The term, Environmental Illness, is generally used to describe a number of mild to severe health responses to the environment, whether it be such things as: food, plants, animals, smoke, smog, chemicals or electromagnetic fields.
Most people are familiar with allergies to our surroundings that can range from mild seasonal allergies to trees and grasses to severe anaphylaxis to peanuts. Many people even know how asthma is a closing of the airways that can be triggered by many different substances. Others may even experience or know someone who has negative, physical reactions to such things as cigarette smoke, diesel fumes, solvents, paints, bleach, strong perfumes or standing in the laundry isle too long.
Even so, many seemed perplexed by the millions who also report various adverse health effects when being exposed to pesticides, new furniture, carpet or clothing, as well as lower levels of chemicals in cleaning products, perfumes, fragrances and everyday products. In fact, we often do not realize how pervasive synthetic fragrances can be when they are not only used for perfumes, candles and air fresheners, but also personal care products such as laundry detergents, fabric softeners, dryer sheets, shampoo, soap, lotion, hair spray, shaving cream, deodorant and many more.
Millions have reported living with various Environmental Illnesses, often called Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS), Toxic Injury, Chemical Injury and/or Toxic Encephalopathy.
Although many living with asthma and allergies may also react to chemicals, smoke, exhaust, smog and fragrances, conditions such as MCS do not fall under the category of allergies. Technically, an allergy is an IgE response to a substance in which antihistamines are released into the blood stream. On the other hand, the term “sensitivities” is an actual medical term used to describe physical responses of the body that do not include allergies.
People often think this is unusual and rare. However, in a survey by the California Health Service Department in 1996, found that 15.9% reported being “allergic” or “unusually sensitive to everyday chemicals” (Kreutzer). With over 310 million Americans in 2010, that would translate into over 49 million Americans consider themselves to have a serious problem with normal, daily products.
That’s not all, in 2009, a study found that, “…30.5% of the general population reported scented products on others irritating, 19% reported adverse health effects from air fresheners, and 10.9% reported irritation by scented laundry products vented outside” (Caress and Steinemann).
In addition, it is suspected that many more may possibly live with these environmental conditions, but do not make the connection between the culprit and their symptoms. Therefore, it is hard to determine exactly how many more peoples’ health complaints are related.
Some of the symptoms reported with such conditions as MCS range from mild to debilitating coughing, difficulty breathing, closing of the airways, sneezing, nausea, headaches, dizziness, weakness, numbness, fatigue, flu-like symptoms, pain, joint swelling, migraines, vertigo, fainting, behavioral and mood changes, depression, hormone dysfunctions, memory loss, cognitive dysfunctions, paralysis, seizures, swelling of the brain and more.
As you imagine, people living with these conditions often experience limited access into public places, issues at work and inability to attend functions with friends and family. Sadly, these barriers can lead to loneliness, isolation and feeling abandoned by loved ones who choose not forgo the fragrances that cause these problems.
Most people living with these reactions report they developed over time with normal use of such things as cleaning products, air fresheners, perfumes and/or personal care products. Some say it was the result of a large sudden exposure. Either way, most agree that it was as if one day they didn’t think twice about fragrances, then suddenly they had mild to severe problems with them.
According to the project, Chemical Body Burden:
“Some chemicals or their breakdown products (metabolites) lodge in our bodies for only a short while before being excreted, but continuous exposure to such chemicals can create a ‘persistent’ body burden. Arsenic, for example, is mostly excreted within 72 hours of exposure. Other chemicals, however, are not readily excreted and can remain for years in our blood, adipose (fat) tissue, semen, muscle, bone, brain tissue, or other organs. Chlorinated pesticides, such as DDT, can remain in the body for 50 years” (CBB).
Sherry Roger, MD adds:
“U.S. EPA biopsy studies of chemicals stored in the fat of human beings show that 100% of people studied had dioxins, PCBs, dichlorobenzene, and xylene.” Even the average carpet “… emits over 200 volatile organic chemicals which include formaldehyde, benzene, toluene, acetaldehyde, chloroform…and much more.” In a nutshell, “These chemicals are not normal to the body, they are not meant to be metabolized by the body, and we do not have the metabolic machinery to completely detoxify them. Consequently they slowly accumulate or stockpile…” (Rogers).
This campaign addresses and includes everyone living with various environmental conditions. However, the main focus of our awareness is on the everyday use of chemicals and synthetic fragrances in our homes, businesses and on our bodies, as well as the millions who live with mild to severe reactions to these substances.
We realize many in the medical community have yet to address or recognize this growing population, because they do not understand these conditions. Still, there are more and more studies and reports being done to document the chemicals and volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) believed to be the main culprits. It may just be a matter of time for current and future tools such as specific blood tests and scans become established as standard, mainstream diagnostics.
While doctors and researchers are wading through the facts to piece it all together, let us do what we can today to make our bodies and homes as tolerable as possible for our loved ones who report they are living with these adverse symptoms. For example, if someone tells us they can no longer be around us because they get such reactions as debilitating migraines, dizziness or fatigue from our laundry detergent, maybe instead of spending time debating if, how or why the detergent is causing this, we should simply consider switching it out so that they may remain a part of our lives. Check out our newest project, “Choose Friendships Over Fragrances!“
In all, the Cleaner Indoor Air Campaign is here to give support and understanding to those reporting these adverse health reactions, as well as make efforts to help loved ones learn how to better address and cope with these obstacles in order to restore relationships and end isolation from friends and family. However, we are not doctors nor scientists. We are not here to argue the definitions, causes or treatments for environmental conditions nor do we make claims as to cause and effect. None of our information is meant to be used as a diagnosis or health claim. Please seek the advice of a medical professional for advice and before starting or stopping any treatments.
(CBB). Chemical Body Burden. Coming Clean.
(Rogers). Rogers, Sherry A. MD. Detoxify or Die. Pages 42-43. 2002. Sand Key Company. Prestige Publishing.
(Caress and Steinemann). Caress, SM, Steinemann, AC. Prevalence of fragrance sensitivity in the American population. Journal of Environmental Health. 2009 Mar; 71(7); 46-50. PubMed.gov.
(Kreutzer). Kreutzer R, Neutra RR, Lashuay N. Prevalence of people reporting sensitivities to chemicals in a population-based survey. American Journal of Epidemiology. 1999 Jul 1;150(1):1-12. PubMed.gov.