We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What is Environmental Sensitivity?

Tricia Christensen
By
Updated Mar 03, 2024
Our promise to you
The Health Board is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At The Health Board, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

Environmental sensitivity (ES) or sensitivities is a challenging condition that causes one or more systems in a person’s body to react to chemicals, substances, or other features usually present in the living or working environment. There is great argument about the origin of this condition and if it is an actual physical disease. Some doctors dismiss it as a psychological disorder only, and in some cases some psychological conditions are misdiagnosed as ES. However whether or not it is officially ordained a “disease” by various medical groups it can be the cause of much suffering to those who have it, and better treatment for it would certainly be a relief to many.

Usually, this condition emerges after an illness or an exposure to a certain substance that results in significant physical symptoms. These include allergy type reactions with runny nose, sneezing and itchy eyes or reactions of the respiratory system that result in asthma, bronchitis, or general cough. People may also feel faint, and develop nausea or diarrhea, or they might have frequent urination, stomach pain, a general feeling of “spaciness” or grogginess and pain in the head or in other parts of the body. Strong sense of smell is usually noted as commonality among those with environmental sensitivity, and the condition is confirmed or proven by watching a patient react again to the substance to which he or she claims sensitivity.

Some common features include that people will likely have been exposed to the substance in the past to which they are now sensitive. When exposed to the substance in the present, much lower levels of it are needed to produce a reaction. Improvement tends to be felt right away when exposure to a substance ends.

The symptoms of environmental sensitivity may pose significant problems for an individual or number of triggering chemicals or substances may be few and easy to avoid. Some people will note significant physical symptoms when they smell fragrances, for example, and they might need to avoid buying magazines with fragrant freebies, and work in an environment where people don’t use fragrance. This could be difficult to avoid completely, since many things have a pronounced scent. A person with ES to fragrances need to make rules about where they work so they can avoid this, but it’s awfully hard to continually avoid all fragrance smells when in the company of others.

A person could conversely have environmental sensitivity to a chemical that isn’t found too often, such as one in wet paint. He or she might have to be away from home if any exterior painting is being done close by or if a home’s interiors need to be painted. Typically, unless the person worked at a paint store or as a painter/contractor/etc, avoiding this chemical could be a little easier.

Many people develop multiple sensitivities to commonly available things, and they could have environmental sensitivity to cleaning products, various food products and even gases present in the air. Greater number of sensitivities and larger physical reaction to them corresponds to a much more limited lifestyle. When this is paired with skepticism by the medical community and by family or friends, the person with ES is greatly in need of support, and may not always get it. There are fortunately some good support groups online, and some people will also find local community support that can be useful.

Support alone isn’t adequate treatment. People with environmental sensitivity need first to find a doctor who believes in the condition and has some experience in treating it. There are diagnostic tools for differentiating ES from other conditions like psychological disorders and allergies, which can be useful. Some medical conditions like lupus, hypothyroidism, and others may also produce symptoms similar to ES. Emphasis in treatment is on identifying specific problem or trigger substances and creating methods for avoidance. The psychological effects of dramatically altered lifestyle when multiple ES is present should be addressed too.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By Logicfest — On Jul 22, 2014

There is another theory about the rapid increase of allergies, asthma, environmental sensitivity and related ailments. Years ago, people spent a lot of time outside working, playing and generally interacting with the outside world. They don't do that so much anymore, so they are exposed to fewer allergens and substances that could set off reactions.

In other words, we tend to live in strictly controlled environments and that leads to heightened sensitivity to common elements to which we are not regularly exposed.

Is that a valid theory? That's up for some researchers to decide. Sounds like it has some merit, though.

By Vincenzo — On Jul 21, 2014

This is a terribly tricky thing to treat and diagnose, it seems. But it is a very real problem for a lot of people.

For example, someone with ulcerative colitis may be particularly sensitive to aspartame (the artificial sweetner widely used in diet sodas). But there is little research to tie that sensitivity to the underlying illness that might give rise to a problem with aspartame.

What is the point? It could be that we are looking at an emerging diagnosis that could be rooted in real, physical conditions. More research will be needed on the subject, so let's hope that happens instead of the current trend of dismissing people who suffer from environmental sensitivity as having some kind of psychological ailment.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia...
Learn more
The Health Board, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

The Health Board, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.