Environmental Illness: What is it?

environmental illness

The term Environmental Illness (EI) is used to describe an illness that is triggered by environmental factors which cause specific symptoms and the chronic health condition itself.

Those who suffer from EI may have serious sensitivities to various chemicals, can develop allergies and can become unable to work in typical workplace environments as a result of developing sick building syndrome.

Some sufferers become hypersensitive and allergic to almost everything in their home and work environment.

They are allergic to foods, molds, and pollens as well as sensitive to common chemicals found in cosmetics and cleaning products.

Dyes, preservatives in foods, and many conventional building materials that are laced with chemicals, household or industrial pesticides and herbicides also cause serious reactions in many patients.

Types of Environmentally Induced Health Conditions

This type of environmentally ill patient is sometimes referred to as a “universal reactor.” Environmental Illness is also often interchanged for the terms “Universal Allergy” or “21th Century Disease.”

Subset illnesses of EI include Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, Chemical Allergies, Gulf War Syndrome, Chemical Injury, Environmental Syndrome and Sick Building Syndrome.

Other conditions that research has shown to be related to environmental factors include Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, Systemic Yeast or Candida Infections, various allergies, Autism, and gastro intestinal conditions such as Leaky Gut Syndrome or Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

Lupus, adrenal fatigue, heavy metal toxicity, and Asthma are diseases or conditions that have been linked in varying degrees to an environmental trigger component as well.

There is no common definition established as of yet for this complicated and often misunderstood syndrome. Often, there are differing opinions among the research and medical communities about the causes and symptomology of Environmental Illness.

Some researchers and doctors still refuse to acknowledge the presentation of this illness and will only define those who suffer from the symptoms as those who suffer from “classical allergic reactions.”

Environmental Illness is not easily nor neatly defined within the typical medical parameters as are many other conditions because the cause, scope, severity of symptoms and effective treatment modalities can be very different from patient to patient.

It also does not respond well to neatly organized conventional quantitative testing through traditional blood work or other methods.

Often, those who suffer from EI or other related environmental illnesses, experience a ‘pile-on’ effect in which they develop other related conditions, which makes it much more complicated to treat.

In attempt to provide as accurate as possible definition for this condition, the The American Academy of Environmental Medicine states:

“ENVIRONMENTALLY TRIGGERED ILLNESSES (ETI) are the adverse consequences that result when the homeodynamic interactions among biological functions are compromised by external or internal stressors.

These stressors may range from severe acute exposure to a single stressor, to cumulative relatively low-grade exposures to many stressors over time.

The resultant dysfunction is dependent on the patient’s genetic makeup, his nutrition and healthenvironmental illness in general, the stressors, the degree of exposure to them, and the effects of seven fundamental biological governing principles: biochemical individuality, individual susceptibility, the total load, the level of adaptation, the bipolarity of responses, the spreading phenomenon, and the switch phenomenon.

It can also commonly be explained as a ‘reaction to various substances in a person’s everyday environment that results in mild to serious symptoms that affect multiple organs and result in a very poor state of health.

Common chemicals, foods, and various other air borne particles are generally the components that are reacted to by sufferers, while other healthy people in the same environment do not experience negative symptoms to the exact same exposures.”


Many sufferers of EI develop symptoms as a result of a particular, intense exposure to a single chemical or group of chemicals such as those found in conventional building materials (formaldehyde) or commonly used chemicals such as pesticides and herbicides.

Exposure to cigarette smoke, asbestos, wood burning stoves, and gas heaters or stoves over a prolonged period of time are also some of the common causes.


  • joint and muscle pain
  • irritation to eyes, such as stinging and burning
  • central nervous system affectations such as poor memory, lack of concentration, disorientation, “spacey” feeling
  • dizziness, vertigo
  • headaches, including migraines
  • upper and lower respiratory illnesses such as sinus infections, asthma, sinus irritation, breathing problems, lung conditions
  • extreme, chronic fatigue
  • gastrointestinal problems i.e. ulcers, leaky gut syndrome
  • candida infections
  • paralysis
  • nausea
  • allergic “shiners”- called such by allergists because of the black or dark circles around the eye socket that is an allergic response to exposure to certain allergens or toxins
  • sleeplessness
  • flu-like symptoms
  • irregular heartbeat, heart issues
  • rashes
  • mood disturbances such as anxiety, depression, irritability

Many people react distinctly to each chemical. It is common to first experience dizziness, disorientation, rapid heartbeat and mood changes followed by flu-like illness, respiratory infections and muscle/joint aches.

In severe cases, the flu-like illness and aching can persist for days. Serious respiratory problems may also accompany an exposure.


More and more research has been conducted and there is a growing consensus among conventional as well as alternative medical professionals that environmental factors play a huge role in affecting health and wellness.

Up until the 1950’s, this type of health condition was virtually unheard of, but after WWII and the introduction of synthetic petrochemicals and super pesticides, a growing number of people in highly developed countries such as the U.S. began to experience serious reactions to processed, synthetic components used in virtually every area of society.

It wasn’t until the mid 1980’s that a more organized, medical approach to treating sufferers of various environmental exposures began to be well developed.

An early medical forerunner and treatment expert is Dr. William Rae of the Environmental Health Center in Dallas, who has treated thousands of EI patients in his Texas based medical center.

His medical specialty was cardiac surgery until he developed an interest in the emerging needs of many EI patients, which prompted his development of treatment protocols.

Another prominent medical doctor is Dr. Allan Lieberman who has established the Center for Occupational and Environmental Medicine located in Charleston, SC. His clinic offers state of the art facilities for treating serious environmentally related health conditions both off site and on site.

His original medical specialty was pediatrics, but later on he shifted his medical interest to Environmental Medicine as well.

He is board certified by the American Board of Environmental Medicine (ABEM) and a member of the American Academy of Environmental Medicine. Dr. Lieberman has been practicing medicine for 51 years.

There are also many other professionals such as allergists, immunologists, and alternative health specialists who specialize in Environmental Medicine modalities.

And the Federal government has already begun to grant disability status for a small number of patients who suffer from Environmental Illness, Multiple Chemical Sensitivities and Chemical Injuries.

The field of Environmental Medicine is a growing interest among both conventional and alternative medical doctors, but it is not without its skeptics and detractors.

However, anyone who actually suffers from EI or who has studied its symptomology knows the serious reality of the condition.

There is an entire sub-culture of people with EI who are struggling to live life in a very toxic world. A recent study has estimated that at least 15% of the American population suffers some form of Environmental Illness, even if many are unaware of what is causing their poor health.

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