Dr. Nicole Sundene, NMD
"Is my house on fire?!?!" I panicked as I opened my front door to smoke. There was a really bad burning smell. I realized that something was burning and on fire in my home!! What was on fire? What was causing this horrible smell? It smelled like the Cadaver lab in medical school mixed with smoke. I could not decide which one. Either something died or something plastic was on fire.
Immediately I ran to check my pets first to make sure they were all okay, they were thankfully fine. Then I began searching for the source of the burning smell. I could not seem to find it. Everywhere I went it smelled really bad but nowhere I could see any flames or burning. I began to panic that my appliances were on fire and went through my house to unplug everything. But it still smelled bad. I opened windows and turned on fans to try to clear the air. It still smelled.
This is when I turned to Dr. Google who suggested something in my wiring or AC was on fire. That is when I really freaked out!
I ran outside in the middle of the night to turn off all my circuit breakers as I worried that maybe something in the wiring had caught on fire or my AC system was on fire.
Still no improvement.
I tried to fall asleep with the revolting smell and eventually did but then woke up in a complete panic at 4 am thinking I had made a mistake by not calling the Fire department. I was seeing more smoke in my bedroom. Something was definitely on fire. Something was clearly burning in my home and I could not find the source of the smell.
I could not believe I was calling 911 to my house but I did not know what else to do and did not want to leave for work with a potential fire. Shaking with stress I dialed 911. While I have called 911 many times in my career for patients, I have thankfully never had to do it for myself. The operator reassured me it was the right thing to do and said the fire department would be on its way soon.
Thankfully the fire department showed up 4 minutes later to investigate the burning smell. They used a machine to determine there was nothing actively burning and confirmed I had done everything correctly turning things off and suggested I follow up with an AC repairman and an electrician.
Happy I was not in any immediate danger, I began to call multiple experts to my home to figure out the cause of the smoke and burning smell. I began to spray orange air freshener everywhere to cover up the smell.
First, I had the AC repairman show up and he immediately confirmed that the AC was completely fine, despite replacing a part that needed to be fixed he did not think that was the cause of the burning smell and said everything was normal. He could not smell the burning smell because I had sprayed so much orange air freshener to cover it up.
I stopped spraying the air freshener to cover up the smell, as I realized that was making it nearly impossible for the experts to help me.
Next, I called an electrician to have him come to my house and check all the circuit breakers, appliances, and outlets. He meticulously went through everything, unscrewed every outlet, every light switch to ensure there was not a wiring issue... and also could not figure it out. He said everything was fine and had no clue what the smell was. But he did at least tell me that he could smell it too….
Have I gone crazy?
No, the electrician can smell it and also cannot figure it out. So you can't be crazy. You are not the only one that can smell it.
Multiple experts and specialists had been to my home and told me everything was FINE and NORMAL. I began to worry that I was going crazy. As a menopause doctor, I know that when women shift into menopause their sense of smell can change. I told myself maybe this is just the beginning signs of menopause and that I probably need something stronger than flaxseeds and some progesterone cream and I mentally committed to getting my hormones checked.
Finally, out of utter desperation, I put my 10-year-old child to the task when she got home from school. I decided I was over-complicating the problem with too many experts stuck in their heads and not seeing the "Forest for the trees," and needed a fresh young unbiased brain….and if she found nothing wrong I would concede to the fact I had either A) Lost my mind or B) Needed an estrogen cream for my new bizarre menopausal hypersensitivity to smells.
She walked into my bedroom and took 2 sniffs and 5 steps before pointing up at the ceiling.
“Mom, it's the ceiling fan!”
Sure enough, the motor of the ceiling fan had burnt up which is why I had seen so much smoke and explained the horrible burning plastic smell.
But the problem with all the experts that I hired to help me is that they weren’t looking at the ceiling….they were looking at the ground and the outlets. They were worried about an electrical fire in the walls. We were all so distracted by the outlets, the AC, and the appliances that we forgot to check for things that could be burning on the ceiling!!
I had also unwittingly made it MORE difficult for them to help me by covering up the smoke smell with air freshener.
I laughed when I realized it was THAT simple and then I realized...this is how a lot of my female patients feel with their hormones. I have heard many similar tails of whoa from my hormone patients. Women with hormone imbalance often see multiple experts and specialists to no avail and become frustrated. Some doctors even tell them it is all in their heads and prescribe anti-depressants.
Women often feel shamed and even ridiculed for complaining of their hormone imbalance symptoms. So I wanted to share this story as a PSA to help bring awareness to women. Women need to know that it is totally normal to some degree to have imbalanced hormones. It is inevitable for women to go through Menopause and Perimenopause.
Women with hormone imbalances such as Perimenopause, Menopause, PMS, Adrenal Fatigue, PCOS, Hashimotos, and Hypothyroidism often also get lost in a very similar mysterious silent world of hell. Many women come to me after seeing multiple specialists to no avail and begin to question if they have gone crazy just like I did trying so hard to find the cause of the burning smell. I was ready to even concede and decided I HAD gone crazy….
