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Engineer has anxiety after being exposed to a chemical

A naval engineer who graduated top of his classes has crippling anxiety due to five years of exposure to a chemical used to clean and degrease vehicles and aircrafts.

The unnamed man, 24, believed to be from Manchester, was previously fit and healthy but now requires an ever-increasing dose of 11 pills every day to manage his anxiety and depression, which are not expected to improve for at least 20 years.

He also self-medicates for his condition, which was triggered by a week-long alcohol binge, with up to three bottles of wine a day.

In an official statement the patient said: ‘We (the naval engineering crew) used trichloroethylene [TCE or trike] for cleaning and degreasing almost every day. We sprayed it from a can onto a cloth and every[one] who used it seemed to get “high” from the fumes.

‘I was regularly overcome to the point of feeling dizzy by trike.’

The Navy has accepted full legal responsibility for the patient’s condition.  

A naval engineer who graduated top of his classes has crippling anxiety due to five years of exposure to a chemical used to clean and degrease vehicles (stock)


Trichloroethylene (TCE), also known as trike, is mainly used for cleaning and degreasing metal.

The colourless liquid solvent was previously used as an anaesthetic and in dry cleaning.  

Inhaling TCE can cause excitement, dizziness, headaches, nausea and vomiting followed by drowsiness and coma.

Severe exposures can cause heart problems and even death.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified TCE as having the ability to cause cancer.

TCE also causes tremors and irritates the nerve that sends signals from the brain to the face, which may have caused the tingling sensation the patient experienced.

Although evidence is limited, it is also thought to alter chemical reactions in the brain, which could affect mood.

Some 16 per cent of people exposed to such solvents seek treatment, with psychiatric symptoms worsening the longer patients are exposed.

Source: Public Health England 

Persistent and debilitating anxiety         

The patient went to hospital complaining of suffering with shakes, a tight chest, blurry vision and hyperventilation, as well as headache and a tingling sensation on the right side of his face, according to BMJ Case Reports. 

He had no personal or family history of ill health, as well as no illicit drug use or regular, excessive alcohol binges.

Blood tests, physical examinations and MRI scans all came back clear. 

The patient was initially diagnosed with delirium tremens, which is defined as confusion and hyperactivity after severe alcohol withdrawal, and treated with the sedative chlordiazepoxide.

He was discharged two weeks later when his symptoms appeared to improve.

Yet, over the next few months his anxiety returned and became increasingly severe until it was persistent and debilitating. 

The recommended antidepressant paroxetine made his symptoms worse. Therefore, the patient began taking the antidepressant clomipramine and the sedative diazepam.

Delay in treatment worsened condition 

After being assessed by a specialist in mental health disorders relating to the nervous system, it was discovered the patient was suffering the effects of five years of TCE exposure.

He was diagnosed with ‘organic anxiety secondary to solvent neurotoxicity’. 

As it was initially unclear what the patient was suffering from, there was a delay in treatment, as well as him continuing to be exposed to TCE.

Doctors from the Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS Trust in Manchester, where the patient is believed to have been treated, think this case indicates medics should consider patients’ occupations when diagnosing anxiety.