Following from last week’s newsletter, it has been suggested I write a little more about chemical sensitivity; perhaps not so much about the extreme individuals (the human canaries) as the manner in which is affects most of us. Here goes…
When should you begin to suspect you may be reacting to ambient chemicals? Suspect chemical intolerance or overload when you develop any of the following signs:
- Symptoms worse in closed spaces (shopping malls, long car journeys)
- Symptoms worse on week days (chemicals at work
- Symptoms better on holiday (fresh air!)
- Worse in an urban or industrial environment
- Gasoline or gloss paint gives you a headache
- Acute sense of smell to chemicals
- Loss of sense of smell or it comes and goes
- You get a “lift” or liking for certain chemical odors
- Intolerant of synthetic fabrics (sneezing, skin rash, irritation)
- Others similarly ill in the home or workplace
- Illness began after moving to present location or current employment
Note 6. and 7. are two sides of the same coin, essentially.
Does the idea of a “lift” or buzz from chemicals sound crazy? Why should it? Think about the kids who sniff glue and solvents. They like it! Just because they are too stupid to realize the dangers doesn’t mean it is not pleasurable brain stimulation.
Note that with exposure at work symptoms may not begin till Tuesday or even Wednesday, as the cumulative effect builds up. Similarly, symptoms may not clear by Saturday morning but could linger through till later. Yet you may get the worst reaction on Monday (first day back at work), as your body is challenged by chemicals which have gassed out over the weekend.
Note: Once intolerance to one chemical substance is established, it tends to spread rapidly to other substances. We call this the spreading effect.
There are many chemical contacts in our lives: plastics, urban atmospheric pollution, perfumes and cosmetics, cleaners, solvents, aerosol sprays, paints and food additives, to name but a few. Most of these are derived, ultimately, from petroleum and the whole group we call “hydrocarbons” from their chemical structure. Interestingly, all petroleum (and coal) products originated as pine trees in carboniferous forests millions of years ago. And guess what? We find pine and its terpene derivatives today are quite potent allergens! Is that just a coincidence or is there a connection?
Don’t forget the work environment as a source of chemical exposure. Most countries have some sort of regulatory body to monitor and regulate work exposures. However, to pretend this system is working efficiently and protecting workers properly is to be foolish and gullible in the extreme.
But the point most people miss is that ambient exposures at home (or even in school) can be hundreds of times higher than allowed safety limits in the workplace!
Air conditioning often makes matters far worse by circulating indoor pollution.
It makes good sense to clear your environment of as many unnecessary chemicals as possible. This will reduce your overall environmental burden. We choose the home for this because it is something you can control to a great extent. You can’t do much about what is beyond your doors and windows but you should be able to effect enough changes indoors to produce a worthwhile improvement.
The bedroom is a particularly good target for local air cleaning, because the bedroom is small and circumscribed and we do spend more time there than in any other room of the house.
Some substances you will be able to replace with safer substitutes. Many you will be able to dispense with altogether. Some you will need and no substitutes can be found. Just go easy with them.
I usually get patients to comb the whole house, room by room, cupboard by cupboard and shelf by shelf, listing all the chemicals found. Sometimes, the list itself is a shock and this is salutary. To pinpoint all potential trouble, I get them to supplement what can be seen with what can be smelled. I call this a “nose survey”!
Scott-Mumby’s Rule Of The Nose: I have a maxim, based on decades of experience, which is that if there is enough substance present to cause an odor, there is enough to cause symptoms. Some chemical substances, of course, have no odor.
The list of potential chemical allergens shown below will help you search out trouble. Store, replace or throw out as much as possible of what you find. This is a good strategy for everybody, whether chemically sensitive or not.
- Aerosols. We all know about the effect aerosol propellants (CFCs) have on the environment. What is more important and often forgotten is that they have a bad effect on humans too!
- Air fresheners. Just fake chemicals to mask the problem.
- Cavity wall insulation: Urea-formaldehyde foam insulation (UFFI) is a cause of considerable health problems; so much so that it was banned in most countries. But it is still present in many walls!
- Cleaning materials. There are always simpler alternatives, even if they do call for a little more manual effort. Sodium bicarbonate or borax can often be made to serve where more powerful alkaline agents would be used. Avoid ‘biologicals’ like the plague. Especially avoid fabric ‘conditioners’ which seem to cause strong reactions in some.
- For personal washing use Simple, Castille or Neutragena soaps. For household duties try soft green soap (that’s its name!) obtainable from chemists.
- Cooking utensils. Allergics should avoid using non-stick pans with Teflon-type coatings. Nor is aluminium cookware recommended, due to toxicity problems. Glass (corning ware) and enamel are best.
- Fabrics. Most people are better off in natural fabrics, such as silk, wool and cotton. Man-made fabrics all give off fumes long after they are new. Of course some people are allergic to natural fabrics, especially wool, and trial and error is required to find what suits you best.
- Flues. We all love an open fire, with flickering flames! But chimney flues may present problems as they can leak and give off serious fumes. The only safe course is to have the flue lined with a modern flexible flue liner. Better still, change to electrical radiators and eliminate gas or open fires altogether.
- Garages, integral. Petrol fumes are a common concern; I find. These can leak from an integral garage into the house (typically the kitchen). It is far better (and safer!) to park the car outside and to use the garage to grow mushrooms or for a model workshop. Haha!
- Gas. All chemically-sensitive patients should get rid of gas from their homes if it is at all practicable and economically viable to do so. Induction electric cooking plates can be a good option.
- Heating. Avoid ducted air systems, fan heaters and open bar electric fires. Best are central heating radiators or, for portable use, small oil-filled electric radiators.
- Make-up. Cosmetics are generally biologically unfriendly. Try to get the hypoallergenic kind but remember there is no such thing as non-allergenic.
- Paints. Paints can cause many unpleasant symptoms. There are a number of ‘organic’ paints coming onto the market. These are water-soluble and free of the toxic solvent fumes. If you don’t want to use water-based paints, latex paint is said to be best for allergics. Stir in sodium bicarbonate until the paint stops bubbling. Richard Mackarness suggests about 100 g to 5 litres of paint.
- Toothpaste. Toothpaste may contain ammonia, ethanol, sodium laurel sulfate, artificial colors and flavors, formaldehyde, mineral oil, saccharin, sugar and carcinogenic PVP plastic.
Don’t forget car and upholstery are potential hazards. Nowadays, most are treated with complex stain-repellent and preservative chemicals. Driving a second-hand car (safer) may be a good option for some but you may not want to throw out your nice new carpet or sofa. Things will probably improve in time. However, for an unlucky few, the truth is simple, if bleak—they will never be well until the luxury wall-to-wall hazard is disposed of!
To a more natural world,
Prof. Keith Scott-Mumby
The Official Alternative Doctor