigged by exposure to chemicals from items commonly found in our homes or workplaces, such as chemical fragrances in personal care products, cleaning supplies, detergents, plastics, carpeting, paint, as well as smoke or chemicals in the air.
“Many people with chemical sensitivities experience an ongoing heightened state of stress response; essentially their body is constantly in a fight or flight mode,” explained Linzel.
“They are easily triggered by chemicals that are everywhere in our environment, so they have difficulty relaxing. It’s hard for our bodies to maintain a healthy state of wellbeing when it is in a constant state of stress. Common symptoms that are seen with patients with multiple chemical sensitivity are the inability of the body to sweat and regulate body temperature.”
Dry thermal therapy is a structured process that is monitored by nursing, where patients sit in a sauna within their tolerance, to help regulate their body.
It’s a dry heat environment that can support sensory regulation through the individual developing body awareness, sweat, and temperature regulation.
Clinical outcomes for those who can tolerate the dry sauna heat include increased energy levels, decreased cognitive symptoms, lower blood pressure, decreased pain, the ability to better tolerate chemical exposures, and improved sleep quality.
Patients participate in dry thermal treatment twice a week for four to six weeks. Linzel checks each patient’s blood pressure, heart rate, oxygen saturation levels and body temperature before they go in to the sauna for their treatment, and then again once they are done.
“A significant number of patients are so surprised at how much better they feel even after their first 15 minute treatment. Many people report that as they progress through the treatment, they have better sustained energy levels and are able to better engage in their activities of daily living.”
For those who find that dry thermal treatment helps to manage the symptoms they experience, Linzel helps patients to identify where saunas are located in their community.
“Some patients will purchase their own saunas to manage their chronic pain and chemical sensitives, but for many it costs too much. There are saunas in community locations such as pools and gyms, as well as at some hotels. That can be a barrier, as the smell from the chlorine or bromide used in the pools usually is too much for someone with a chemical sensitivity, depending on where the sauna is located within the building. It’s a real challenge to find an accessible sauna.”
Linzel explains that patients express how very few places in their lives are safe (scent free).
“Our bodies need to rest and recuperate, to find balance, especially when regularly trigged by chemicals that are all around us – consider even a walk around your neighborhood and the scent coming from dryer vents, or all the scented products at a grocery store. Patients talk about how frustrating it is that you can’t control the air or the scents you are exposed to as much as you would like.”
That’s why Linzel finds it very rewarding to work as part of team at the ICCS, helping patients with complex chronic conditions to find ways to improve their health and wellbeing.
“What I really enjoy about my role is that I can show patients that they can actually start to feel better, and when they do, [sauna treatments are] something they can do long term to self-manage. It’s nice to be an agent of hope for patients who are often isolated and lacking support, to having someone understand what they are going through and validate that what they are feeling is real. Helping them to feel better and by providing an option to manage their chemical sensitivity long term feels very rewarding.”