Frequently Asked Questions

Perfume and chemical sensitivity questions

Has anyone in this group had experience of office workers having asthma attacks or other symptoms from sitting next to laser printers and photocopiers?

Is there anything you can do if accidentally exposed to a large dose of perfume?

What is it in swimming pools that might be causing my kids to go crazy?

What is the most effective ozone generator?

Could a new car cause an increase in food sensitivity?

Do you have any suggestions to get rid of the smell of new furniture?

Is there a hairspray that is ok to use or are they all bad????

Our school has announced they are installing new carpet in my son’s classroom. Can you put me in touch with some information about why this is not acceptable for my food and chemically sensitive son?

How can we deal with pre-diet behaviour due to renovation smells?

Can pool chlorine affect children’s behaviour?

Can inhaled amines be a problem?

Could nausea and vomiting be due to fluoride?

Can my daughter be reacting to environmental chemicals at kindy?

I bought a black winter coat labelled ‘made in China’, and didn’t realise until I got it home that its horrible tar or creosote-type smell gives me a nasty headache.

I noticed that some of the symptoms listed on your site are also related to chemicals, especially in the home.

Could my painful skin reaction be coming from something at work?

Can you recommend a non-toxic way of sealing a timber floor?

 

 Q: Has anyone in this group had experience of office workers having asthma attacks or other symptoms from sitting next to laser printers and photocopiers?

A: Laser printers can emit tiny particles into the air when in use but research remains to be done as to how they might affect people. One Network member said “laser printers definitely affect me, though not with asthma. I get immediate post nasal drip with things like perfumes, air fresheners, deodorants etc. The same thing happens when I am in a room where a laser printer or photocopier is working.” You might want to ask your office to move them outside if you are affected.


 Q: Is there anything you can do if accidentally exposed to a large dose of perfume? My son is very sensitive.

A:
Since the problem with perfume can be inhaled salicylates, it’s probably worth trying the usual antidote – stir half a tsp or less of soda bicarb in a half glass of water. Or have a soda bicarb bath, no more than once a day. The benefit should start within minutes and only lasts for an hour. Or investigate wearing the First Defense Nasal Screens. See also inhaled salicylates factsheet.

 Q. What is it in swimming pools that might be causing my kids to go crazy?

 

A. Chlorinated disinfection agents such as chlorine, chlorine dioxide, and chloramine kill microbes, oxidise taste/odour-forming compounds, and leave a disinfectant residual so water can reach the consumer tap safe from microbial contamination. These disinfectants may react with naturally present organic matter to produce more chloramines and some human carcinogens.

 

Sweat and urine in swimming pools reacts with chlorine to produce even more and different chloramines and they are suspected to be the cause of increased asthma observed in elite swimmers. They are amines and food intolerant people may react to them with behavioural symptoms as many members of our network have reported. See http://fedup.com.au/information/support/checklist-of-common-mistakes#pool Thanks to Wiki http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chloramine

 

 

 

 Q. What is the most effective ozone generator? On a recent weekend away within 30 minutes of being in a hotel room with air freshener sprayed throughout, our poor 3yr old son was bouncing off the walls and became very aggressive (thank you inhaled benzoates & salicylates!) We don't want him to have to endure triggers from deodorisers/air fresheners when we go away, so we have been researching ozone generators. Do you have any experience with the Rainbow air machines from Victoria?

A. Good news: the Rainbow Air is fantastic! - we could not do our roadshows without it. We use it while travelling to get rid of the smells of airfresheners, cleaners, toilet deodorisers, fabric softeners etc, and sometimes we use it at home after perfumy guests have left. I presume you understand that ozone generators should not be used when people are in the room as they can aggravate breathing problems for asthmatics. If a hotel room smells, we set the Rainbow Air running on maximum for 30 minutes while we go for a walk or have a cuppa on the verandah - it's a bit of a nuisance but nothing compared with having to stay in a smelly room. Very occasionally 30 minutes isn't enough and we give it another go later on. We bought ours after three smelly nights in a row at the beginning of the 2008 roadshow and I love my Rainbow Air - expensive but worth every cent.

 Q. ‘Could a new car cause an increase in food sensitivity?’ The parents of a sensitive 2 yo with allergies, food intolerances and perfume sensitivity had purchased a new car so that their daughter wouldn't be exposed to old cigarette smoke or pet dander, not realising about the effects of VOCs (toxic chemicals that smell, such as fragrances, cleaners and 'new' products).

A. A CSIRO analysis of three new cars found levels of VOCs nearly 130 times as high as the recommended Australian exposure limits and the levels lasted for up to six months.  Since the purchase of the new car, their daughter has become more sensitive to everything, with behavioural reactions and feeling tired all the time. Typical of VOC exposure, this collection of symptoms can be called sick building syndrome or sick auto syndrome. More information on our Fumes and Perfumes factsheet and  http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg17323251.000-sick-auto-syndrome.html

 Q: Do you have any suggestions to get rid of the smell of new furniture? It’s a wooden wardrobe for my very food and chemically sensitive 3 yo daughter.

A: There are a number of options.

