A Candle Took My Eye Out

Killer waxPeople just don’t seem to get how harmful candle smoke is. At a bar or restaurant, most folks will just sit down and let the cancer-causing soot swirl around them without a second thought while they eat and drink.

I have written before about the poisons found in candle fumes and smoke, but no one seems to care. I guess it’s that hackneyed notion that candles are somehow “romantic” or “atmospheric,” or something like that. But people, let me tell you again in case you quit reading last time before you got my message. Candles are harmful. To everyone.

But let me try telling a more personal tale in the hope that some of you will read this note to the end and get the massage and maybe even begin to care about the damage you’re being subjected to by your bar and restaurant hosts.

Cancer anyone?I happen to be allergic to candle smoke, so I’m like a canary in a coal mine. I’m the first one to start sniffling, usually just seconds after I enter a room polluted by candles. Never mind that for the next three days I’ll suffer sinus headaches and maybe a skin rash as a result of my exposure to the toxins in the smoke.

So here’s my little tale that goes with the title above. Shelley and I went to a French restaurant that will remain nameless. Each table had a large candle in its center and every candle gave off a warm yellow-orange flicker. We ate our meal and it was delicious, but I felt the usual candle consequences coming on. Sniffling, itchy nose and skin. But then a further indignity hit. My left eye snapped shut reflexively because something painful had floated into it. I went to the restroom and investigated. There, under my lower eyelid, was a big chunk of soot (I said they were large candles didn’t I?). I washed it out, went back and finished dinner, and we went to our hotel and retired for the evening.

In the morning my left eye was filled with white flashing shapes of a sort I had never seen before and hope never to see again. Great circular arcs of light glimmered across my vision. Mingling into the flashes were tiny points of black, which drifted like they were floating in water. Over and around all this was a gray blurry veil, as if a curtain had been drawn over much of my left eye’s vision.

To make a long story not too long, a visit to my ophthalmologist confirmed that I had suffered what’s called a “detached vitreous.” The flashes occurred where the gelatinous vitreous humor of my eye was bumping into the back of my eye, where the retina sees the image of whatever you are looking at. This caused the weird arcing flashes. The tiny black dots, my ophthalmologist said, were red blood cells that hemorrhaged into my eye when the vitreous detached. The veil was–and still is months later–a shred of the membranes within the eye, now loose and just floating around.

Sound horrendous? It is. My vision will never be the same. Thanks candle. Thanks fancy French restaurant.

Now, my right eye is just fine. So, what happened to my left eye? Does anybody care to speculate? Let’s be Sherlock Holmes. Evidence: one day before vitreous detachment of left eye, candle soot falls into left eye. Hmmm. What’s the connection here? It’s sort of like, evidence: man falls dead, shot through the left eye, waitress observed lighting candles while carrying a smoking gun. Verdict: guilty.

Well, no murder was committed so maybe my example goes too far.

Or maybe not. The pamphlet, SickOfSoot_2011, prepared by the American Lung Association and Earthjustice, suggests that maybe it IS murder. You see, people in sooty environments are known to live shorter lives. Read the pamphlet if you’re unconvinced and consider that candle smoke is extremely close in its chemical composition to the exhaust of a diesel bus, which contains known carcinogens called PAHs. The EPA has laws against letting diesel exhaust get in people’s lungs but somehow nobody is complaining about candle smoke. You should.

About Tom Hopp

Thomas P Hopp is a scientist and author living in Seattle. He writes medical thrillers, natural disaster novels, and the Dinosaur Wars science fiction series.
This entry was posted in Candle Smokers, Real Science and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to A Candle Took My Eye Out

  1. Inferdramon says:

    Sorry about what happened to your eye.

    A friend of mine loves scented candles, but she is very cautious with them as she knows how dangerous they can be.

    As for me, I don’t really have much love for candles. I don’t hate them, and I’m fine so long as they are contained in a thick jar and away from anything flammable. But I don’t feel comfortable around candles for the most part. I don’t own any candles myself and I don’t really plan to.

  2. Tom Hopp says:

    Inferdramon, you’re smart not to use candles. Of course, like me, you probably have to breathe their poisons whenever you go to a nice restaurant. It’s remarkable. They let you choose what you want to eat from their menu, but they don’t let you choose whether to breathe carcinogens or not.

  3. Trish says:

    Sorry that you and your girlfriend had such a horrendous experience, and so sorry about your eye. I’m glad to know other people are beginning to speak out against the dangerous effects of candles. Yes, they are toxic to breathe. Equally disturbing, is the high rise in catastrophic home fires that can be traced to a lit candle. Firefighters will confirm that this rise in home fires correlates to the candle trend in home furnishing which really began to spread about 20 years ago. Sadly, a woman in Seattle (I believe) lost a child to catastrophic burn injuries, following a fire that began when she left a scented candle burning in the child’s room, unattended. The horror of that! While I sympathize with people who like the flickering glow of candle light, finding it conducive to atmosphere the same argument was once made by people who found cigarette smoke attractive and glamorous. Continue to speak out against candles.

  4. Tom Hopp says:

    Trish, that’s a sad story about a mom who lit a candle for her child and caused her baby’s death. You’ve got to wonder whether the oil-company execs who are pushing candles at every shopping mall care about the human costs of what they are doing.

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