A man suffers from a headache.

For people with environmental sensitivities, scents can be painfully debilitating and isolating. The condition can strike at any age, in men and women, although women are most affected (70 to 80 per cent of sufferers are female). Rohini Peris, president of the Environmental Health Association of Quebec, has been medically diagnosed with environmental sensitivities, triggered by pesticide poisoning 18 years ago. When exposed to perfumes she suffers painful symptoms that can be disabling.

Here Rohini shares her knowledge about the condition.

What are environmental sensitivities?

In Canada we use the umbrella term environmental sensitivities, which includes multiple chemical sensitivity.

“Environmental sensitivities can occur when people become sensitive to substances or phenomena in their everyday environment at levels well below what would be considered to be acceptable to ‘normal’ people. Sensitivity reactions can be triggered by scented products, cleaning products, laundry detergents, paints, petrochemicals, cigarette smoke, pesticides, pets, plants, fuels, electromagnetic radiation, moulds and foods.”

We can all take steps to live fragrance-free and embrace chemical avoidance policies in the workplace to prevent illnesses and reduce health risks.

Environmental sensitivities triggers

Chronic low dose exposure or one large exposure to mould, or to pesticides and other chemicals found in common products like solvents, can trigger this medical condition. Once productive individuals may suddenly or gradually become unable to tolerate being in offices, schools, hospitals and public places.

The disability can manifest in a multitude of symptoms, often neurological. To get well individuals need a healthy place to live. That often means avoiding public areas such as shopping malls, movie theatres, restaurants, libraries, etc.

You can imagine how isolating this would be — many patients drop out of sight. So even though there are over a million Canadians with a medical diagnosis of environmental sensitivities, many of the rest of us don’t know about it. Those stricken simply become invisible.