Environmental illness in your life
Environmental Illness, also known as Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS), Multiple Chemical Intolerance, Chemical Sensitivity, and 21st Century Illness, is described by Claudia S. Miller, M.D., M.S., as “… a name given to a syndrome in which a sufferer experiences multiple symptoms upon exposure to minute amounts of everyday chemicals.”
The condition is chronic and can be initiated by either one acute exposure to highly toxic chemicals (i.e.: 9/11, the Gulf War) or by exposure to low levels of toxins over a long period of time (i.e.: mold, pesticides, toxic building materials).
EI is basically a person’s intolerance to one or more substances, and there are many offenders. Here are a few of them: pesticides, synthetic fragrances (personal colognes, aftershaves, perfumes), nail polish, household cleaning products, fabric softeners, air fresheners, dryer sheets, natural gas, gasoline, vehicle exhaust, solvents (dry cleaning, acetone, benzene), fire retardants, particle board and plywood that have glues/adhesives (formaldehyde), inks, soft plastics (bags), newspapers/magazines, paint, varnish, food additives and preservatives, dust, dust mites, dander, pollen, mold and mildew. Many of these aforementioned items are found in new carpet, furniture, apparel, and automobiles. Some EI sufferers also become sensitive to electronics (i.e.: computers, TVs, portable and cell phones).
Symptoms include, but are not limited to:
1) Toxic encephalopathy – reduced blood flow to brain; (“brain fog” – difficulty remembering things, confusion; headaches)
2) Chemically induced reactive airway disease (asthma like symptoms).
3) Immunological theories – decreased immunity or increased reaction like auto-immune disease (MS, Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis).
4) Autonomic nervous system dysfunction – fast heart beat upon standing; sedation after eating; electrical sensitivity.
5) Endocrine abnormalities – adrenal and thyroid deficiencies
<www.ei-resource.org> Dr. Lisa Nagy, M.D
How can you prevent EI?
The first and foremost advice seems to be to simply “avoid triggers.”
According to Dr. Lisa Nagy, M.D., founder of the Preventive and Environmental Health Alliance, the most common EI culprits are toxic mold, pesticides, solvents and heavy metals in water, air, or home. When possible, they should be removed or avoided completely. She says it’s sometimes necessary to leave one’s clothing and furniture behind (when you move) because the mold toxins can be permanently absorbed in the clothes and furniture.
Nagy believes everyone deserves to get well. “People have to use their nose as a guide to help them make decisions as to where to live and work. If you walk into a house that’s beautiful but smells musty, walk out. If the new carpeting in your office gives you a headache, heed your body’s message and stay away. If you stay, your nose will get used to the toxic smell after a day or so, but it’s after a period of time of being exposed that your body can get sick.”
Gorelick provides her clients with a plethora of resources. One of her handouts helps those recently diagnosed with EI make healthy changes in their lives and surroundings. Here are some of her suggestions:
• Eat unprocessed and organic food whenever possible.
• Use fragrance-free personal care products.
• Use non-toxic, fragrance-free cleaning and laundry products.
• Have your air ducts cleaned.
• Put a Hepa filter on your furnace.
• Put an air purifier (non-ozone emitting) in your bedroom.
• Clean your home/office often, using a vacuum with a Hepa filter.
• Keep humidity below 50% and clean up all excess moisture immediately.
• Drink and shower in water that has been filtered/purified
• Store any new items that may contain chemicals, fragrances, adhesives, etc., outside or in your garage for 30 days before bringing them inside, so they can let off gas.
• Use non-toxic, low- or no-VOC (volatile organic compounds) building materials, finishes and furnishings when remodeling
• Do not use air fresheners, dryer sheets or scented (petroleum based) candles
• If clothes or fabrics have to be dry cleaned, be sure to use natural cleaners.
• Avoid (if possible) moving into a newly-built home or apartment unless it is built specifically for you with healthy building standards in place.
What does the future of EI look like?
The number of EI cases is only going to increase as we continue to expose ourselves to multiple toxins, most of which are invisible, and many of which have simply become part of our daily existence. As more and more toxins are absorbed by our bodies, they can reach critical mass and begin to break down our operating systems. The body becomes a virtual deck of cards, leaving the person weak and vulnerable.
EI is slowly becoming recognized as a legitimate illness among holistic health practitioners. But it has a way to go before it becomes an “accepted and approved” illness in our mainstream health care system. Similar to Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which took years to receive validation as legitimate diseases, EI is slow to gain acceptance. Why? Health care practitioners are not yet comfortable linking causes to symptoms. According to Miller, this is due in part to the phenomenon known as masking. “A masked individual is subject to multiple environmental exposures, which can make the person’s specific sensitivities nearly impossible to detect (until he or she is isolated and returned to a baseline state, or ‘unmasked’). Masking hides the relationship between symptoms and exposures. Trying to recognize individual triggers (…) is like trying to hear a pin drop in a noisy room.”
Sufferers are often told their symptoms are in their head and not real. In some cases, people get some of their symptoms treated while others are ignored. As more and more medications are given to combat more and more symptoms, those with EI can develop allergic reactions to the medications which further weakens the immune system. Until health practitioners begin to examine a person’s surroundings for potential offenders, symptoms will continue to be treated blindly.
Because EI is not well recognized by much of the medical community, research dollars have not been designated to the study of this disease, which in turn means health practitioners tend not to know about it, or do not consider it a legitimate disease.
Miller says Multiple Chemical Sensitivity “…tends to evoke a negative, knee-jerk response from medical practitioners and researchers.”
Nagy is currently working on getting the “condition” accepted. She is communicating with officials at the American Medical Association (AMA), and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), and with congressional leaders, trying to increase awareness and get insurance companies to fund treatments. For instance, if the allergy testing system PNN (Provocation and Neutralization) is approved by Medicare, then the insurance companies will follow and doctors will begin using the method.
So there is hope on the horizon for those living with EI. As awareness and acceptance increase, funds will follow and treatments will improve and become more readily available. Now more than ever, it’s important to think about the spaces in which you and your loved ones live, work, play and sleep. And if do live with EI, you know you’re not alone.
Books and Newsletters:
Living with Environmental Illness, by Stephen Edelson Dr. Nagy recommends this as the first book a newly-diagnosed sufferer should read. She says it’s “easy and inexpensive,” and she finds the pages on the ‘oasis bedroom’ to be particularly informative.
Multiple Chemical Sensitivity – A Survival Guide
By Pamela Reed Gibson, PhD
Tired or Toxic By Sherry Rogers
Homes That Heal, And Those That Don’t By Athena Thompson
What’s Toxic, What’s Not By Dr. Gary Ginsberg and Brian Toal
Naturally Clean By Jeffrey Hollander
Our Toxic Times (monthly newsletter) www.ciin.org
Human Ecology Action League (quarterly newsletter) www.healnatl.org
Environmental Health Center of Dallas <<www.ehcd.com>> Medical facility created to treat patients (more than 30,000 have been treated) with EI.
The American Academy of Environmental Medicine <<www.aaem.org>> This is a great resource when seeking a physician who specializes in treating Environmental Illness
Lisa Lavine Nagy, M.D. Vineyard Environmental Health President, Preventive and Environmental Health Alliance www.environmentalmedicine.info
Lisa Gorelick, RN, BS Founder, Healthier Home, Healthier You 414.228.1373
Adam Wians – Microbiologist IAQ Diagnostics 414.766.0740