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Chemical Sensitivity


A Personal Note: The challenge of living with chemical sensitivities can make living a "normal" life very difficult. It is not just exposure to common chemicals that can be triggers, but everyday things like fragrances, cosmetics, fluorescent & CFL lighting...even energetic frequencies such as wireless signals can cause a reaction.  This can lead to an isolated and fear-filled life, especially when even the most limited exposures can trigger severe symptoms. There was a time when the smell of a scented dryer sheet would be enough to make my body so weak I would start trembling and feel like I was going to pass out!

But the good news is I have learned ways to reduce the severity of my symptoms and the number of triggers. I started by reducing toxic exposure - eating organic,  using organic & natural bedding, clothing, cosmetics & personal grooming and household cleaning products. I began using natural pest & lawn care services as well. I also stopped labeling myself "chemically sensitive."  Without realizing it, each time I said or thought, "I am chemically sensitive," I was actually reinforcing the hold these sensitivies had on my body/mind.  Our thoughts are so powerful...scientific evidence indicates that our thoughts can create an actual physical response in the body.  So I began to use visualization...envisioning a strong, healthy, and powerful body, able to tolerate all things. I posted this affirmation in places so I would see it throughout the day.   I  used EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), a powerful energy technique, that enabled me to cope with the physical and emotional affects of chemical sensitivities. In time I began to tolerate more and more of the things that were previously problematic. Although I may have an occasional reaction, it is generally very minor and I am able to recover quickly. For a listing of natural/organic products visit our Natural Health Resources page. ~ Andrea Chervenak



Treatment/Tips to Reduce Exposure
Sources of Information
Home and Office Exposures

General Information: Chemical Sensitivity &
Multiple Chemical Sensitivities

People who suffer allergic-type reactions when exposed to "normal" levels of synthetic chemicals may be suffering with Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS). Theron G. Randolph, an allergist, was the first to recognize this condition and theorized that small does of chemicals accumulate in the body over time until the body becomes unable to tolerate further exposure. This sensitivity is an environmental illness caused by living in an increasingly toxic world.

Triggers: Sensitivity triggers can include chemicals found in pesticides, perfumes and scented products, tobacco smoke, new carpet, air "freshners", new paint, building materials, laundry products, as well as cosmetics and personal grooming products.

Criteria: The criteria used to diagnosis chemical sensitivites include:

  • Reactive to exposure (even low levels) of irritants/toxins/triggers that are not detected or troublesome to others
  • The problem is ongoing/chronic
  • Symptoms occur with repeated exposure
  • Improvement occurs when the triggers are absent

Although some doctors and associations question the validity of this diagnosis, more and more are recognizing that the removal of chemical irritants does relieve symptoms of people with MCS.

Diagnosis: Since the diagnosis of chemical sensitivities can be challenging, it is important to work with a doctor or alternative professional that you trust and have confidence in. If you are looking for a doctor in your area the American Academy of Environmental Medicine can help you to locate an Environmental Medicine Specialist: http://www.aaem.com/.   Their website is also a good resource for books on the subject, and other web links. Yale University School of Medicine Dept. of Internal Medicine also specializes in diagnosing MCS: www.info.med.yale.edu.

Discuss with your doctor the following lab tests if you suspect you have MCS as they may be useful in determining if there is damage to the central nervous sytem, enzyme functioning, and or the immune system, which often occurs in those suffering with MCS. The tests include:

  • SPECT Brain Scans
  • Immune Studies
  • Quantitative electroencephalograms
  • Porphyria Tests
  • Neuropsycological evaluations

Symptoms: The symptoms of MCS are wide-ranging.  Some people will experience just one symptom, and others will have multiple symptoms.  Symptoms  can be immediate, or delayed up to a few days:

  • asthma/breathing problems
  • memory loss and confusion
  • migranes/headaches
  • shortness of breath
  • irregular heartbeat
  • muscle and joint pain
  • seizures
  • congestion and sneezing
  • rashes
  • joint pain
  • dizziness
  • fatigue
  • sleep problems

Treatment of Chemical Sensitivity

There is no current treatment for MCS, but one of the keys is to reduce, elimima your symptoms is to avoid as much exposure as possible to chemicals.

