We are exposed to all sorts of elements throughout our lives as we navigate our environment. Some of these materials are good for our health, others neutral, and still others can be harmful. And varying degrees of exposure can also determine whether such materials cause us harm. Many substances are beneficial in moderation, but turn toxic with higher exposure — the dose makes the poison, as the old saying goes.
If you’re feeling unwell or are struggling with the symptoms of an unexplained illness it may be that you’ve unknowingly been exposed to something toxic. So what common substances in your environment can harm your health? And what are the negative health repercussions of these exposures?
For many of us who struggle with chronic or unexplained illness, common toxins in our households or environment, such as molds, pesticides, and heavy metals, can cause harm to the body’s systems and lead to troubling, hard-to-diagnose symptoms.
What Are the Health Impacts of Exposure to Mold?
Mold is a fungal organism that grows on damp organic matter. It can be found both outdoors and indoors, but it can be especially harmful to your health when inside. Mold needs both moisture and a carbon source to grow, so outside it often grows on plants and decaying matter. But mold can also grow inside in moist environments. Moisture in your house or apartment can allow the spores to grow and flourish and, if left unchecked, can lead to severe health consequences.
It’s not uncommon for mold to develop in offices and homes. Often you can spot it or smell its presence. Not all mold is toxic — think of those used in cheeses — but certain types of mold can be and regular exposure leads to harmful health outcomes.
Symptoms of Mold Exposure
Not everyone will experience negative health impacts from the presence of mold. But for those who do, the mold can cause unfavorable symptoms such as:
- Red, watery, or itchy eyes
- Runny nose
- Itchy skin
- Irritation of nose, mouth, throat
- Challenges breathing
These symptoms are typically worse for those prone to allergies or who have asthma. Those with suppressed immune responses or respiratory diseases are also at a higher risk for health problems from mold. Additionally, those who work on buildings with water damage are more likely to be exposed, including workers addressing roof leaks or plumbing leaks, and those living in buildings with moisture issues.
What to Do if You’ve Been Exposed to Mold
The most important thing to do if you’ve been exposed is to remove the mold from your environment and eliminate the moisture allowing it to grow. For small areas of mold, you may be able to remove the mold yourself. For larger areas, you will likely need to hire a contractor who specializes in mold removal.
It’s also important to take action to prevent the mold from coming back. This can be challenging but it’s best to reduce or eliminate sources of moisture that allow the mold to grow. In problem areas, you may need to use dehumidifiers, fix leaks, ensure proper ventilation, and use mold-resistant paint. Also, clean up any flooding within 24-48 hours and be sure everything in the environment is thoroughly dried.
For treating the symptoms of mold exposure, there are a few options. Seeing a Functional Medicine doctor can help you determine if mold exposure is the root cause of your symptoms. Root-cause medicine looks at all the symptoms you are experiencing and aims to treat the underlying condition causing these issues. You can book a medical evaluation today with a Functional Medicine treatment team, such as with GritWell.
Additionally, Over-the-counter (OTC) nasal sprays and rinses can reduce inflammation and there are other OTC drugs, such as antihistamines, that help reduce the immune system’s response. If needed, a doctor may recommend allergy shots to help the body adjust.
What Are the Health Impacts of Exposure to Pesticides?
Pesticides are chemicals used to destroy pests, typically used to allow plants to grow without interference. Pesticides are used in most agricultural production to eliminate weeds, insects, germs, and rodents from crops.
Because of the widespread use of pesticides in agriculture, these chemicals can end up in the foods we eat. Researchers are still studying the degree to which pesticide exposure is harmful to humans, but there is a correlation between consuming large quantities of pesticide through food and adverse health effects.
Environmental exposure to pesticides can also be problematic for those who work with the chemicals in large quantities on a regular basis, such as farmers and pesticide applicators.
