They say there’s no place like home. But what happens when your home becomes a hazard to your health? For a growing number of people, exposure to everyday things found in the average home is literally making them ill – giving a whole new meaning to the term “homesick.” And with the average American spending up to 90 percent of their day indoors, it’s no wonder these environmental sensitivities are on the rise.1
Whether you’re looking to improve the state of your current home or looking into buying a home, when you have multiple chemical sensitivities every detail makes a difference to your health. There aren’t many resources available on this, and since I’ve struggled with home issues myself I wanted to provide you with a helpful resource on making your house more of a home.
What Is An Environmental Sensitivity?
Environmental sensitivity is a complex diagnosis that is often dismissed by healthcare practitioners due to it’s vague and difficult to pinpoint nature. But environmental sensitivities are very real and can have serious consequences for those suffering from this “invisible illness”.
In simplest terms, environmental sensitivity is when your body has an adverse reaction to low levels of normally well tolerated environmental exposures. Meaning, if you have an environmental sensitivity, your body will react negatively when exposed to low levels of everyday substances that you would not suspect.
What Is Multiple Chemical Sensitivity?
Multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) is a specific type of environmental sensitivity in which the body is unable to effectively detox when exposed to low levels of certain chemicals.2 Usually, these levels are considered “normal” because someone without MCS doesn’t have a reaction to them. But if you have MCS, exposure can disrupt a number of processes within the body and cause symptoms including:
- Brain fog
- Breathing problems
There is an infinite number of possible triggers that can cause MCS due to being constantly exposed to thousands of different chemicals on a daily basis. Pair that with the fact that each of us has a distinctly unique biological makeup that responds differently to each of these exposures, and you can see why MCS is a challenging diagnosis.
Exposure to chemicals can come in many forms. From the food we eat, to the water we drink, and the air we breathe. But one of the most influential factors that can impact environmental and chemical sensitivities is your environment. And where do most of us spend the majority of our time? In our homes.
Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Housing
Home is supposed to be our safe haven. But if you have environmental or chemical sensitivities, the house you live in could be making your condition worse. Oftentimes, once a person is diagnosed with MCS, it is imperative to revamp their living conditions.
Creating a home that is as safe and chemical-free as possible can be the single most important step in managing MCS.3 Unfortunately, finding housing that can accommodate your sensitivities can also be one of the single most challenging steps.
Sometimes creating this “safe space” can be accomplished by cleaning up your existing house and replacing toxic materials with safer alternatives. Other times, it may mean packing up and moving into a new and less toxic home.
Housing Factors to Consider if You Have Environmental Sensitivities
The construction of a home is complex and requires countless chemicals and building materials. If you consider just a few of the basics of constructing a home, it’s clear that they are laden with potentially toxic chemicals:
- Wood preservatives
Couple that with the fact that our homes are usually sealed up tight with little air circulation and it's easy to see why your home can be pivotal in managing sensitivities. Whether you are looking at redoing your current home, purchasing an existing home, or building a brand new home, here are some potential exposures to keep in mind.
Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that comes from the breakdown of elements in the soil and is then released into the air we breathe. Radon can become an issue when it seeps up into your home through holes and cracks in your foundation and is then trapped inside – which can cause levels to increase dangerously high.
Radon levels can vary significantly depending on your geographical location (View the Environmental Protection Agency’s map of radon zones). For areas that fall into Zone 1 (much of Colorado falls into this zone), it is recommended that new homes be built with radon-resistant features. Homes constructed with radon-resistant features prevent radon from leaking into the home and are better equipped to vent radon and other soil gasses out of the house.4 As an added benefit, radon-resistant homes also reduce the build-up of moisture which can help your home be more resistant to the growth of mold.
If you have MCS, I recommend looking for a home that has been constructed with radon-resistant features. If this is not an option, at the very least your home needs to be tested for radon levels – which is a simple and affordable test. If radon levels are high, there are a number of steps you can take to reduce radon levels by contacting a local qualified radon mitigation contractor.
