This article was created with the clinician and the patient in mind. It is a comprehensive resource that can be useful for medical practitioners and patients alike, to learn how they can better reduce and or avoid problematic exposures.
Those of us who have been injured by chemicals and or toxic mold know first hand what it feels like to be exposed to something problematic. Symptoms after exposure can be crippling, to say the least, and can last for hours, days or weeks.
So how can we reduce these exposures? Is there anything we can do to avoid getting slammed by chemicals and toxic mold? Below I’ve outlined everything I’ve done over the years to help reduce and avoid problematic exposures.
A separate article will outline specific recommendations relating to toxic mold.
Recommendations are listed by subject title for ease of reading.
I understand that people with TILT and those who suffer from chemical sensitivities have varying degrees of intolerance, because of this I suggest that the information below be used as a preliminary guide. Each patient and clinician can customize the level of precaution as required by individual health needs. The most important thing is to establish a plan that will help reduce and avoid exposures that can create disabling and life-altering reactions.
In and Around The Home
Indoor Air Quality
If you can afford it I highly recommend that you pay for an Indoor Air Quality test, especially to detect toxic levels of mold, endotoxins, microbial gases and VOC levels in your home. This is especially important if your home has experienced water damage due to flooding and or leaks. To do this you will need to hire a licensed Environmental Hygienist who will conduct a thorough visual inspection of the property both inside and out. Request that they do infrared thermal imaging to detect moisture behind walls and in hard to reach areas. A qualified and experienced hygienist will properly check all perimeter walls, flooring substrates, baseboards, AC systems including vents and ducts, window and door assemblies, ceilings, and if applicable – attics and basements.
Make sure to do routine maintenance of cooling and heating systems and change filters every 30 to 45 days.
Avoid using any type of air fresheners, candles or essential oils even those marketed as natural and organic as they can contain fragrances and chemical compounds that can react with ozone, sunlight and other things to create secondary VOC’s. Read more about this by clicking here and here. Follow these recommendations in your place of work and or school if possible.
Cosmetics and Personal Care Products
Have all family members replace all cosmetic and personal care items with acceptable products that do not cause a reaction for you. Click here for a detailed list of personal care products and home essentials for the chemically intolerant and chemically sensitive person.
Invest in a good quality HEPA or ULPA air purifier with VOC filtering capability. At home, we use several IQAir GC MultiGas air purifiers. If you cannot afford to purchase multiple air purifiers, I recommend you have one at least in your bedroom. IQAir offers interest-free financing over a period of 12 months which is great for those of us on a budget and unable to pay upfront for one of their air purifiers. If you suffer from EMF sensitivity turn off all electronics inside of your bedroom at night even your air purifier.
Inside the Bedroom
Make the bedroom a clean, EMF free and chemical-free sanctuary. Avoid having books, computers, modems, large furniture, curtains, and other dust-collecting items in your bedroom. If you do not have EMF sensitivity you can use a metal bed frame and an organic or natural wool mattress. If you have EMF sensitivity it is best to avoid using a metal bed frame, so a wood frame that can be tolerated is a better option.
I store all of my clothing inside of my closet and any additional items are stored inside of large zipped bags that can easily be wiped down and stored away. I use metal shelving units in my closet as well to organize other items. I do not have a dresser or other furniture in my bedroom, only my bed.
Cleaning and Laundry
Avoid all commercial cleaning products and detergents as they contain fragrances and other harsh chemicals. For cleaning, you can use hydrogen peroxide 3% in a spray bottle to neutralize odors and to clean grout and dirty floors. We dilute 2 cups of peroxide per one gallon of hot water to clean the floors. For dirty grout, we simply pour the hydrogen peroxide directly on the affected area and leave it for 15 minutes then scrub with a brush to remove dirt. White vinegar for cleaning and washing laundry can also be used if tolerated along with baking soda. For other cleaning and laundry detergent, options click here.
What To Do When Visitors Are Coming Over
If you are expecting visitors, ask them to read this article.
If possible ask your neighbors, development and local community center to alert you when roads will be sealed with tar and when homes or nearby parks will be treated for pests, mosquitos or termites. This will allow you to avoid being outside and give you time to seal all of your windows from the inside, using foil tape. Doing this will help eliminate vapors from coming inside.
Masks and Respirators
If necessary and if it will help you be able to go to places you would normally not tolerate, use a mask like the ones mentioned here. Keep in mind though that VOC’s and chemicals can be absorbed via the skin so using a mask will only protect a part of your body. If you suffer from TILT or MCAS it is best to always cover all exposed skin and protect the eyes, especially when traveling.
Avoid using chemicals for pest control indoors and make sure to check with your landlord or homeowners association prior to renting or purchasing a home as some communities use these toxic chemicals on a routine basis as part of their property management practices. Snakes, spiders and other critters don’t like rosemary and lavender so plating these herbs around the perimeter of your home can be helpful at deterring them from taking up residence inside. Avoid commercial weed control, even those that claim to be safe and all-natural because they often contain other chemicals that are not listed on the label or on Safety Data Sheets (MSDS).