  • Ventilation, the more the better, may help – e.g. windows open with a fan is a good idea, or you could put the wardrobe outside on a sunny, dry day.
  • An air purifier - good ones are not cheap, e.g InovaAir E20, see review http://www.productreview.com.au/showitem.php?item_id=57950
  • You are probably aware that flat pack furniture from China can have appallingly high formaldehyde emissions (Cheap Chinese furniture 'may poison you' http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/queensland/toxic-risk-in-imports/story-e6freoof-1111117892668). If that’s what you have, my advice (based on experience) would be to get rid of it and buy a new one. Home renovator forums say that the best way to avoid VOC emissions in board products (furniture, kitchens, bathrooms etc) is to buy at IKEA because they abide by the strictest European standards for VOC emissions (Australia has more relaxed ‘voluntary’ standards). For more information on VOCs in homes, see http://www.yourhome.gov.au/housing/healthy-home.
  • If you already have an IKEA wardrobe, formaldehyde is not an issue there is another possibility - it could be the natural smell of the wood that bothers you. Being a plant product, some trees (and their timber products) contain more salicylates than others, e.g. camphor and sandalwood are the most obvious. These will gas off over time, or you can hasten the process by using an ozone generator in the same room as the open wardrobe. Powerful ozone generators – we use a RainbowAir on our roadshows - can do the job in a short time such as half an hour, but should not be used when people are in the room as they can aggravate breathing problems for asthmatics. They work very well for cleaning and deodorising the air in a room.

 

 Q. Is there a hairspray that is ok to use or are they all bad???? My girls were on elimination for 3 weeks. Our eldest - we did it for her - was a new calm tolerant child. We were thrilled. We did the salicylate challenge and after 4 days we had to abort it as she had enormous stomach cramps, diarrhoea and bad behaviour. Since then she has gone downhill and we have not been able to do another challenge yet (3 weeks). Her behaviour and concentration have plummeted and even the netball coach commented this week. The only thing we have done differently is that we have a new hairspray, my husband feels that must be problem and I am getting suspicious too. Even though her diet is true elimination could one small spray of this hairspray each morning be the culprit??? She is miserable and we are back to being exhausted with her. I feel sorry for our eldest as she had been making such progress

A. Hairspray can definitely cause all the symptoms you mentioned (See Failsafe Stories [379] Sleep and behaviour problems due to hairspray, airfreshener). Aerosol products are particularly bad but any fragranced product can be a problem for some people because e.g. citrus, strawberry or flowery fragrances contain salicylates and in some cases amines. I don’t know of any commercial fragrance free hairsprays but you can make your own, see our Failsafe Shopping List.

Update: Well, our daughter has already settled down after about 2-3 days. She even said this morning gosh I feel better.

 Q. Our school has announced they are installing new carpet in my son’s classroom. Can you put me in touch with some information about why this is not acceptable for my food and chemically sensitive son?

A. The Carpet Institute of Australia admits that some carpets contain hazardous chemicals that are dangerous to health. They have identified 13 "chemicals of concern" (some are known carcinogens), see page 18, http://www.carpetinstitute.com.au/.pdf. Some carpets are now certified according to health standards regarding emissions of VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) - at the very least you could ask your school to install a certified carpet. Other options include moving to another class or using special air filters. In a case similar to yours, a school in the ACT has provided an expensive air filter – not the cheap ‘toys’ that don’t work (the INOVA AIR E20 http://www.productreview.com.au/p/inovaair-airclean-e20.html ) so that a student with multiple chemical sensitivity can remain in a newly renovated classroom. Further reading: environmental scientist Jo Immig’s website and free booklet Working together to clear the air, especially page 27 http://www.joimmig.com/cleartheair.pdf

 Q. How can we deal with pre-diet behaviour due to renovation smells? We have benefited greatly from failsafe eating. However we are in a newly renovated house and although my son is on the full elimination diet, his behaviour which we discovered to be due to food has now returned to pre-diet due to the effects of paint smells etc.

A. It is common for failsafe children to regress for 3 months after major renovations. The best way to deal with renovation smells is to ventilate - leave all the doors and windows wide open as much as possible and run fans. “New” smells are due to chemicals. If there are any smelly removable items such as mattresses or new furniture, you can put them on a verandah, in a garage or in a tent, to gas off. An expensive air filter with multiple filtration systems can help, e.g. the INOVA AIR E20 http://www.productreview.com.au/p/inovaair-airclean-e20.html Some people have dealt with renovations by getting their kids to sleep in a tent in the back yard. Or you could stay with someone else until the worst of it is over. Formaldehyde (a common VOC in renovations) is a carcinogen so it's not something you want to be exposed to anyway.

 Q. Can pool chlorine affect children’s behaviour?

A. Yes! This is a common problem every summer when schools start their swimming programs, see Story [466] Swimming pool chlorine triggers oppositional defiance.

 Q. Can inhaled amines be a problem? My oppositionally defiant amine-sensitive daughter is having a hard time at the moment and I am wondering if it might be due to spring flowers.

