What is Chemical Sensitivity?
Chemical sensitivity is an
acquired condition in which people experience a number of various
symptoms and other health effects from exposure to chemicals in
small amounts that do not seem to bother other people. Continued
exposure to chemicals usually causes reactions to occur at
increasingly lower levels of exposure.
Recent studies show that 15% of Americans
are sensitive to common chemicals and the numbers are growing.
Solvents, paints, pesticides (including herbicides), disinfectants
and other cleaning agents, propane and natural gas, auto and truck
exhaust, office and industrial air pollution, air fresheners,
fragrances, fabric softeners, detergents, hair spray, after-shave
lotions and colognes all contain chemicals which can cause chemical
sensitivity and trigger asthma and allergies.
But chemical sensitivity is not just an
allergy but is a more complex and far-reaching condition.
Chemically sensitive people’s immune, nervous, digestive, and
endocrine systems tend to become debilitated over time so they
develop secondary problems which include food and traditional
inhalant allergies as well as autoimmune problems. But an allergy is
a mistaken immune-system reaction to a basically benign
substance--pollen, weeds, dust, corn, milk--while chemically
sensitive people react to many modern chemicals which are toxic, in
varying amounts, to everyone.
Chemical sensitivity is specifically
recognized as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Though some chemically sensitive people are so disabled they are
virtually prisoners in their own homes, there are many others who
are mildly or moderately affected who can still function in society
as long as they have a “safe” room or house to detox in a certain
number of hours per day.
DO I HAVE CHEMICAL SENSITIVITY?
Because chemicals can affect so many organ
systems--including the neurological, cardiovascular, endocrine,
respiratory, and digestive system--, symptoms can vary widely from
person to person. Symptoms can include brain fog and short-term
memory loss, fatigue, insomnia, muscle aches and pains, low-grade
infections, yeast infections, headaches, dizziness, nausea, and
breathing problems. Many believe chemical sensitivity can also be a
component of candida–related syndrome, chronic fatigue,
sick-building syndrome, electrical sensitivity, Gulf War Syndrome,
fibromyalgia, and cancer. Have you noticed symptoms from or do you
dislike the smell of perfume, hairspray, after-shave, paint,
cleaning products, tobacco smoke, new carpeting, new cars, or
gasoline? Find an environmental health specialist who can help you
discover whether you are chemically sensitive or not.
WHAT CAUSES CHEMICAL SENSITIVITY?
For some of us it was a single large chemical
exposure (to pesticides, solvents, heavy metals, etc.), which
triggered our decline in health and subsequent chemical
sensitivities. For others it was smaller insidious chemical
exposures over a long period of time, at work or at home, which may
have caused chemical sensitivities. Yet, for others it was an
exposure to mold in their home or workplace or moving into a new or
renovated home or office. Over time some of us become sensitive to
more substances than the original trigger and/or at lower doses.
Although therapies that strengthen the body
and encourage the release of toxins can provide symptomatic relief
in some cases, the only known way to arrest or reverse the progress
of chemical sensitivity is to avoid all toxic exposures. “Because
the effects of chemical exposures are cumulative, patients will not
get better if continually or frequently exposed to chemicals in
their environment.” Grace Ziem, M.D.
Everyone has a different genetic make-up,
which will make him or her more or less susceptible to chemicals and
everyone’s detox systems vary in the amount of toxins they can detox
before experiencing symptoms. Our total body load—how many toxins we
have accumulated over our life—is unique to each of us. And we each
have a different size rain barrel—the amount of toxins our body can
deal with before experiencing symptoms of toxic overload.
So the first and most important thing you can
do to alleviate symptoms is to practice avoidance. Avoid cigarette
smoke, pesticides, paints, new carpets, and new building materials.
Stay away from ink fumes from printers, faxes, and copy machines.
Some people initially cannot withstand print in new books or
magazines and read them only outside or after they have aired out or
by using a reading box. Avoid exhaust fumes, fragrance from
perfumes, colognes and other personal care products, and air
fresheners. Use safer unscented soaps, detergents, shampoos,
after-shave lotions, and cleaning products. Avoid dry-cleaned
clothes or hang them out for a few days. Refer to our section on
Safer Alternatives and Resources.
Second, find an environmental physician who
will help you find out what is causing your symptoms. See our
Third, try alternative therapies such as
massage, chiropractic, and homeopathy, all of which have helped many
with chemical sensitivities. Also, using medically supervised
detoxification protocols with saunas, supplements, enemas, and
exercise have improved many people’s health.
Fourth, change your diet. Find out which foods
you are allergic to and avoid them. Use the rotation diet, the
macrobiotic diet, or the gluten-free diet or a combination of all
Eat simple unprocessed organic foods.
We are all different: experiment and find what works best for you.