To clear the toxins that may have accumulated in your body you may want to consider a detoxification program.   You can support your body by eating organic foods wearing organic clothing, sleeping on organic bedding.  Use natural cleaners and laundry detergents, and natural/organic lawn and pest products & services. As you reduce exposure and stop overwhelming the body's natural defenses, be patient...and over time your body will get stronger and become less sensitive.

I also recommend  Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT).  This mind/body energy technique can be helpful in reducing the emotional impact of living with chemical sensitivity, as well as many of the physical symptoms. 

Way To Reduce Your Toxic Exposure:

  • Wear organic clothing* and use organic cotton bedding (pesticides and insecticides are used to grow regular cotton; chlorine is used to bleach it; arsenic is used for fabric treatment!) Visit Recommended for retailers that offer organic cotton and natural fiber choices
  • Avoid cigarette smoke
  • Avoid high mercury and PCB fish like swordfish, shark, tuna steaks, farm-raised salmon
  • Watch what you apply to your skin as skin care products and cosmetics are loaded with synthetic chemicals, especially nail polish, a major source of phthalates For natural cosmetics visit www.allnaturalcosmetics.com my favorite source for anything natural, or check out the Recommended page for other retailers
  • Use caution with plastic products and plastic wrap as chemicals can leach out of them especially when used for fatty foods such as meat and cheese, according to the US Food and Drug Administration. Make sure to drape it loosely over the food; never microwave in plastic; do not reuse trays and containers meant for one time use! Instead of plastic, try a glass or ceramic plate over a bowl to do the job
  • Avoid fabrics and products that are chemically treated (for stains, wrinkles, etc)
  • Purchase furniture made of natural wood - no MDF or particleboard
  • Rid your home and work environment of all possible pollutants - create one or two "clean rooms" in your home...a place for you to escape to when feeling overwhelmed
  • When bringing new items into your home, choose carefully and air them out if they have a "chemical smell" before bringing inside
  • Keep windows open when possible
  • Read labels on everything!
  • Eat organic/natural foods whenever possible

*Note: Because something is completely natural is not a guarantee that it is compatible with your body.  I have had experiences where I was sensitive to organic cotton - perhaps it was a reaction to the dye that was used - and yet I was able to wear a similar item made of regular cotton with no problem. That is why I strongly recommend muscle testing for those who are super-sensitive or who don't always react to the same things in the same way. Your body will guide you to what does, and does not, agree with you...for more information see Muscle Testing.

Natural cleaning tips: An article in Inside The Bay Area newspaper's website...the Berkeley Ecology Center — epicenter of chemical-free living — want their carpet cleaned, they call one man: Jonathan Cook, of Jonathan's On-the-Spot Cleaning. He and the Ecology Center offer the following tips:

  • Use a biodegradable, preferably vegetable-based soap when shampooing carpet.
  • Calistoga mineral water makes an excellent spot-remover. Use a clean terry cloth to blot out spots as soon after the spill as possible.
  • Avoid products containing tetrachloroethylene (spot remover) or hydrofluoric acid (rust remover).
  • Be persistent. Not all spots come out easily.
  • For fruit and wine spots: immediately blot with a towel and add cold water, continuing to blot.
  • Grease: boiling water followed with dry baking soda
  • Blood: cold water or hydrogen peroxide. Or try a paste of cornstarch, corn meal or talcum powder. Allow to dry and brush away.
  • Rust: saturate with lemon juice and rub with salt.

Natural Ways To Get Rid of Ants:
When it's 3 a.m. and a line of ants has found your dog's food bowl, you reach for the can of insecticide first and ask questions later.

That's understandable. Here's some suggestions from the Berkeley Ecology Center for when you're more awake:

  • First remove the ants. Vacuuming them with cornstarch will suffocate them. If they're in a potted plant, take it outside and flood it.
  • Then remove the attraction. Ant-attractive food — honey, sugar, cough syrup — goes in the fridge or jars with rubber gaskets and lids with a metal clamp. A screw-top jar with wax paper between the lid and jar also works. Cookies go in plastic containers.
  • Pet food needs a moat — put the food bowl in a larger, shallow tray or pie pan filled with water. Or wash the bowl after your pet finishes eating.
  • Clean the ant trail with a citrus-based cleaner.
  • Set ant bait stations near entry points or trails. Borax and boric acid are the least toxic to mammals and work slowly, allowing foraging ants to spread it through the colony.