For weed management, we mix 1 cup of regular salt, one tablespoon of fragrance-free dish soap and 1 gallon of white vinegar. The solution is placed in a commercial sprayer and sprayed on required areas.
Clothing and Linens
Choose organic cotton or 100% cotton linens and clothing when possible. Make sure to soak and wash new linens and clothing properly to remove the formaldehyde preservative used on all textiles. Target, a US store sells an inexpensive line of organic bedding items for those on a budget.
Avoid dry cleaning your clothes as garments are soaked in a liquid solvent that is derived from petroleum and very toxic. Hand washing delicate clothing and using a garment steamer is a better option to remove dirt, wrinkles, and creases.
Mail and Package Deliveries
Have a designated mail person who will collect and open your mail and packages for you. Where I live I’ve found that the FedEx and UPS drivers repeatedly use strong cologne on their clothing and on their bodies so I have a note on my door explaining my health condition and asking them to please leave any packages by the door. For someone who is very chemically intolerant, they will need to have another person remove the problematic packaging and air out contents before they are introduced into the home.
If you live alone and have severe chemical intolerances you will have to use a full-face respirator or a mask that works well for your level of intolerance plus gloves. Some people may also have to use goggles and earplugs depending on their degree of intolerance. Be sure to open mail outside of your home and immediately discard junk mail and items that may seem problematic. You can unsubscribe from stinky junk mail here.
*Click here to print out a note that you can place on your door to alert visitors that your home is a fragrance-free zone.
Purchasing Leasing or Renting a Car
Prior to visiting a dealer or rental agency, narrow down a specific car you are interested in purchasing or renting and call ahead of your visit to ask if the vehicle has been treated with chemicals, recently cleaned or if air fresheners are being used. Avoid cars with leather seats as the leather is always treated with harsh conditioners that can take years to off-gas. Avoid new cars as VOC levels are extremely high.
Ask the dealer to open up all windows and doors for a few hours prior to your arrival and if needed ask them to bake out the smells or use ozone to eliminate strong odors and fragrances. Baking a vehicle is a safe option as ozone can be extremely irritating to the respiratory system and it can also react with certain chemicals and create secondary VOC’s. Once you have your car invest in a new cabin filter and in a car air purifier like the ones mentioned here.
Be careful with cars listed for sale way under the market value as cars that were in flooded areas are often purchased and fixed then sold to consumers, at prices below market value. These cars can have extensive mold issues due to water damage from flooding. Avoid purchasing any car that suffered water damage.
Cleaning Washing and Maintenance
Avoid using public car vacuum systems as they can be contaminated with mold and may also have chemicals and fragrances stuck on the outer parts of the hose. Use a vacuum at home if at all possible. Fragrance-free dish soap diluted in a bucket of water works very well to wash the outside of a car and to clean tires. Use microfiber cloths to wipe down the inside of the car.
When taking in your car for maintenance make sure to alert the manager that you cannot have anyone working on your car or sitting inside of your car who is wearing cologne or other fragranced items. Be specific and if necessary print out a document and stick it on your windows. Place one or more unscented contractor bags over the driver’s seat as a precaution to avoid smells from sticking to the fabric.
The desire for hotels to create a memorable experience for their guests has lead to the creation of signature scents that are used throughout the hospitality industry. This creates a huge dilemma for the chemically intolerant individual. JW Marriot Hotels and several of their luxury brands infuse signature scents throughout most public areas and inside of meeting rooms. You can also purchase their signature scent to take back home with you (sigh). Since developing TILT I have not been able to enter a JW Marriot property let alone sleep in one of their rooms with one exception. We found a Fairfield Inn that did not use any fragrances recently and the property also did not allow smoking on or off-site. I’m not sure if all Fairfield Inns have the same policy but it may be worth calling to find out if you need to stay at one.
Hilton Hotels around the world located in popular tourist destinations also use signature scents but I’ve found that many of their hotels in the USA do not. Over the years I’ve had some fantastic stays at various Hilton properties that went over and beyond to accommodate me. When planning a hotel stay you will have to spend a good amount of time calling each hotel you plan on visiting to inquire about their use of signature scents or air fresheners.
Ask to speak to the GM or to their Operations Manager and discuss your needs ahead of time. Make sure to follow up two weeks before your stay and the day before your stay to ensure everyone is aware of the accommodations you require.
During your stay, you can either ask housekeeping to stay out of your room which I recommend, as we’ve had several issues with perfume and hand lotion getting all over clean towels and bedding as they tidy up, or you can supply your cleaning products to the housekeeping staff if they agree to enter without fragrances and problematic products on their clothing and or body. We always travel with a spray bottle of 70% rubbing alcohol and 3% hydrogen peroxide and we wipe down all surfaces and floors ourselves during our stay. For extended stays, I have taken an IQAir purifier with me or a smaller HEPA air purifier.
For my hotel stays, I always have the hotel staff place the following note on my reservation:
“Health Disability Notice – Please do NOT use air any fresheners, sprays, furniture polish, furniture cleaners, carpet fresheners, fabric sprays or any scented products in the room prior to arrival and during our stay.”
