Feature Articles

Environmental Illness: Are You at Risk?

Since the end of World War Two, there has been a rapid rise in the incidence of more complex and chronic diseases. This rise is directly due to environmental factors and has resulted in an entirely new class of health conditions known collectively as environmental illness. Yet, despite rapidly escalating costs associated with the treatment of these illnesses, conventional medicine has proven itself ill-equipped to deal with them, primarily due to its reliance on just treating symptoms and not giving enough attention the causes of such diseases and why they developed in the first place.

The range of health conditions that have been linked to environmental factors is extensive and growing. Included in that list are many common childhood diseases; eye, ear, nose, and throat conditions; skin conditions; autoimmune diseases; certain forms of mental illness; chronic fatigue syndrome; fibromyalgia; respiratory conditions; gastrointestinal disorders; cardiovascular diseases; and illness associated with the body's endocrine, genitourinary, musculoskeletal, and nervous systems. Potentially, any health condition can be due, at least in part, to environmental factors that negatively impact healthy body functioning.

Factors Explain the Rise of Environmental Illness
The rise and increased incidence of environmental illness can be explained in one word: pollution! Today, more than at any other time in history, our air, soil, and water supplies are fouled with a wide range of harmful chemicals and other toxins that pose a threat to our health. In addition, a number of these toxins are now prevalent in our food supply, both because they are found in the soil in which food crops are grown, and because they are also used by the commercial farming industry to grow, package, and preserve food crops.

Here are some other facts that explain more about the consequences of environmental illness and why it is on the rise:

  • Food allergies and sensitivities are among the most commonly mis- or undiagnosed medical conditions in the U.S. An estimated 10 to 30% of the population suffers from this form of environmentally triggered illness, and approximately 95% of them have not been properly identified and treated. In addition, food allergies and sensitivities annually result in 3.4 million lost works days in the U.S., at an estimated cost of $639 million, yet Americans spend $2 billion each year on various forms of allergy treatments.

  • The average American spends 90% of each day indoors, breathing air that, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), can be as much as 100 times more polluted than outdoor air.

  • According to the EPA, 60% percent of all Americans live in areas where poor air quality is a health risk.

  • An estimated 20,000 different types of pesticides are currently in use, and 50% of all pesticide use (2 billion pounds) occurs in the U.S., resulting in annual related health care costs estimated at $780 million.

  • According to the EPA, 98 pesticides, and over 600 other chemicals, have been detected in U.S. drinking water since 1984. More than 400 toxic chemicals have also been identified in human tissue.

  • There are an estimated 80,000 chemicals regularly in use today, with an additional 1,000 to 2,000 chemicals added to this list each year. Yet only 3% of them have been tested to determine whether or not they are toxic or carcinogenic (cause cancer).

  • In 1998, the U.S. released approximately 500 billion tons of toxic chemicals into the environment.

  • The incidence of toxic mold and/or volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in homes and in the workplace has experienced a meteoric rise in the last decade, causing a wide range of severe health problems, and in some cases death, yet all-too-often neither mold nor VOCs are detected until the damage has been done. In a growing number of cases, homeowners have even been forced to abandon their homes and all of their possessions due to mold infestation so severe that the homes had to be declared biohazards!

The sources for the above facts can be found in my book, The American Holistic Medical Association Guide to Holistic Health (John Wiley & Sons, 2001)

Do You Or Your Loved Ones Suffer From Environmental Illness?
As mentioned, environmental illness (including food allergies and sensitivities) is often overlooked or misdiagnosed by many physicians today, simply because they are not trained to recognize the telltale signs associated with it. Such telltale symptoms include:

  • Dark circles, swelling, or wrinkles under the eyes
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Postnasal drip
  • Excessive mucus
  • Watery eyes and/or blurred vision
  • Ringing of the ears
  • Recurrent ear infections
  • Sinusitis
  • Sore throats, hoarseness, or chronic coughing
  • Coated tongue
  • Chest congestion
  • Heart palpitations
  • Vascular headaches
  • Gagging
  • Mucus or undigested food in the stool
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea and/or constipation
  • Bloating after meals
  • Flatulence
  • Abdominal pains or cramping
  • Extreme thirst
  • Anal or vaginal itching
  • Hives or rashes
  • Dermatitis
  • Brittle nails and hair
  • Dry skin
  • Dandruff
  • Skin pallor
  • Joint pain
  • Frequent or urgent urination
  • PMS
  • Obesity or weight fluctuations during the course of the day
  • Unnatural or persistent fatigue or drowsiness, anxiety or panic attacks
  • Depression
  • Crying jags
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Irritability
  • Mental dullness, concentration problems, or confusion Excessive daydreaming
  • Restlessness
  • Poor work habits
  • Slurred speech
  • Faintness or dizziness
  • Sleepiness soon after a meal
  • Insomnia or restless sleep

If you or your loved ones suffer from any of the above symptoms, then some form of environmental illness may be to blame, especially if symptoms are chronic and do not respond to conventional medical treatments.

What To Do If You Need Help
If you suspect you or a loved one is at risk for environmental illness, you will be best served by consulting with a physician trained to properly recognize and treat its symptoms and underlying causes. Such Health Experts practice what is known as environmental medicine, a branch of medicine that was founded by the late Theron G. Randolph, MD, who was recognized as one of the world's preeminent allergy specialists. During his long life, Dr. Randolph taught at four medical schools, including Northwestern University, where he served as Professor of Allergy and Immunology.

Dr. Randolph first recognized the link between environmental toxins and health in the 1940s, when he discovered a direct link between the health problems and food allergies and sensitivities. During this time, he developed a number of effective methods for diagnosing food allergies and sensitivities and also discovered the wide range of symptoms they could cause. He was also the first physician to develop effective methods of reversing food allergies and sensitivities.

In the 1950s, Dr. Randolph turned his attention to the many other chemical compounds that were by then being introduced into the environment as a matter of course by the burgeoning chemical industries that came to dominant so much of our modern life. Based on his research, he became the first person to describe the concept of chemical sensitivity. In 1962, he published his findings in his book Human Ecology and Susceptibility to the Chemical Environment, which was the first medical textbook on the subject of environmental medicine.

In 1965, a group of physicians influenced by Dr. Randolph and his research, established the organization that is today known as the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM). Since its formation, the AAEM has continued its mission of educating physicians in the most effective ways of diagnosing, treating, and preventing environmental illness. Another important part of the AAEM's mission lies in the ongoing work they do in educating the public about how their diet and environment can adversely affect their health.

Today, physicians trained by the AAEM are recognized as being the most well qualified health practitioners for diagnosing and treating all forms of environmental illness.

To locate a physician member of the AAEM in your area, contact:

    The American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM)
    6505 E. Central Avenue
    Suite 296
    Wichita, Kansas 67206
    Phone: (316) 684-5500

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