Common Exposure in the Home or Office

Whether indoors or out, in the city or in the country, the mountains or the desert, all of us are continually exposed to chemicals. Both natural and synthetic, chemicals are a part of our lives.  Often we overuse chemicals and ignore the impacts from using these chemicals. At home, at work, in recreation, or wherever, it is important to be aware of the chemicals that are likely to be present and to take appropriate precautions to minimize the use of the chemicals we control.  Although our bodies were designed to eliminate these toxic substances, when our immune system is compromised or overwhelmed by over-exposure, our bodies are unable to handle the extra burden, and a snesitivity can develop.

Below is a chart of some of the chemicals to which some people are most likely to have sensitivity.

One of the areas over which individuals have the most control is the choices for household products and cleansers. What is selected to bring into the home and to use in the home can significantly reduce the cumulative exposure to chemicals by individuals. Purchasing decisions can be based on:

  1. The types of chemicals used in a product
  2. Whether chemicals are synthetic or naturally occurring and individual reactions to each
  3. The likelihood of interaction effects (especially in different cleansers in the same area of the home such as window cleaner, dust spray, floor cleaner, furniture polish, etc. in one room)
  4. Fragrances and dyes used including "scents" that are supposed to smell clean such as synthetic lemon, pine, floral and the like
  5. Natural versus synthetic fabrics and materials and individual reactions to each.

Reducing multiple exposures and unnecessary exposure is important. But chemophobia is not the desired behavior either. Chemicals are not bad. Excessive use and misuse of chemicals is often the problem. For products used in the home, careful reading of the label and careful following of the instructions is necessary. Information on chemicals is available from libraries and health departments; if you are concerned about someone's health, it is always advised to see a physician. As with most environmental issues, learning about the issue starts with understanding the issue on a personal, manageable level.

Chemical Where found Reactions
Formaldehyde carpet, plywood, particle board
insulation, adhesives
sore throat
Pesticides bug sprays, lawn chemicals, household cleaners skin/eye/respiratory
digestive tract/nervous system
Nitrogen dioxide unvented gas stoves/heaters
Carbon monoxide gas appliances
respiratory problems
Solvents household cleansers,
paints strippers, gasoline
respiratory problems
Latex paints, gloves, caulking allergic reactions
Dyes (especially dark blue) clothing, curtain, tablecloths,
napkins, rags, furniture
skin reaction

Sources of Information on Chemical Sensitivities:

There are many wonderful websites with lots of great information, these are just a few I found very helpful:


The Environmental Illness Resource website provides information and community resources for people suffering from CFS, Chemical Sensitivity, and other chronic and disabling conditions.http://www.ei-resource.org


Recommendations from an MCS "Survivor"

Below you will find excerpts from a wonderful website full of great information - written by Jackie, who suffers with MCS, and her husband Gordon:


Not everyone will have the incentive to make all these changes - however, every change you make WILL make a difference! This way of living is not only much better and safer for YOU - it's also much better for the environment! Switching to non-toxic living can be a very pleasant experience if we think of it as a return to the purity and safety of the way our ancestors lived. Many of the suggestions here were actually used by our ancestors before all the toxic chemicals were marketed to make life "easier". We pay dearly for that "ease" with the loss of safe, clean air to breathe and, in many cases, the loss of our health. Some of the products may take a little more "elbow grease" - others actually work BETTER than their toxic alternatives - either way, you can take major steps to cleaning up your environment and protecting yourself and your family from toxic chemicals by following these suggestions:

