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Do You Suffer From Environmental Illness?

Updated on September 23, 2008

What is Environmental Illness?

There is no standard definition for environmental illness, but basically, the term is used to describe any symptoms that are caused by triggers in a person's environment, whether at work, school or in the home. Often, the illness is poorly understood or is medically unexplained. Many chronic conditions are often included in this group, such as chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, multiple chemical sensitivity and allergies.

Different people suffer at different levels from the triggers in their environment. Some have milder allergic reactions while others can become extremely sensitive to almost everything in their environment, known as universal reactors.

Causes of Environmental Illness

Exposure, both short and long-term, to the triggering agent are what cause the symptoms of environmental illness. These triggers include chemicals (asbestos, cigarette smoke, pesticides), pollution, allergens (like pollen, mold spores, dust) and other toxins (poisons made by living organisms).

Unfortunately, you often don't know what is causing your sickness. Everyone is exposed to any number of different chemicals and reacting agents over time. Also, we can't be sure how much of a given chemical we have been exposed to. These factors make it very difficult to pinpoint what is causing the symptoms, whether it be one factor or the combination of many.

Symptoms of Environmental Illness

Because there are so many different causative agents, the symptoms vary greatly and different conditions can be caused in different people. This makes it very hard to make a diagnosis of many chronic diseases, as the underlying factor is unknown, as well as the length of time of exposure and the dosage level.

For some cases, the person may be asymptomatic for years until the disease has progressed far enough along for it to be noticed, e.g. lung cancer due to cigarette smoke. Some symptoms may emerge gradually over time due to repeated exposure. These symptoms will often worsen if exposure is continued. Finally, exposure to some agents will cause an immediate response or allergic reaction, e.g. pollen causing an asthma attack.

Common symptoms include headaches, nausea, coughing, fatigue, inflamed skin and eye irritations. You may suffer from one, many or all of these symptoms, plus others if you are being affected by the environment in which you live.

Environmental illnesses can be diagnosed and treated, but it is a lengthy process, as a history of exposure will need to be examined. This involves questionaires and different tests. Treatment will depend on how the illness has manifested, whether an allergy, asthma or cancer, and also, for some diseases, how far it has progressed.

This is not something to be taken lightly, and should you find yourself suffering from these types of symptoms, particularly if they occur regularly (for example, you suffer from respiratory symptoms in your office but not when at home), you should speak to your doctor.


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