Studies have found that up to 50 percent of all homes have mold growth.5 Our homes are made up of wood, carpet, drywall, and other surfaces that mold spores love to make themselves at home in. Pair these materials with exposure to moisture, and you’ve got the perfect environment for mold to thrive.
Moisture can seep into these materials in any number of ways, such as:
- Water pipe or roof leaks
- Holes or gaps in walls or windows
- Lack of circulation that creates condensation
- Heater, air conditioning, and ventilation conditions (if not maintained properly they could be spreading around mold spores)
- Humidity levels (this is unavoidable in certain geographical areas but can be addressed with a dehumidifier)
- History of flooding (if you live in a flood zone, you are at particularly high risk of mold exposure)
Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous mineral that because of its strength and resistance to heat, has been used extensively in building materials that could potentially make their way into your home. Asbestos has been used in materials such as:
- Floor and ceiling tiles
- Attic and wall insulation
- Textured paint and patching compounds used on walls
Asbestos exposure can not only exacerbate symptoms of environmental sensitivity, but it also significantly increases your risk of developing lung cancer. In fact, asbestos is banned in many countries but is still in use in the U.S.6
It can be difficult to know for sure the exact materials used to build a home without having the manufacturer's label or sending samples out for testing. But the good news is, since the 1980’s most U.S. manufacturers have largely phased out the use of asbestos in exchange for safer substances.7 So if you have MCS, seeking out newer construction can minimize your chances of being unknowingly exposed to asbestos.
Lead is a heavy metal that can build up to toxic levels in your body with repeated exposure. One of the most common sources of lead poisoning comes from exposure to lead-based paint.8 And since it wasn’t banned until 1978, there are still millions of homes in the U.S, that contain lead-based paint. As the paint deteriorates and creates dust, it can easily be transferred to you and become a serious hazard.
While the EPA advises that lead paint is generally safe if covered with other layers of non-lead-based paint and kept in good condition, it’s not a risk worth taking if you have MCS.9 Look for newer homes built later than 1978. And if you are concerned, you can get a lead paint inspection or risk assessment to analyze lead levels in your home.
Another important factor to consider when looking for a new home, especially if you are considering building a brand new home, is expandable soils. Expandable soils are simply a group of soils that significantly change volume when exposed to water and they are present in many regions throughout the world. Even certain areas of Colorado are susceptible to significant shifting, settling, and swelling due to a high volume of these expansive soils.
The issue with expandable soils is that as the ground beneath your home settles and shifts, it can create cracks and other structural complications in the foundation of your home. This can then allow soil gasses like radon, to leak into your home or let water seep in and create a breeding ground for mold.
If you’re looking at building a brand new home, it's crucial to have the property's soil properly evaluated. Or if you’re purchasing an existing home, be sure to talk to your real estate agent and inquire about soil quality, previous issues with the home, or any known issues with surrounding properties.
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
Volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, are gasses that are emitted from certain substances during a process known as off-gassing. These VOCs are chemicals that escape from a number of materials such as:
- Building materials
- Cleaning products
Not only can these chemicals be a major trigger for MCS, but they have also been linked to increased risk for chronic illness, cancer, and asthma.10,11 While it is impossible to entirely avoid VOCs in our modern environment, there are some steps you can take to minimize exposure such as:
- Choosing safer construction materials
- Selecting safer furniture and mattresses
- Minimizing humidity and moisture inside your home
- Keeping computers out of your bedroom
- Ensuring adequate ventilation and airflow in your home
- Using natural pest control and cleaning products
Environmental and Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Treatment
Because these sensitivities are so complex and can be triggered by any number of factors within your environment, the best treatment is avoidance. Since avoiding indoor triggers can also be one of the most challenging aspects of managing your sensitivities, here are my suggestions:
Do Your Research
You are your own best advocate. Seek help from a functional medicine doctor experienced in treating patients with environmental sensitivities. Learn about your geographical area and what potential triggers you may be more likely to encounter there. Be mindful of any materials or products you bring into your home.