  1. Avoid ALL scented products ("fragrance" as an ingredient) - including all perfumes, colognes, after-shaves, personal-care products, air fresheners, pot-pourri, etc. Be careful about certain "unscented" products that use "masking fragrance" to cover up the original fragrance - these are doubly toxic!
  2. Avoid ALL fabric softeners, dryer sheets, Clorox, scented detergents, etc. These products are VERY toxic and very harmful to the environment as well.
  3. Avoid ALL pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, and fertilizers. Pesticides are neuro-toxins (affect the central nervous system), and they don't know the difference between the BUGS and YOU! For fleas, roaches, ants, etc., use diatomacious earth, boric acid, and nematodes. You can get these from health food stores and pet supply stores - or from some of the "Resources" listed on the MCS Resources page.
  4. Use only non-toxic cleaning products and personal-care products (see below).
  5. Drink and bathe in filtered water. Taking a shower in chlorinated water causes the chlorine to go right into your blood stream. You can purchase shower filters that easily attach to your shower nozzle from water-supply stores (check your Yellow Pages) or from many of the mail-order companies listed on the MCS Resources page. Also avoid swimming in chlorinated pools.
  6. Eat organic food (food grown without pesticides or fertilizers) as often as possible. Avoid processed foods, foods with colors and dyes, preservatives, etc. NEVER consume products containing "NutraSweet" (aspartame). It breaks down into formic acid ("ant-sting poison") and methanol (wood alcohol) in your body! (See "Links to Related Sites" for more information about aspartame.)
  7. Wear only natural-fiber clothing (100% cotton, linen, wool, or silk). Make sure the clothes are NOT "permanent press" or "wrinkle resistant" - these clothes have been treated with formaldehyde that does NOT wash out!
  8. Use only 100% cotton, wool, or pure silk bed linens and blankets. Avoid "no-iron" or "wrinkle-resistant". A good brand is "Simply Cotton", marketed by "Martex" and available at department stores like Dillards. Wal-mart also now carries 100% cotton "T-shirt" sheets!
  9. As much as possible, avoid plastics (store food in glass jars), particle-board, plywood, glues, inks, paints (use Glidden 2000 - least toxic), foam rubber, vinyl, carpet, synthetic rugs, varnishes, solvents, etc.
  10. Open your windows as often as possible! Even in the most polluted cities, the outdoor air has been found to be less toxic than the indoor air! Amazing, isn't it?!
  11. Certain houseplants are beneficial to remove toxins from the air, such as formaldehyde, benzene etc.  The best plants for removing these and other toxins are philodendrons, spider plants, aloe vera, English ivy, golden pothos, and boston fern. To learn more about this, there is a really good book available called: "How to Grow Fresh Air: 50 Houseplants That Purify Your Home or Office" by B. C. Wolverton. (NOTE: Many thanks to Karen Snyder for this information!)

Cleaning Products Recommended by Jackie
(HFS = health food store - all items not designated with "HFS" can be found at your regular grocery store.)



  • White Vinegar (cleans windows, counter tops, chrome, grease, floors, etc.)
  • Bon Ami (sinks, etc.) - near the "Comet"
  • Borax (toilets, tubs, floors) - disinfects, deodorizes, kills mold and mildew, and great for laundry - in the detergent aisle
  • Baking Soda - sit around in small bowls to absorb odors; also cleans sinks, great for laundry, etc.
  • Lemons (clean windows, sinks, grease, etc.). You can also use lemons as an air freshener. Cut 4 lemons into 4ths. Put in a pot and cover with water. Simmer for about an hour and turn heat off. Will fill room with wonderful aroma! (Note: Some people react to the odors of lemons and oranges, even though they're considered "natural". Please be careful!) My personal opinion is that pure fresh air with no added scent is BEST - however, for those of you who simply must have some kind of "scent" in the air to feel like your air is fresh, this is probably the next-best thing, and is MUCH better than the toxic "air fresheners" (poisoners, actually)!
  • Furniture polish: any vegetable oil, lemon oil, etc. (2 parts oil, 1 part lemon juice works great!), Earthrite furniture polish (HFS), or any other brand that is all natural and fragrance-free
  • Nature Clean, Lifetree, Seventh Generation, or Ecover dishwashing liquids (HFS)
  • Nature Clean or Ecover automatic dishwashing detergent (or any that do not contain chlorine or fragrance)
  • Tip: To get stuck-on food off a pot/pan, just sprinkle salt and cool water in it and let it sit a while, then wipe clean!

MISCELLANEOUS TIP: Plant mint around the house to keep mosquitos away. Rub some mint leaves on you to keep them from biting you.


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