Environmental illness

An environmental illness is a set of symptoms or a disease caused by chemicals, fumes, pollution, allergens, viruses, or toxins or physical hazards found in the environment. Exposure to toxic chemicals or other hazards may occur in the home, workplace, or community.

Common symptoms, including headache, cough, fatigue, and nausea, will vary according to the amount and type of exposure. Environmental illnesses are difficult to diagnose. And they are sometimes mistaken for other illnesses.

Symptoms may occur suddenly and disappear when exposure to the substance ends, such as when dust, cigarette smoke, or pet dander triggers an asthma attack. Sometimes symptoms may not develop for years, which can occur after exposure to cancer-causing chemicals.

The first treatment for an environmental illness includes getting rid of or reducing exposure to the factors causing the illness. Additional treatment is based on the specific symptoms and part of the body that is affected.

Last Updated: September 21, 2009

Author: Maria Essig

Medical Review: Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & Peter Rabinowitz, MD, MPH - Occupational and Environmental Medicine

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