Work With a Knowledgeable Real Estate Agent or Contractor
Whether you are looking at revamping your existing home or purchasing/building a new home, it will likely be necessary to partner with a knowledgeable real estate agent or contractor.
While finding a real estate agent or contractor who is well versed in environmental sensitivities may be a challenge, I recommend seeking out a professional who is familiar with your geographical location. And most importantly, find one who takes your requests seriously and is understanding of the severity of your condition.
Manage Your Environments
It’s impossible to avoid all potential triggers. When it comes to environmental sensitivities, the name of the game is minimizing exposure. And fortunately, there are many steps you can take to minimize your exposure to overall toxins and limit potential triggers. Read on to see my best suggestions for managing your internal and external environments.
Reducing Toxins In Your Home
Ideally, you would be able to find housing that minimizes potential triggers including those listed in this article. But even the most meticulously constructed home can present issues. Luckily there are a couple of additional steps you can take to make your home more accommodating to your sensitivities.
Invest in a Quality Air Purifier
Our homes are often sealed up tight with little air circulation. This can lead to a buildup of pollution of the indoor air and result in the air quality of your home being anywhere from two to five times as toxic as the air outdoors. When you’re struggling with MCS, this can be disastrous.
It would be impossible to entirely eliminate all of the sources that pollute your indoor air. That's why it’s essential to invest in a high-quality air purifier that can remove many of these pollutants.
And when it comes to indoor air purifiers, I always recommend Austin Air purifiers. Austin Air purifiers are the best on the market. They’re so effective, one study found that they reduced the number of emergency room visits in children with asthma by an incredible 18.5 percent.12
I only recommend products I’ve personally used and know will have a positive impact on your life. Austin Air purifiers helped me tremendously when I was healing from mold exposure and CIRS illness. And if you purchase through our practice, you can get an exclusive discount – click here to learn more.
Be Mindful of Your Cleaning Products
Many cleaning products contain toxic chemicals that can be triggering. Harsh chemicals can also negatively impact the microbiome of your home. Opting for all-natural cleaning products with minimal ingredients can go a long way in reducing exposure and keeping your home healthy.
Reducing Your Toxic Load With Environmental or Chemical Sensitivities
While managing your environment and exposure to potential external triggers can go a long way in managing your sensitivities, it’s also a good idea to give your body a boost to help properly detox from the exposures you can't avoid. Here are some of the most potent ways you can reduce your toxic burden.
One of the most commonly overlooked “toxins” to the human body is emotional and psychological stress. The worry and anxiety that can come with the pressures of life or unresolved emotional turmoil are literally toxic to your body. Finding ways to minimize stressors and manage the stress you can’t avoid can go a long way in reducing your toxic load.
Use Detox Binders
Ensure Healthy Elimination
Healthy bowel movements are essential for removing toxins from the body. If you’re not eliminating toxins by going to the bathroom every day, your gut flora may be off.
Do You Have Environmental or Chemical Sensitivities and Need Help Finding A Home in Colorado?
If you or someone you love is struggling with environmental or chemical sensitivities, making changes to the home should be a top priority. I realize this is often easier said than done.
But fortunately, more and more people are becoming aware of these invisible illnesses. And recently I’ve had the privilege of being in contact with a real estate agent local to the Louisville, Colorado area who is working hard to learn how he can better serve his clients suffering from environmental sensitivities. So if you are located in the area and need help in your search for a home that can accommodate your sensitivities, I recommend reaching out to Don Ralston.
I’ve also put together an extensive guide to help you reduce your toxin exposure which is crucial when managing environmental or chemical sensitivities. It’s completely free and you can grab your copy here.
The information in this article is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease state or medical condition and has not been evaluated by the <a href="https://www.fda.gov/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">FDA</a>. This is not intended to replace any recommendations by or relationship with your physician. The references included in each article allude to the level of scientific rigor I have applied to my writing. When changes become apparent we will update the information if appropriate.
* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The product mentioned in this article are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information in this article is not intended to replace any recommendations or relationship with your physician. Please review references sited at end of article for scientific support of any claims made.