Environmental Sensitivities



Environmental Sensitivities, also known as Environmental Illness or Environmental Disease is a name that says it all. A person who is ill because of his environment (food, drink, air) has Environmental Sensitivities. Some people consider Multiple Chemical Sensitivities as another name for the same illness, but it is actually a subset of Environmental Illness. The body cannot deal with all the toxins it comes into contact with every day. Immune System Dysfunction happens. Auto-immune Disease is the body mistaking a part of itself as the enemy and attacking it.

The things that trigger reactions can be chemicals, natural and manmade, at very low concentrations. A lot of these manmade chemicals were developed after World War II (including pesticides, cleaning products, etc.) and are petroleum based (petro-chemicals). Some of the natural substances that cause problems are grass, pollen, animal hair, or mould.

TOTAL LOAD refers to the different impacts on your system. Think of your immune system as a rain barrel, all of the stresses fill it up. The total load is reached but you may not be aware of the different things making you ill.

According to Drs. Rossenbaum and Susser, Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (Environmental Sensitivities) is progressive in nature. The stages are as follows:

  1. Exposure
  2. Susceptibility
  3. Sensitivity
  4. Localized symptoms
  5. Multichemical sensitivity
  6. Spreading Symptoms

Because scents are such a serious problem let's look at them more closely (over 4000 chemicals used in the fragrance industry).

We usually do not smell many of the scents we and others are emitting until we become hypersensitive. These chemicals could be causing minor problems for years but we do not see the cause/effect. However, as time passes our bodies become weakened from constant exposure. Overloaded passageways in our bodies, the back up of chemicals in the blood stream, muscles, nervous system, organs, etc. leads to a variety of symptoms. Poor air quality, the length of time the chemical clings to clothes, closed in buildings, etc. hold these chemicals and our bodies absorb them.

Fact Sheet:

  • 15-25% of the population have some breathing problem such as hay fever or asthma that is adversely affected by strong odors from scented products.
  • Strongly scented products can trigger migraines; 17% of Canadians suffer from migraines.
  • The incidence of environmental discomforts and illnesses is increasing.
  • Ventilation systems of many buildings are not able to extract all chemicals from the air and instead recirculate them.


The doctor can send you for allergy tests. These are generally skin tests. Small amounts of known allergens are placed under the skin. Your skin welts up into bumps that are measurable. This tells you what you are allergic to and the seriousness of the allergy. However, there are times when the reactions are not suggestive of allergies but of Environmental Sensitivities. These tests are a starting point and can be used to give you a direction. However, they are not as reliable as other tests (i.e. RAST).

Often a doctor suspecting you have ES will send a form to the Environmental Health Clinic in Fall River, Nova Scotia. It is the only one of its kind in Canada. You can go to other places for testing but you would have to travel long distances (Texas, England, Ottawa). There is a long waiting list to get into the Fall River Clinic. There are things you can do to help yourself while you wait. In fact by the time your name comes up you may wonder if you need to go.

The intradermal testing (for inhalants, foods, chemicals) at the Clinic is sophisticated and reliable. After the doctor receives the results, he uses EPD (Enzyme Potentiated Desensitization) to treat you. Testing for Vitamin B12 and magnesium is done by IV.


There are many symptoms affecting various parts of the body.

Central Nervous System - difficulty in thinking and reasoning, confusion (brain fog), poor memory and forgetfulness, inability to concentrate, headaches, dizziness, pins and needles or numbness in hands and feet, strange sensations in various parts of the body, sleep disorders, slurred speech, seizure-like activity, poor balance, clumsiness, tic and twitches, taste increased sensitivity.

Emotional - mood swings, irritability, panic attacks, anxiety, depression, hyperactivity.

Gastrointestinal - nausea, bloating and/or excessive gas, cramps, diarrhea, constipation, heartburn, abdominal pain.

Respiratory - shortness of breath, wheezing, loss of voice, coughing, recurrent sinus problems, blocked nose, nasal drip, heavy, tight chest.

Skin - hives, itchy, dry skin, eczema, acne-like rash, excessively sensitive touch.

Musculoskeletal - joint pain, muscle spasms, muscle pain, chest wall pain, tender spots in the muscles, muscle weakness.

Genitourinary - frequent urination, urgency to urinate, getting up frequently at night to urinate, incontinence, inability to urinate, loss of sexual desire, difficulty in sexual function.

Cardiovascular - swelling of ankles, and elsewhere, irregular, pounding or fast heartbeat, easy bruising, chest pain.

Eyes - blurred vision, spots in front of eye, or floaters, light sensitivity, flashing lights, burning eyes, excessive tears, dry eyes, difficulty with night driving.

