Chemical Incitants in the Home Environment

Recent attention focused on the analysis of indoor air has led to the discovery of a multitude of sensitivities to chemicals confronted in the home environment. Over the past few years articles of personal hygiene, clothing, furnishings, and countless commonly used household products have been incriminated as triggering agents of homeostatic dysfunction or of disturbances of the equilibrium of the body’s systems.

Time and space limitations allow only a cursory review of the numerous hygienic products which have been revealed as noxious for the chemically susceptible individual. Among these are a wide variety of cosmetics, particularly those containing glycerin, propylene glycol, or butylene glycol, perfumes and hair products such as dyes, creams, sprays, and shampoos. Moreover, sensitivities have been demonstrated to occur in association with lip salve, fingernail preparations, soaps, sanitary napkins, mouthwash, antiperspirants, contact lenses, contact lens solutions, and suntan lotions.

Reports of sensitivities to textiles and to those chemicals used in the processing of clothing continue to appear. El Saad reports sensitivities to synthetic acrylic fibers, and Burrow’s data indicate the existence of contact dermatitis secondary to polyester spun finishes. Recently, the epoxy resins used in manufacturing many trousers have been isolated as triggering agents, and reports on synthetic clothing as environmental antigens are widespread. Products such as spray starch used in the maintenance of fabrics may also be considered toxic for the chemically sensitive individual for whom, as Larsen’s interesting study suggests, even the metallic buttons on blue jeans may trigger reactions to nickel.

Many household cleaning products, particularly those containing formaldehyde, have been shown to be hazardous for many. Several laundry products and detergents may be identified as household incitants, as well as a number of products used to clean and polish furniture.

It is increasingly apparent that the very construction of many homes may prove dangerous for the chemically sensitive patient. A considerable amount of data suggests that chemicals contained in wood preservatives are environmental incitants capable of triggering a variety of symptoms. Frigas has reported asthma secondary to household insulation containing urea formaldehyde foam, and scattered reports suggest that petrochemical contaminants in construction products such as plaster and cement may also trigger chemically induced reactions.

Other products commonly encountered in the home have been identified as environmental incitants. Current data support earlier findings regarding the hazards of pesticides such as 2,4- DNP (Dinitrophenol) and fungicides. Moreover, research increasingly suggests the possibility of sensitivities to apparently innocuous items such as rubber bands, coins, epoxy, and countless paper products.

The current emphasis on indoor air pollution has sparked research on other apparently benign features of the home environment. Thus, numerous house plants, and common insects are now viewed as environmental causes of homeostatic dysfunction. In addition, sensitivities to cold and heat, and to contaminants in household water supplies have been associated with symptoms ranging from urticaria to severe respiratory distress. It is now clear that, in the face of increasing amounts of data which point to previously unsuspected household incitants, a more cautious attitude should be adopted regarding the issue of environmental safety in the home.
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