If you have a loved one who is environmentally ill, chemically afflicted, suffering from multiple chemical sensitivity or “allergic to smells,” here are a few steps you can take to help them out and show them you care.
1) Believe them. They know how they feel. Many doctors say the best way to diagnose a patient is to let the patient tell you what is wrong with them. The first step towards helping your chemically afflicted loved one is to believe them. Feeling oneself overreact to chemicals is alienating enough in itself, it is even more debilitating when your loved ones think your disorder is of a psychological nature.
2) Accept their need for avoidance. Understand that continued exposure to what bothers them won’t allow them to “get over it” but will instead make things worse. The chemically sensitive react to much smaller doses of offending chemicals than others. Avoidance is what they need, and will eventually be their main road to recovery.
3) Use detergents that are non-toxic and scent-free. Conventional, unscented detergents aren’t enough. These contain masking agents to numb the nose. Your nose may no longer smell the cloud of strong chemical agents that clings to your clothes, but those of us who are sensitive will smell it like an evil plague. Ditto for fabric softeners (which you can truly do without). Need brand guidance? This chemically sensitive gal prefers Ecover.
4) Ditto for home cleaning products. Four words: baking soda and vinegar.
5) Use non-toxic, unscented personal care products. This includes shampoos, conditioners, soaps, deodorants, aftershaves, perfumes, lotions, moisturizers, etc. Sounds like a lot, yes, but by using non-toxic personal care products you will also be doing yourself a favor. If you aren’t ready to switch out your entire beauty routine, start with the most odorific. And yes, you’re right, you aren’t going to find an unscented perfume, though some natural perfumes may (or may not) be more tolerable.
6) Ask. If you are unsure whether a certain product will bother the person, ask! We would love for you to show you care in this way! Many of us have been able to ascertain which products are “safe” through trial and error, and probably already know which products we can tolerate and which we can’t. Some may be ok with natural fragrances in non-toxic products while others may be sensitized to natural scents as well.
7) Understand that any chemicals might bother them. This includes chemicals in glues, shoe polish, fingernail polish, hairspray, paint – the list is endless. Products containing solvents (hairspray, nail polish, paints) are especially vicious. If you open up a container of one of these products in the house, expect a major breakdown. Please apply them outside or better yet, find a less toxic alternative.
8) Get rid of air fresheners, scented candles etc. Glade, Febreze, any spray or plug-in “air freshener” is especially atrocious to many of us chemically afflicted souls. If you want to see me jump through a window, just spray me with Febreze. These products aren’t harmless, by the way. They contain high quantities of VOC’s, can contain masking agents, and contain “fragrance,” which could contain any number of carcinogens. The same applies to scented candles and other “home scents.”
9) Help them get fresh air. If you witness your chemically sensitive loved one in the middle of an adrenal reaction, ie, fight or flight response, in reaction to exposure, help him or her get fresh air. If the person uses a mask, help them get their mask on. Use a piece of clothing as a makeshift mask if needed. Expect the person to have trouble communicating. Learn to recognize the panicky signs of the adrenal reaction. Refrain from telling the person they are overreacting, their biology isn’t functioning in the same ways yours is.
10) Help them seek medical treatment. Many general practitioners may be unfamiliar with the condition or may even be dubious. Few medical practitioners are able to help the chemically sensitive detox from such states and begin recovery, but they do exist. The most renowned one in his field is Dr Rea, practicing at the Environmental Health Center in Dallas Texas. Patients at his clinic live in “safe” rooms free from chemical contamination while undergoing their treatment. He helps patients identify their triggers so that they can begin recovery.
Thanks for reading this, which is in itself, a sign of love and compassion. We the chemically afflicted thank you for your kindness.
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