Ears - sensitivity to noise, hearing loss, pain in ears, recurrent infections, blocked ears, ringing ears.


There are several things you can do to treat ES depending on what affects you.

  • Avoiding the offending substances is critical. There are steps you take to do this (a) clean the bedroom, take out clothes, books, comforters, cushions/pillows, etc.; (b) wear a mask or take oxygen in public; (c) get rid of chemical cleaners, personal care products, and synthetic clothing.
  • Eat foods that are not harmful (avoid those you react to), clean foods thoroughly, eat organic.
  • Take vitamins/minerals that your body is lacking or not processing well.
  • Exercise according to your body's needs and ability.
  • Environmental Medicine is the first and only medical specialty that deals with detoxification, desensitization, elimination dieting, and Intravenous Therapy.

Detoxification keeps the body clean so that accumulated chemicals (man-made or natural) do not destroy the body.

Desensitization works by exposing you to a very small dose of the allergen. The dose is gradually increased until your body becomes accustomed to the presence of the allergen and stops reacting.

Elimination Diet means taking the offending food out of your diet. You then reintroduce the food and observe to see if a reaction occurs. An example is as follows:

Week 1-3 - no offending foods
Week 4 - have eggs
Week 5 - have eggs and oranges
Week 6 - have eggs, oranges and wheat
Week 7 - have these foods and any other offending food

If you have any reactions you can figure out which foods you need to avoid.

Intravenous (IV) Therapy is used to give patients with Environmental Sensitivities vitamins and minerals. Often people with environmental problems cannot process the nutrients from foods or they process too little from foods. IV Therapy helps some people for short periods of time, others receive benefit over long periods of time.


Allergies affect approximately 40 million Americans. Allergies are not taken seriously because they are so common. Shellfish and nuts are two of the few allergies that are life threatening.


Allergies are caused by a disorder in which the body becomes hypersensitive to particular substances (allergens) that stimulate the immune system.

Body's response: Overaggressive immune system - the immune system thinks the body is being attacked by a serious invader.

Underaggressive immune system - a reduced immune system function that leads to other problems such as lingering colds, lots of infections, etc.

Auto-immune - the immune system thinks a part of the body is an enemy and attacks it.

Kinds of Allergies:

The main allergies are:

Inhalant Allergies - reaction to things you breathe - pollens (grasses, flowers, trees), moulds, spores, animal danders. They are easy to diagnose - RAST (Radio Allergo Sorbency Test) - a blood test that measures the quantity of IgE antibodies to specific allergens.

Food Allergies - reaction to food and drinks. They are harder to diagnose. The most common food allergies are corn, wheat, egg, yeast, soy, dairy products, fish, chocolate, chicken and nuts. Skin tests though not totally accurate with regards to food allergies can still be used to give you direction in helping yourself move towards wellness.

There are two types of food allergies:

1. Cyclic - repeated exposure will make the food allergy worse. By avoiding the food for 2-3 months and then reintroducing it into your diet will tell you if you can now eat the food. Sometimes years go by before a person can eat the food. Remember not to eat too much of that food too often or you'll have a reaction.

2. Fixed - If you have a reaction to the food after two years it is permanent. In other words, whenever you eat that food you will have a reaction.

As there are two types of food allergies, there are two reactions:

1. Immediate - immediate reactions are usually mediated by an antibody called IgE. The body recognizes the foods as an allergen (an enemy) and releases histamines to attack, resulting in symptoms such as hives, wheezing, eczema, rhinitus, swelling of lips and face, or in extreme cases, anaphylactic shock.

2. Delayed - delayed food reactions are generally mediated by the IgG antibodies. The reaction can occur days later and makes it difficult to diagnose. Symptoms include headaches (especially migraine), indigestion, heartburn, fatigue, depression, bowel problems, etc.

Allergens not flushed out of the body can turn into infections. Taking natural antihistamines (vitamin C, B & E) can help you body flush out the allergens.

*People can be addicted to allergy inducing foods. People crave these foods and have a difficult time giving them up. Like any addiction, a person develops a tolerance level to the food. In order to achieve a high from that food, a person needs to consume more and more of it. Not only does the person feel better emotionally, but physically because eating the food stops some of the symptoms. If the person does not eat the food within hours (10-12) he can suffer from withdrawal symptoms. These include fatigue, weakness, aches, pains, depression and a general hungover feeling.

Compiled from:
Patient binder received from the Fall River Environmental Health Clinic. Lecture notes from Shirley Soleil.

Please note that you should always check with your doctor before undertaking any type of treatment.

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