Environmental Sensitivities:  A Family Illness
  By Keith Conrod
UPdate Spring 1995

     Only 3 short years ago, I didn’t know what environmental illness, multiple chemical sensitivities and chronic fatigue syndrome were.  In many ways, I wish I was still blissfully ignorant of these as is the case with many people, the only time we become aware and then knowledgeable of an illness is when it strikes home.

     I have written previously of my wife’s battle with environmental illness, and the devastating effect it has on the person inflicted with this disease.  Therefore, I shall not go into the full details of how these diseases drastically alter, and all too often ruin the life of otherwise healthy people.  When someone develops these sensitivities, their whole physical being is affected.  Some of the symptoms are brain fog, extreme fatigue, memory loss, headaches, food allergies and digestive problems.

     Things that may trigger a reaction are:  smoke, perfumes, after-shaves, deodorants, laundry detergents, fabric softeners, renovations, paints, carpets, cleaning products, car fumes, chlorine, and certain foods.  Everyone is different so therefore what one person reacts to might not be what someone else reacts to.

     Sounds simple doesn’t it?  But it’s about as simple as saying a person with broken legs has some difficulty in walking.  There is nothing simple about either of these scenarios, especially when it effects you or someone you love.  The person this disease affects the most is definitely the person inflicted, however, today I am writing to extend to the general public what it is like to live in a household where someone has been diagnosed with one of these illnesses.

Scent Off, Thank You
     A total purge of the household is required to get rid of all that nice smelly stuff and chemical cleaning products, this is one of the first requirements.  We start in the laundry room, work our way through to the kitchen and then hit the bathroom(s).  Out goes the “extra heavy-duty-Lemon scented-guaranteed to kill germs” (and other living things) detergents.  Out goes the scented hand soap.  Out goes that old and favorite dish washing detergent.  It all has to go!

     This task is usually accompanied by comments such as, “Oh no not that!” or “What am I going to use now?”  But by now, you’ve worked yourself into a frenzy, and are filling up the plastic garbage bags with all the enthusiasm of a true zealot.  Slowly and surely the house becomes scent free and chemical free.  The no-scent squad carefully inspects the premises from room to room.  Then at last we reach the fragrance capital of the house, the bathroom(s).  This room is a virtual rainbow of smells, every different aroma, every different smell, and, “it all must go.”

     This is done to the tune of the family chorus, singing in unison, “Oh no not my after shave!  Not my cologne!  How about just a bit of my favourite shampoo?”  But you are on the scent now (pardon the pun) and you ain’t gonna stop for no one, for it all must go.  But don’t panic, there are alternative products out there that will replace the products the you have gotten rid of.  After the purge is done, you now sit down in your favourite old mite-ridden chair, and think, “Wow!  I’m glad that’s over with.”  But don’t get too comfortable yet, for as that old song says, “We’ve only just begun”.

Oh No Not That Too?
     Dust mites are mean little microscopic creatures.  These little pests hide in the plushest, softest, most padded areas of the house.  They, like you, enjoy the finer things in life.  In order to rid oneself of these little nuisances, another whole house inspection is required.  The worse thing a person with environmental sensitivities can have in their home is wall to wall carpeting.  The carpeting if new gives off fumes, this gassing-off process is enough to put any environmentally sensitive person into a “reaction” state.  You may think, “I didn’t have to worry, my carpets are old and have ‘gassed off’ years ago”.  Close, but as they say no Cupie doll.

     You forgot about those bad little mite things.  Mites effect different people in different ways.  Dust mites can be reduced in the home by removing the wall-to-wall carpeting, and if required, covering the furniture and beds with barrier cloth.  Barrier cloth is a cotton material that is tightly woven that aids in keeping the dust mites out and assists in reducing gas-off from the mattress.  These covers can be taken off and washed as need be.

     Flooring can be replaced with natural wood flooring or ceramic tile.  If you’re lucky this may be hidden under all that carpet and padding.  The wood flooring can then be sealed with a non-toxic floor coating.

I’m All Choked Up
     Check that wood stove.  If your wood stove is not air tight, this might be hazardous to a person who is sensitive to wood smoke.

Butt Out
     No Smoking Please
     If there is one good thing that has come out of someone in the family contracting environmental sensitivities, is that you gotta pack in that pack a day habit.  Don’t worry, you’ll live through it, you’ll feel better, you’ll save money, and the person in the family who has this illness will love you even more than before.

I’ve Simply Nothing To Wear
     Or to be more exact, “What do I have to wear that’s a natural fibre?”  People who suffer from environmental sensitivities must often rid themselves of the clothing that is tailored out of manmade materials.  Although the person who is a family member need not change his/her wardrobe, it often makes washday an easier experience when all your clothes are of the same fibres.  Try it.  It feels good.  You may have forgotten how nice natural cotton can feel next to your skin.

Run Fido Run
     Unhappily, when someone becomes environmentally sensitive to one or more of the household pets, some tough decisions must be made.  But what can be done other than sending Fido off to the country?  Well, let’s keep him in one room, keep him clean, keep him on a mat that can be easily cleaned and aired.  Perhaps an air filtration system for the house would assist in keeping “the family” together.

Give Us This Day
Our Daily Bread,
But Hold the Wheat, Yeast, Milk, and Sugar
     When I’m making a simple evening sandwich, it turns into something somewhat different when you’re also preparing a sandwich for someone who has food sensitivities.  OK, first what about bread, you’re probably limited to a yeast, wheat, milk, and sugar free product.  One alternative we use is spelt bread which we now have a local bakery making for us.  As for the rest of the sandwich, we found that this can also be a problem.  Margarine without milk, a filling that can be mixed with something other than mayo (this has vinegar in it, candida loves it.)

     Now we are finally ready to sit down to eat, but wait!  What do we have to drink.  It must be something other than tea or coffee, juice perhaps?  Well maybe, if no sugar’s in them.  The best alternative is filtered water.

Entertainment Tonight?

     Your social life sure takes an about-face when your better half develops environmental sensitivities.  To go out dancing involves being in an area where all the “normal” people are.  This means coming in contact with cigarette smoke, and all these scented products, and you really don’t want to go out dancing wearing a “mask” do you?  It really takes the romance out of the waltzes.

     Each person with environmental sensitivities and their spouses and families learn to cope with this, as they must learn to adapt to all the other situations which I’ve mentioned.  People often, simply see that their social life revolves around areas which are environmentally safe for them.

Hang In There
     Yes, there is life after environmental illness.  A different lifestyle but still a life.  Upon following these precautions, sticking to the proper diet, and with all the love and support the family can muster, the person will be well again.  As with all of life difficulties, once environmental sensitivities is met head on, accepted and understood, it can be beaten.

 P.S.  Remember, be nice, wear scent free products.


Editor’s Note:  Environmental Illness cannot always be beaten.  We wish it were so, but it is not.