A. It is well known that salicylate responders can be affected by the scent of flowers and plant products including bark, potpourri, essential oils and incense and a salicylate-sensitive failsafer from New Zealand has commented that Australian natives seem to be particularly strong. Like flavours, scents are made up of numerous chemicals which can include natural preservatives such as benzoates as well as biogenic amines, so yes, your daughter could be affected the flowers. Tom Ogren’s Allergy Free Gardening book is helpful for advising which plants to avoid or plant in your garden. Although written in the U.S. it includes Australian natives which can be a real problem and we removed some after reading it: http://www.allergyfree-gardening.com/

 Q. Could nausea and vomiting be due to fluoride? Our 3 year old failsafe daughter has been suffering regular, unexplained bouts of nausea since we moved from Brisbane to Canberra 6 months ago. The vomiting has waxed and waned in accordance with other illnesses but became particularly bad after a bout of gastro a few months ago. She was vomiting about once a week for about five weeks after recovering from the gastro. We went to see a paediatrician who could find nothing wrong. Eventually, we remembered that she had reacted with nausea during breastfeeding every time I had taken fluoride tablets. A similar result occurred when we tried to give her fluoride drops in her water after weaning. I tested my theory numerous times during breastfeeding and afterwards with very obvious results and although taking fluoride was recommended by experts, I decided that it was not worth it as it obviously made my daughter ill. My husband noted that Canberra has fluoride in its water while Brisbane does not. Although we have always filtered our water, we have found that carbon filters do not filter fluoride. We put our daughter on to bottled water about 4 weeks ago and she has not had any vomiting since. We have also noted a marked improvement in her health, not just in the areas of nausea, and she is generally a more contented child.

A Most people ingest considerably more fluoride than they did during the early days of water fluoridation, in drinking water, food, other beverages, medications and dental products, so fluorosis (illness due to excessive intake of fluoride) is increasing. In 2011 in the USA, authorities took the unprecedented step of lowering the amount of fluoride permitted in water supplies, due to signs of fluorosis in 40% of American teenagers. One study found that long-term fluoride ingestion is associated with a high incidence of dyspeptic symptoms such as abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting. Small children are more vulnerable than adults. At follow up a year later, the child above was still happy and healthy on fluoride free bottled water and dentists have advised that fluoride is not necessary as long as her diet is good and she has good dental hygiene.

Further reading: Toxic effects of chronic fluoride ingestion on the upper gastrointestinal tract.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=Das%20toxic%20fluoride%20gastrointestinal

http://www.diagnose-me.com/cond/C627523.html.

 

 Q. Can my daughter be reacting to environmental chemicals at kindy? My 4 year old daughter is doing well on a low salicylate/amine diet with absolutely no preservatives but sometimes, even when her diet has been constant, she has mood changes, irritability etc. especially after days at kindy although she has none of the food from there.

A. One problem could be colours from coloured playdough – if the colour is strong enough to stain her hands, it is enough to cause behaviour problems. You also need to consider smells of perfumes, solvents etc. I am utterly horrified that some preschools are now using scent sprayers. See our Playgroup factsheet.

 Q. I bought a black winter coat labelled ‘made in China’, and didn’t realise until I got it home that its horrible tar or creosote-type smell gives me a nasty headache.

A. Another failsafer with exactly the same problem reported that airing and drycleaning had no effect. Despite the ‘dryclean only’ label, he achieved a wearable garment by soaking his coat in Lux flakes for three days, running it through the washing machine at least six times, and storing it in a drying room for months. Surprisingly, the coat did not shrink.

 Q. I noticed that some of the symptoms listed on your site are also related to chemicals, especially in the home.

A. For home cleaning, we recommend fragrance free cleaners such as soda bicarbonate and vinegar, see Failsafe Shopping List for many more suggestions.

 Q: Could my painful skin reaction be coming from something at work? My problem has been a severe burning sensation on my face, especially temples and nose, on and off for the past year. I have recently started the elimination diet and on the salicylate challenge my skin became so painful and my face was swollen, that I had to use liberal amounts of cortisone cream. I work in a shoe shop and have always had a bad reaction while at work. As soon as I leave work I have no discomfort. This happened on the challenge, but the reaction was only on that day that I worked. I have not had such a bad reaction since, but even this week, there was a slight tingling on my skin, but only while I was at work.

A: Exposure to toxic chemicals such as the glues and solvents used in shoe manufacture can sensitize you to other chemicals including food chemicals. You can identify occupational exposure because of the timing: your symptoms will occur at work, (or for asthma, more often on work nights) and stop during holidays. If you continue to be exposed at work, eventually your symptoms may become irreversible. The best cure is to change your job. Easy to say, hard to do, but you run the risk of becoming far more sensitive if you don't. Many sensitive failsafers say they feel uncomfortable in shoe shops and the footwear section of department stores. See our Fumes and Perfumes factsheet.

 Q. Can you recommend a non-toxic way of sealing a timber floor?

A. We had our floors done by a company that specialises in non toxic, environmentally friendly coatings, using Bio products. As well as non toxic floor varnishes, they do paints, waxes, oils and adhesives for cork and ceramic tiles. http://www.bioproducts.com.au/