Doris Rapp, MD, is a board-certified environmental medical specialist, pediatric allergist, and homeopath who served as Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the State University of New York at Buffalo until January 1996. She has authored 11 books.
When asked what the most important practical advice I could share after my 40 some years in practice, I respond with a question: Remember back to those times when you suddenly become ill and ask yourself, “What did I just eat, smell, or touch that could have been the cause?”.
It is astounding how many people have found answers to chronic health challenges after thinking about this question. Most medical professionals do not try to teach patients how to figure out why they became ill, but it helps if they can work together because no one knows your body the way you do.
For example, what do you do if someone suddenly develops a headache or asthma or doesn’t act normally? Before taking some pill to relieve symptoms, spend a few minutes thinking about what was eaten, touched, or smelled. You might be surprised to find how quickly symptoms can develop and once you spot the cause and effect, you have a solution to prevent future symptoms.
If your child has a total change in activity or behavior, don’t yell or scream. Stop and consider what might be a possible cause. Everyone knows about allergies in the lungs causing asthma, but you can have allergies in the brain affecting how you learn, act, write, or walk. It is not unusual for someone with brain allergies to be misunderstood. Many are not believed, even though they are correct in their guess as to what is causing their change in thinking or memory. Unless their physician has had special training, it might not be possible for them to prove cause-and-effect relationships.
Other questions to ask: Where were you when you or your child became ill? Were you inside or outside? Do medical problems arise when in one particular area or throughout the entire inside of the house, school, or work space? If it’s in a particular area, think about what the source might be: Is the area extremely dusty or moldy? Has there been a pet or some scented substance used in the room that might trigger an allergy? If the symptoms occur throughout a building, could the ventilation system be at fault? Is the duct work dirty or do the furnace filters need changing? Is there a gas leak? Did someone just spray pesticides or use some scented cleaning product?
Many take asthma medicines or antihistamines daily because they develop wheezing or hay fever at night. If this is happening to you or someone you know, look at your bed. Replace your feather pillow with cotton towels stuffed into a pillow case or check to determine if it is a new mattress that contains toxic chemicals? See if the problems disappear when you change one of these two common causes of illness occurring at night.
If symptoms only occur when you are outside then question what might be different at the time symptoms developed. Is the wind blowing factory pollution in your direction? Is a nearby neighbor spraying the lawn? Is your street being asphalted or a roof being tarred? If you detect a temporary outside factor is definitely making you sick, the answers are: stay inside, close the windows, turn off the air conditioner, or leave the area for a couple of days.
Notice if there are any patterns in relation to your symptoms. Do they occur at the same time each year? In the wet spring or fall, molds are often a problem. Do they happen only on days when you use your vacuum cleaner? The cleaning process can stir up so much dust that a person is always worse on that day. To prove the cause has been found, turn on the vacuum in a dark room and shine a flash light to see if or where your vacuum is leaking dust. Think back. Did you bring something new or smelly into the house? Are there new items of furniture or carpets? Was there some pesticide use? Were some different cleaning preparations such as disinfectants or deodorants used? Any of these might off-gas chemicals so you are exposed to toxic odors.
If you suddenly become ill after you eat, simply list the foods consumed within an hour or two of the symptoms. If you had a very bad reaction, do NOT eat any of those foods until you see your doctor. If the reaction is not severe, be careful not to eat even a speck of any of the suspect foods or beverages on your list for five days. On the sixth day, ingest each food or drink, by itself, one at a time. Ingest one suspect after another every couple of hours and see which causes the types of symptoms that occurred six days before. When you find the culprit, you have three choices: stop eating the food, find a doctor who knows how to treat food allergies, or try a four-day diet. The last option means you only eat each problem food every four days. In time, that alone will eliminate many non-threatening food allergies. Your insurance may cover the cost of her consultation if it is suggested by a physician.
Lastly, ask yourself if you become ill from the smell of perfume, gasoline, or any other odor. Chemical odors cause problems within minutes, even seconds, so it’s easy to see a cause-and-effect relationship. If a chemical is bothering you, immediately hold your breath, and get away from it. If it is severe, you may need to breathe oxygen at an emergency room or doctor’s office. Conversely, things such as dust, mold, pollen, and foods often cause symptoms after 15 to 60 minutes of the exposure. Moreover, most foods cause symptoms in less than an hour but some cause a delayed reaction in 24 to 48 hours later. Eczema, for example, caused by dust, molds, or a food itches right away, but the rash is typically not evident until the next day. Arthritis from tomatoes, potatoes, pork, and beef tends to occur at night, but you probably will not notice you are stiff until you wake up. Bed wetting typically occurs several hours after drinking milk or fruit juice during the day.
In summary, it is possible to figure out what is making you or a family member ill – on your own. If you have a nail in your shoe causing a sore on your foot, would the best treatment be a big band aid or is it simply to pull the nail out? Start to think about illness in the same way. Merely keep asking yourself, “What did you or your child eat, touch, or smell that could have caused some sudden medical problem?” Drugs are essential at times, but it is always better if you can find and eliminate the cause so there are no symptoms to treat. It can be that simple.