But the one thing I have learned from my Holistic Psychiatry and Hormone practice over fifteen years is that truly "crazy" people never bother to question if they have gone crazy. So if you are stopping to think you have gone crazy while suffering from an annoying myriad of symptoms from hormone imbalance then the odds are that you are NOT actually crazy. If you are questioning if you are a hypochondriac, you are likely not a hypochondriac.
In Latin, the root word for Hysterectomy is Hysteria. Hysteria is the ancient word used to describe the uterus! Because hormone imbalance can truly make women feel hysterical! Rest assured there are answers we just need to keep looking and check the right labs.
Many of my hormone patients before they see me often end up at a Psychiatrist or Psychologist also thinking they have gone crazy...many times I have been told this same sort of tale about their symptoms and the journey they have been on between their Internist, Endocrinologist, Cardiologist, Gastroenterologist and Psychologist before they think to hire me to investigate the ROOT CAUSE of their symptoms and we diagnose the hormone imbalance.
Women bring me a list of labs and reports from other doctors trying to figure their problems out yet have failed. Every day they tell me some other doctor has already "checked all their hormones and they are fine," when only 2 lab tests have been conducted to check their hormones and not the typical 4-5 pages of hormone labs that I always order to start with.
This is about as helpful as doing a mammogram on just one breast and assuming the other breast is fine!
But rest assured when it comes to hormones, as a Hormone Doctor I always think outside the box and look at the big picture so we can treat the cause. We must treat the cause with hormone imbalance or we will continue to struggle just as I did searching for the cause of the bad smell. Imbalanced female hormones are just as annoying and frustrating as a noxious smell of burning plastic.
Once we understand the unique hormone profile of each patient we can generally put them on a system with Naturopathic medicine that works my way out of a job….why is that? Because we are treating the cause. And when we can identify and treat the cause then we no longer need to keep spraying air freshener and wasting money on consultants that can’t properly help us.
So I hope you have learned 3 things from my frustrating story:
#1 We need to treat the cause. To treat the cause we must find the cause.
#2 I am the type of doctor that will keep investigating the cause and will not give up on you...until I know what the problem is….just like I didn’t give up on the ceiling fan…. My inquiring mind always wants to know what is wrong with each unique hormone patient that comes my way and I will meticulously keep working for you even if we need to think outside the box.
#3 Masking symptoms does not provide lasting results and makes it harder for your experts to find the cause. Sometimes when we cover up a “smell” or symptom with a prescription drug as I did with the air freshener, it actually makes it more difficult to study the symptom's pattern and determine the ROOT CAUSE.
When we cover up symptoms with prescription drugs we don’t know what is causing the symptoms because we are suppressing symptoms, and that makes it hard to study the pattern of the symptoms.
Please share this story my story with as many women as you can, because at some point they are going to reach hormone imbalance in their 40's or 50's and need to know ahead of time that they have not gone crazy. Hormone imbalance is totally normal, and a normal phase of every woman's life. With proper Hormone Testing we can determine the cause, especially when women develop a bunch of random symptoms at once.
Women deserve to have the best support during these hormonal transitions and should not have all their symptoms poo-pooed and told they have gone crazy and put on an anti-depressant. Some women even commit suicide from severe hormone imbalance from PMS, Postpartum Depression and Menopause, so we can preventively save women's lives by properly educating them on hormone imbalance!
If you need an experienced Naturopathic Doctor to help you with your hormones and help you feel AWESOME again, simply pop over to my SCHEDULE page to treat yourself to a Naturopathic visit! I promise to keep working as your hormone detective until we receive answers.
Dr. Nicole Sundene
Dr. Sundene is a Naturopathic Doctor in Scottsdale, Arizona, and is a Female Hormone Expert in Women's Health and Bioidentical Hormones. She specializes in Holistic Women's Health for Menopause, Thyroid, Hashimotos, PMS, Perimenopause, Autoimmune, Postpartum, Chronic Fatigue, Depression, Anxiety, Food Allergies, Digestion, Dermatology, Acne, Psoriasis, Eczema, and Adrenal Hormonal Conditions. In 1999 she began working for a Hormone Doctor prior to starting Naturopathic Medical School. With over 23 years of experience in both Prescription and Natural women's health and hormones, she presents to women the best-integrated health solutions for their Chronic Disease. She has been an Herbalist for over 28 years and enjoys teaching women how to use herbs to balance their hormones, nutrition and optimize their health. Dr. Sundene relies on blood testing for her hormone metrics. The hormone testing is covered per the patient's insurance plan (not Medicaid) and conducted at certain points in the woman's menstrual cycle. To learn more about Hormone Testing for Women Visit: Bioidentical Hormones. Follow Dr. Sundene on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook for more tips on Women's Health, Female Hormones, and Naturopathy!