To avoid bleach and fragrances used on hotel bedding and towels, always travel with your own pillows, bed linens and towels.
Pools in hotels and Communities
If you are visiting a hotel or any other place that has a pool ask the maintenance manager if they spray roundup or similar pesticides near the pool. I’ve found that most apartment complexes and hotels we’ve visited spray the concrete around the pool to avoid weed growth between the cracks. Sometimes these toxic chemicals can get into the pool water and can be absorbed via the skin on your feet if you are walking barefoot on treated surfaces.
Side note: Roundup and similar products are extremely toxic to dogs and is believed to be responsible for some types of cancer in pets.
While traveling by car, stopping to use a public restroom can be difficult. Depending on your level of chemical intolerance it may be worthwhile purchasing a portable travel potty or a TravelJohn
Laugh as you wish but these non-luxury items are also very helpful if you are traveling with small children. If you must step out to use a restroom always have a friend or family member scope out the area first and warn you if there are any problematic chemicals or fragrances being used or diffused. A disposable p100 respirator has come in very handy for me when using public restrooms. I do not wash my hands as the soaps are almost always heavily scented. I clean my hands outside of my car with bottled water I travel with and soap or with rubbing alcohol.
Depending on the level of intolerance, flying on a commercial airplane may be completely out of the question especially for international trips as some countries require that aerosolized insecticides be sprayed in the cabin to avoid the spread of certain diseases. Jet fuel is also something to worry about while riding high in the sky.
Jet fuel and other toxicants are able to enter the cabin due to lack of air filtration, these exposures increase the risk of becoming very sick or even becoming disabled after a flight, this is a condition referred to as Aerotoxic syndrome and it has affected thousands of cabin crew, pilots and passengers all around the world.
“A supply of pressurized air is required by humans to sustain life at high altitude. This air is supplied direct from the compressor section of the jet engine and is known as ‘bleed air‘. Unfiltered bleed air is mixed inside the aircraft with recirculated cabin air at a ratio of 50/50. Although the recirculated is subsequently filtered, all of the bleed air which originates from the jet engines is unfiltered.” Source
Flying can also be problematic due to chemicals and fragrances used by passengers. If you must travel within the country a suitable mask with carbon filtration is highly recommended. Covering exposed skin and using travel goggles/sealed glasses is also important. Some chemically intolerant people such as attorney, author and environmental health warrior Alan Bell travel with a portable oxygen concentrator and a carbon mask.
Theme parks like Disney infuse fragrances and scents into many of their rides and inside of most restrooms and public areas so if you have severe chemical intolerances you will most likely be unable to visit these parks.
If you are interested in visiting, make sure to plan ahead and ask about each and every ride once you arrive. Most workers at the entrance of each ride will be able to tell you if the ride uses scents or fragrances. Disney Parks also allow for people with invisible disabilities to sign up for a special pass to avoid waiting in line if that is going to make you feel sick or aggravate a health condition, find out more about this special pass by clicking here.
Only one person in your party needs to confirm that they require special accommodation, once you do that, everyone in your party will be able to benefit from the special pass which is pretty awesome.
Doctor Appointments and Hospital Stays
Before scheduling doctor appointments, it is important to first call ahead and ask if fragrances are used in the waiting room and common areas. If the waiting room has air fresheners or heavily fragranced patients, ask if you can fill out your patient forms via email and have someone else sign you in if possible. Wait in your car or outside and ask to be called on the phone when it is your turn to be seen. Some doctor offices will allow you to wait in a patient room away from fragrances and perfumed patients, so it’s worth asking if they can accommodate you.
If you are scheduling surgery or an outpatient procedure inside of a hospital be sure to alert your medical team concerning your health situation. Most hospitals have isolation rooms or designated rooms where they can place you while you are in recovery so that you are not near other patients and their visitors. Print out a cover sheet for your chart detailing your health needs and make sure that the charge nurse places it on the outside of your medical folder. Print out an additional sheet and stick it to your bed alerting attending physicians of your health condition. Click here for a guide created for hospitals and their staff on how to accommodate people with chemical intolerances and sensitivities.
Fireworks and Shooting Ranges
Fireworks contain chemicals such as copper, lead dioxide, lithium compounds, antimony sulfide, and perchlorates to name a few. There are also byproducts that are created from fireworks that are extremely toxic. During fireworks, it is always best to stay indoors or use a p100 respirator while outside.
Always practice decontamination after being in a shooting range or out hunting. This means removing clothes outdoors then showering immediately. Contaminated clothing needs to be washed separately and should not be worn near pregnant women, infants or children.
“A study by an IUPUI scientist found that firing a gun at a shooting range, either indoors or outdoors, releases a high level of lead-filled dust that coats the shooter. This dust can enter the shooter’s bloodstream, potentially resulting in elevated lead exposure.” Source
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If you require more detailed information or are interested in scheduling a paid personal phone or email consultation regarding avoidance of chemicals and or toxic mold please feel free to reach out to me here.
Chemical Free Gal