Symptoms of Exposure to Pesticides
Depending on whether the exposure is acute or long-term and what type of pesticide you were exposed to, some of the symptoms of exposure can include:
- Irritation of the nose, throat, and skin
- Rashes and blisters
People with asthma tend to have a more severe reaction to pesticides. Children are also especially vulnerable to harm from pesticide exposure because their bodies are still developing.
Long-term exposure to pesticides can lead to more serious and chronic effects including damage to the liver, kidneys, and lungs, reproductive problems, brain and nervous system damage, and in extreme cases, cancer or other tumors. These chronic effects can take months or years to develop.
What to Do if You’ve Been Exposed to Pesticides
Most Americans have likely been exposed to pesticides in small quantities, but if you’ve been exposed to a higher quantity of pesticides there are steps you can take, depending on the severity. For exposure to pesticides in the eyes, on the skin, swallowed, or inhaled, call 911 or the Poison Control Center at (800) 222-1222.
If you think you’re being exposed to pesticides in small quantities on a regular basis, try to eliminate this exposure when possible. This could include cooking and peeling produce to decrease pesticide levels before consumption. You can also avoid eating foods that have been exposed to pesticides by growing food in your own garden or focusing on consuming organic produce. Clinicians suggest that it’s best not to become obsessive about avoiding foods that may have small quantities of pesticides, however, because it’s healthier to eat fruits and veggies than to avoid them in an effort to eliminate exposure. I would recommend checking out EWG's Dirty Dozen™ and Clean Fifteen™ lists to help decide when you should splurge for organic fruits and vegetables, and when you should save money by buying conventional.
Seeing a Functional Medicine doctor is another treatment option if you are dealing with chronic problems stemming from exposure to harsh chemicals. A FM doctor will look at your health holistically to best identify the root causes of your symptoms and come up with a personalized approach for treating your underlying condition.
What Are the Health Impacts of Exposure to Heavy Metals?
Heavy metals are all around us and, in small quantities, do not impact our health and wellbeing. But when exposed to heavy metals in significant amounts, they can wreak havoc on your body. Arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury cause heavy metal toxicity in humans when exposed on a regular basis or in a large quantity.
Symptoms of Heavy Metal Toxicity
Heavy metal poisoning caused by one or more toxic element may present a range of symptoms, such as:
- Tingling in the hands, arms, and feet
- Shortness of breath
- Abdominal pain
- Brain problems
- Behavioral changes
Symptoms vary based on the type of heavy metal exposure, how large the exposure was, and the duration of the exposure.
What to Do if You’ve Been Exposed to Heavy Metals
If you think you’ve been exposed to a toxic amount of heavy metals, do your best to remove yourself from the source of the materials. Consult a doctor about the best treatment method for you. A doctor can test what type and amount of metal you’ve been exposed to in order to determine the severity of the problem.
Sometimes removing yourself from the environment containing the heavy metal is enough to eliminate symptoms. In more serious cases, a doctor may recommend chelation therapy. This treatment method uses medication that helps eliminate toxic metals in your body. This can be done by pill or injection.
There are also some foods that help your body recover from the toxic metals such as cilantro, garlic, lemon water, blueberries, curry, green tea, tomatoes, and probiotics. Certain foods should also be avoided when recovering, including rice, fish that tend to contain mercury, alcohol, and nonorganic foods.
For a more holistic approach, you may want to consider seeing a Functional Medicine doctor. A FM treatment team will evaluate your health concerns as well as your own personal medical history, genetics and more. This allows for a more personalized treatment plan that addresses the root cause of your condition.
Chronic Condition Treatment Option
Most of Western medicine focuses on addressing the symptoms instead of the root cause of health problems. For example, trying to suppress nausea instead of addressing the heavy metal toxicity that is causing this symptom. Functional medicine aims to change this by taking an individualized approach to medicine that looks at each person as a whole to address the underlying condition, not just symptoms.
GritWell is a personalized root cause medicine approach designed to eliminate chronic symptoms for good–and identify and address any underlying toxicity that might be causing them. The care team can help you on your health journey via a personalized plan and support from a functional medicine health coach, board certified MD, and dedicated care advocate.
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