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Handbook for the Chemically Sensitive

review by Katherine Duff

Living with Environmental Illness: A Practical Guide to Multiple Chemical Sensitivity
by Stephen Edelson, MD with Jan Statman
Taylor Publishing, 1550 West Mockingbird Lane, Dallas, Texas 75235 USA
1998, paperback, $14.95

There has long been a need for an accessible, easy to understand handbook for the newly chemically sensitive. Living with Environmental Illness: A Practical Guide to Multiple Chemical Sensitivity by Stephen Edelson, MD, with Jan Statman, is just such a book.

What sets this book apart from others about environmental illness, is that Dr. Edelson has graciously chosen to speak directly to the person who is new to the challenges of living with chemical sensitivity, with their needs and experiences in mind. It is evident from page one, where he lists the ten most commonly asked questions about chemical sensitivity and answers them succinctly, that the focus will be on the reader's desire for health information, instead of the global issue of the chemical problem. As an environmental physician, Dr. Edelson is well aware of the many questions his readers may have.

The basic concepts of chemical sensitivity, such as triggering, masking, spreading and switching, are addressed in a way that the reader may be able to identify in their daily life. The author also acknowledges the secondary effects of chemical sensitivity - the stress and frustration after having been misdiagnosed by physicians as a hypochondriac or dismissed as having "just a mental problem." Treatments discussed include a variety of constructive changes in lifestyle and environment, along with detoxification and utilizing the rotation diet. There are even sample menus. The author also offers an explanation of the treatments that will be likely, should the reader seek help from an environmental physician. A brief history of that specialty in medicine is also included.

Especially useful, is the description of the treatment referred to as Enzyme Potentiated Desensitization, or EPD. This is an immuno-therapy treatment developed by the English physician, Len McEwen MD, in the 1960's. The therapy consists of very-low-dose allergens, mixed with the enzyme beta glucuronidase, to stimulate the body to become tolerant to an allergen. Since this treatment is somewhat more involved than just arriving at a doctor's office for an allergy shot, Dr. Edelson has provided detailed information about the procedure and the restrictions a patient is expected to obey for the treatment to be effective. Anyone curious about, or considering EPD treatment would be wise to read this chapter.

Physical symptoms are only part of the story of environmental illness. Also looming large, are the difficulties one faces when struck with an illness that is not recognized and often not believed. In short, the support systems that we thought would be there for us in our time of need, have in effect - disappeared. This may include loss of family support, loss of employment, denial of workers compensation and denial of insurance coverage for appropriate medical care, to name just a few. But discussing such negative possibilities can be difficult for the physician and even other chemically sensitive individuals. The authors have ingeniously met the challenge by using five personal profiles to demonstrate, among other things, what some of these obstacles may be and positive ways of coping with them. The profiles also offer the reader an opportunity to identify with another person who is having similar experiences - a kind of support group meeting in a book.

The discussion of medical treatment in this book will always lead the reader to the environmental physician. But practically speaking, access to physicians practicing this speciality are not available to all people with environmental illness due to geography and/or lack of funds. Even if that is the case, there is still so much helpful information in this book that it would be worthwhile reading for anyone with chemical sensitivity, especially someone who has never found appropriate medical care. It would also be a good tool for educating friends and family members.

Dr. Edelson and Jan Statman are to be commended for this successful endeavor. As stated on the back cover, "MCS can be a cruel condition," but this effort is a good antidote. They have written a book that is ultimately personal, informative and most of all - understanding. Anyone should feel comfortable recommending this book to a patient or friend.


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