It’s now common knowledge that many toxins are linked to medical conditions such as allergies, asthma or migraines. This awareness is driving many of us to go green in our homes, workplaces and communities. While some people may not experience immediate symptoms due to toxic chemical exposure, many others aren’t so lucky.

These unlucky people, who some sources estimate are about 16 percent of the population, have multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) or environmental illness. They suffer allergic attacks and other reactions to chemical exposure. The illness is often lumped in with other conditions with similar symptoms, such as chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia. Like these two conditions, MCS has its share of critics.

Some health organizations do not recognize MCS. For instance, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) states that there is still considerable doubt that the condition exists. However, it has been recognized in countries such as Canada, Denmark and Germany.

For people who suffer from chemical illness, there’s no debate that it exists. The first cases were documented back in the early 1950s by an allergist, Dr. Theron Randolph, who noticed some of his patients’ symptoms were linked to common, everyday chemicals. Randolph later went on to co-found the American Academy for Environmental Medicine, a ground-breaking organization that helps doctors to diagnose and treat environmental illnesses.

What Are the Symptoms of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity?
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) chemical sensitivities can range from a heightened sensitivity to unpleasant odors, to irritation and burning of the mucous membranes, eyes, nose and throat. Only a few chemicals can spark a true immune system response, including acid anhydrides, isocyanates and other chemicals that can bond to human proteins.

Sometimes, long-term exposure to toxic chemicals can cause serious illness and permanently damage your health. For instance, some toxins can cause cancer in children and adults.

The American Association of Family Physicians states that if you have chemical sensitivity you may also experience fatigue, difficulty concentrating, depressed mood, memory loss, weakness, dizziness, headaches, heat intolerance, and arthralgia (pain in the joints).

Products Most Likely to Cause Chemical Sensitivity or Environmental Illness

  • Cigarette smoke, which is loaded with toxic chemicals such as formaldehyde, nitrogen dioxide, hydrocarbons, and hydrogen cyanide
  • Pesticides, insecticides, herbicides and fertilizers
  • Industrial solvents
  • Common household cleaners
  • Perfumes
  • Plastics
  • Asbestos
  • Carpets that emit toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
  • Aerosol products including air fresheners, hairsprays, and oven cleaners
  • Common home renovation products such as paint, glaze, caulking, varnish, and insulation
  • Smoke from wood-burning stoves, which includes carbon monoxide, nitrogen and sulfur oxides, formaldehyde and benzopyrene
  • Exhaust fumes from vehicles
  • Chemicals from petroleum refining
  • Smoke from forest fires

How to Lower Your Risk of Chemical Illness

  • Get diagnosed. To put your mind at rest, have your doctor assess your symptoms. There could also be another explanation.
  • Get informed. Visit the Household Products Database from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services to learn about common chemicals that can be hazardous to your health.
  • Practice avoidance. If you notice that you have reactions to certain products or chemicals, such as cigarette smoke, air fresheners, or solvents, don’t use those products at home and try to avoid them at work and elsewhere.
  • Use protection. Sometimes avoidance may not be possible, for instance, in your workplace. Use respirator masks, hair caps, and protective gloves to minimize your exposure. Also, try not to wear work clothes home.
  • Go green. With eco awareness at an all time high, it’s much easier to find green alternatives for many products such as household cleaners, pesticides and fertilizers, perfumes, hair products and air fresheners. Also use bottles instead of plastic, consider driving a green car, and use greener sources of heat for your home such as solar or eco-insulation products.