Thursday, February 12, 2015

Unmet health care needs for persons with environmental sensitivity

Unmet health care needs for persons with environmental sensitivity

Gibson PR, Kovach S, Lupfer A. Unmet health care needs for persons with environmental sensitivity. Dove Press. 8:59-66. Jan 2015. DOI

Studies of unmet health care needs have shown that women, people with poor health, and people with lower socioeconomic status are more likely to report having unmet health care needs.

In this study, we examined the types of and reasons for unmet health care needs in 465 people with environmental sensitivities. A second area of inquiry involved negative reactions to general anesthesia.

Results showed that the most common barriers to receiving care were the inability to find a provider who understands environmental sensitivities and a lack of accessibility due to chemical and electromagnetic exposures in health care environments. Lower income and poorer health (longer illness, a worsening or fluctuating course of illness, and a higher level of disability) were significantly correlated with the total number of reported unmet health care needs. Some people with environmental sensitivities reported having negative reactions to anesthesia of long duration; most common were nausea and vomiting, fatigue, and reduced cognitive ability.

Keywords: environmental sensitivity, chemical sensitivity, electrohypersensitivity, chemical hypersensitivity, chemical intolerance, contested illness


Also related to, and overlapping with, CS is the problem of electrohypersensitivity (EHS). Though EHS has not been widely researched and has suffered from disbelief from some sectors, persons with EHS manifest cellular changes similar to those induced by ionizing radiation or ultraviolet light.14 Hence, Johansson25 believes that the cutaneous changes found in persons with EHS (eg, mast cell degranulation and other changes) are a form of radiation damage. The presence of mast cells in cardiac tissue may explain the heart symptoms experienced by some persons reporting EHS when they use video display terminals.25 The Bioinitiative Report,26 authored by 14 scientists and public health experts, summarized the research on EHS and identified cell phone use and cordless phone use as risk factors for brain tumors and acoustic neuromas. Extremely low electromagnetic frequency has been identified as a risk factor for breast cancer, childhood leukemia, and even Alzheimer’s disease. Rizi and Dehghan27 found a spate of self-reported physical symptoms as well as elevated psychological problems among workers at high-voltage facilities.

... Individuals with EHS may be unable to be in proximity to fluorescent lighting, diagnostic machines, and some computers. Seeing these persons in a room with less technology, or meeting outdoors – or even in their homes – may be necessary accommodations for health care providers to make. Recently, the National Council on Independent Living ( made available a number of resources to help providers make their facilities accessible to those with chemical and electrical sensitivities. Though targeted to centers for independent living, a number of these resources could be helpful to medical providers as well. Because bodily reactions to environmental incitants can be life threatening, it is both ironic and clearly unacceptable that some patients must risk their safety in order to receive medical care. In addition, large numbers of respondents reported not feeling well enough to even attempt to get care. Yet, those who reported being more disabled, having been ill longer, and those who had worsened or fluctuated reported having high numbers of unmet needs. It seems that some people pass a threshold beyond which they are unable to access and benefit from medical care; yet, very little has been done to address this.

The contested nature of ES clearly contributes to the difficulty in accessing health care for persons with sensitivities. Despite 20 years of research and the availability of clear incidence,12,14,16,28,29 case series,30–32 and descriptive33–35 medical studies, patients continue to report that health care providers are either unaware of or do not accept the nature of these conditions. Thus, contested illnesses such as chemical and electrical sensitivities remain illnesses that you have “to fight to get”.36 Doiron37 found that even social workers who regularly saw persons with CS were unaware of the nature of their clients’ needs. Though a subspecialty of environmental medicine exists in the US, mainstream providers generally do not treat ES.

In addition, understanding and providing services for both chemical and electrical hypersensitivity demands that we rethink our uncritical acceptance of all technology as “good” and be open to critical analysis of the health effects of such technology.


Joel M. Moskowitz, Ph.D., Director
Center for Family and Community Health
School of Public Health
University of California, Berkeley

Electromagnetic Radiation Safety

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