Like many of my patients, Alicia came to see me because a friend told her I was good at diagnosing “mystery ailments.” Alicia was suffering from a long list of symptoms, including headaches, muscle spasms, digestive distress, repeated upper respiratory infections, and nosebleeds, to name only a few. Alicia had seen other doctors, but nothing they recommended provided consistent relief.
In looking over her medical history, I noticed that she had moved recently and asked about that. “Yes, my husband and I were finally able to buy our own place,” she said with pride. “It’s a brand-new condo not far from here.”
That was the first clue to what was causing Alicia’s problems. And as we talked, others surfaced. Not only was the condo new, which meant she was being exposed to toxic outgassing from building products, but Alicia had installed “fragrance” diffusers throughout the space to mask the smell of new paint and other chemicals. To make matters worse, the condo association regularly sprayed the buildings — inside and out — for pests, and gardeners in her development frequently dusted rosebushes and other plants with bug-killing products. The result was a chemical soup that would make anyone ill.
Among my recommendations for Alicia: Replace synthetic-fragrance diffusers and sprays with real blooming, scented plants that not only clean the air but also fill it with nontoxic aromas. Synthetic-fragrance products can irritate our lungs and nasal passages, especially the aerosol-spray versions, which produce extremely tiny particles easily absorbed into the lungs and bloodstream. Air fresheners made with real citrus extracts in a pump form are better because their particles are larger and not as easily inhaled.
In addition to discussing nontoxic cleaners, we looked at Alicia’s options regarding the condo association’s cleaning and gardening practices. I suggested she (and other residents who had been complaining of not feeling well) meet with the condo manager or board of directors to outline their legal responsibilities for their tenants’ health. Furthermore, she could request that all cleaning and gardening contractors replace chemical-laden products with safer alternatives. If they refuse to do so, it would be time to look for new service providers.
It took nearly a year for Alicia’s symptoms to go away, but today she’s healthy and thriving, along with a few dozen of her neighbors. “We had no idea these products could make us sick,” she said, “but if you think about it, we’re exposed to so many chemicals — at home, in the office, at the mall, everywhere! No wonder so many people don’t feel good but never realize what the real problem is.”
I couldn’t say it better myself.