Understanding Environmental Sensitivities Handout

Understanding Environmental Sensitivities
September, 2007
DEFINITION of Environmental Sensitivities:
“a variety of reactions to chemicals, electromagnetic radiation and other environmental factors at exposure levels commonly tolerated by many people.”
– Medical Perspectives on Environmental Sensitivities. M. E. Sears, 2007 

Diagnostic Criteria

  • Symptoms are reproducible with repeat exposure
  • The condition is chronic
  • Low levels of exposure result in symptoms
  • Symptoms improve or resolve when the incitants are removed
  • However there are sometimes delayed reactions that start up to 24 hours after exposure
  • Some reactions continue for days or weeks after exposure
  • Responses occur to multiple chemically related substances
  • Symptoms involve multiple organ systems
  • Neurological symptoms may be involved
“Approximately 3% of Canadians have been diagnosed with environmental sensitivities.”
All ages and both sexes (Babies can be born with it)
“ES may develop gradually after chronic exposure to relatively low levels of chemicals as seen in sick buildings, or suddenly after a major exposure…”
The condition may be initiated by one or a combination of environmental factors such as mould, pesticides, solvents, chemical off-gassing…”
There appear to be genetic factors (missing detoxification enzymes…)
Nutritional balance appears to be involved either as a causal factor or an outcome.
Reactions occur at levels previously tolerated by the individual.
Sufferers have their own combination of sensitivities and their own reactions to them.
Reactions can occur to man-made or to natural materials: mould, foods, eucalyptus, pine, light, noise, electromagnetic radiation…
However, some incitants are “universal”: chemicals, moulds, dust…
Impacts range from mild (sub-optimal, but still “normal”) to debilitating.
Left untreated, illness can increase
“Sensitivities vary greatly from one person to another so the sensitive person should be involved in determining accommodations.”
Recovery is possible with early recognition, avoidance of factors, and treatment to remove toxins.
Children respond particularly well.
from Medical Perspectives on Environmental Sensitivities. M.E. Sears, 2007

Accommodating EI Students:

An air filter in the classroom (caution)
Purified water
List of food ingred
ients in cafeteria
Outdoor clothing kept in lockers
No pets, plants, mouldy books or compost in the classroom
Special cleaning products or teaching products to accommodate specific sensitivities
Seating near a window
At-home schooling sometimes
Compassion, understanding, cooperation
Adjust or eliminate food rewards
Select non-toxic, water-based glues, markers, school & art supplies…
  • Liquid white out
  • Fragrances, smelly stickers/markers
  • Plants
  • Pets
Open windows to improve air quality
Air dry-cleaned clothing
well before wearing
Use washable “sit-upons”
Remove classroom clutter
Dust regularly with damp cloth or HEPA vacuum, don’t sweep
When a child is environmentally sensitive he or she can be overwhelmed by many different things, and not just fragrances. A calm environment and reduced clutter are important too.
*Work with the parents or student to understand a particular child’s needs and to find solutions