L'Association pour la santé environnementale du Québec / Environmental Health Association of Québec

How to Manage – Activities

Things You Can Do Despite Your Disability

Gradually or suddenly life has changed. Nothing is the same. Things that you took for granted, such as a walk in the park, dinner with friends, shopping, an evening at the movies or the theatre or even singing in the local choir, may have become a thing of the past. It may be difficult to attend family or school events such as graduations. You may have lost your job. Your family or your friends may have disappeared.

How are you to cope with all this? None of this is your fault. You did not ask for this medical condition. You would not wish it on anyone.

One thing to keep in mind is that it does get better. It may take months or even years – but you do get better especially if you can practice avoidance.

You must wonder how you can have a life in the midst of this crisis. And is it even possible? Well, if you are thinking of the life that you had, then probably not. Not for some time anyway. But for now, there may be some things you can do.

Reading: You can use a reading box or put a book into a clear cellophane bag and read.

Music: Listen to the music you enjoy, and yes, get up and dance!

Meditation and breathing: listen to a meditation CD, a CD that teaches how to breathe, or soothing music. Try to meditate first thing in the morning. Set up a pleasant meditation corner for yourself.

Exercise: Watch a Yoga CD and follow the instructions. You can also try Pilates or any other exercise with gentle stretching. Go easy. Start slow.

Write: If you cannot use a computer, take pen and a paper and get that book out of you. Even if it is your private book – you have so much to say. You can have fun doing it. Try that recipe book you always wanted to start.

Walks in nature: Teach a friend how to become scent-free and go with him/her to a nature park for a walk. You can even find other people with environmental sensitivities to go with you.

Support: Join or form a meeting or support group, make friends, even if you only have one. You can then try social events like dinner at your homes, or a movie, or just a visit. Holidays and birthdays will start to have meaning again when you can be with friends.

What do you do if your pre-environmental sensitivities friends want to come over, or if your child wants his or her friends over, but they use scented products which trigger your symptoms? A very simple thing is to ask them to shop for new clothes, preferably light-coloured and made in Canada. Wash them well and keep them in your home. Every time you have visitors, ask them to shower and change into these clothes as soon as they enter your home. The more you do that, the better it gets. And who knows – they may even change their products to suit your needs!

Most importantly, be good and kind to yourself.

Dining Out with Environmental Sensitivities

When you get well enough to go out and would like to try going to a restaurant, the first and best choice would be an organic restaurant. But if you don’t have one in your area, or you want to try something else, here are some tips that may help you take that big step successfully.

Call the restaurant at least two weeks in advance and explain your health condition. Ask if the restaurant would agree to accommodate your needs:

  • Have pesticides been used in the restaurant, and when were they last used?
  • Have renovations have been done in the restaurant in the last year: if so what and when?
  • Can staff be asked to refrain from wearing any scented product on the day you are there?
  • Would they remove the perfume/air freshener from the rest-room on the day you are there?
  • Could you send someone to pick up a menu?
  • Which day of the week has the least clients?
  • What time of day or the evening has the least clients?
  • Could they seat you near an open window, and weather permitting, could you leave it open?
  • Could they seat you in the best ventilated area?
  • Could they seat you in the most secluded area?
  • Would they refrain from burning candles at your table?
  • If they need to clean while you are there, could they clean the tables close to yours using an eco-product?
  • Let them know your allergies and sensitivities
  • Ask for food with limited seasoning (such as salt, pepper and/or an herb).
  • Choose food that does not contain MSG.
  • Would they allow you to bring your own water?

If you suffer a substantial reaction while you are at the restaurant and you decide to leave, remember to shower, wash your hair, change into fresh clothes, put the clothes you wore at the restaurant either outside on the line to air out, or in the laundry, separate from your other clothes, and do a large wash with an extra rinse.

Finding a Hairdresser

One of the challenges of living with environmental sensitivities is the difficulty in finding healthy resources for personal grooming. While you can easily do things such as nail care in the comfort of your home, hairdressing can prove to be a challenge since hair salons contain chemicals which could make you ill.

So how can you get your hair cut without making yourself sick? The perfect solution would be to learn to cut your own hair! But what can you do now?

Some people in the hairdressing profession have been affected with environmental sensitivities due to constantly working with toxic chemicals. Keep an eye out for such a person who could come to your house and cut your hair. You would get a haircut and the person would get an income, especially if other people with the same condition could use his/her services. You could put an ad in the local newspapers looking for a scent-free hair salon, or even that you are looking for a hairdresser who is willing to become scent-free to help you out. You never know – you could get lucky! The world is full of good samaritans.

You could also look for a person who has a home salon. Meet with the person outside and ask if he/she would practise eco hairdressing to help you out. This would mean that only scent-free eco products would be used on the clients. The windows could be opened while you were there; you could ask for the first appointment of the day; no other clients would be given appointments the same time or close to yours. You could even ask if he/she would come to your house and cut your hair in your backyard. If you have a sympathetic hair dresser, he/she might agree to cut your hair outdoors if the salon has a backyard or back lane. This has actually worked for some people suffering from environmental sensitivities.

Another suggestion is to find a salon that is run by the owner. Approach him/her and ask if he/she could be scent free, ventilate the salon well (open the front and back doors for cross ventilation) and receive you as the first client of the day.

Things you should take with you and ask your hairdresser to use:

  • A couple of towels and your tolerated shampoo or conditioner. Or, if you want to leave as soon as possible, a spray bottle with filtered water to dampen your hair.
  • A cape to place around your shoulders during a haircut. Wash it several times until it has off-gassed, and also after each haircut – store it at your home.
  • A pair of professional hair cutting scissors, brush and comb.

Ask your hairdresser to help you buy these items and explain why you need him/her to use them when cutting your hair. Ask him/her not to use their own professional items on you. Ask for the cost of a haircut in advance so you can hand over the exact change and leave immediately. Ask someone to wait with you the first time in case this does not work for you and you are too ill to drive home.


Travel for people suffering with environmental sensitivities can be a challenge. Planning in advance will help you find the healthiest accommodation, and greatly improve your travel experience.

What to ask for when booking a hotel room:

When calling a hotel to request accommodation, speak personally with both ‘Reservation’ and ‘Housekeeping,’ and stress that you are VERY allergic to perfumes, chemicals and mould. People don’t understand ‘sensitivities’ and may not take you seriously, thinking that you are ‘just sensitive.’

For maximum success, call at least two or three hotels and request the following:

Look for a smoke-free hotel or a non-smoking floor. But be careful since smoke travels between floors and through the ventilation system.

Even if you book at a smoke free hotel, you must still verify that your room has never been used by a smoker.

Ask that perfume and air freshening dispensers be removed from the floor where the room is located at least one day in advance, if not more. Ask management to post a notice so that the next shifts of workers do not reinstall them.

Ask for perfume and chemical-free sheets and towels. They must be washed several times in hot water with baking soda and an eco-laundry detergent such as Nature Clean. Stress that you do not want any kind of softener or masking agent used and insist that the end product (sheet or towel) be odorless. Despite these precautions, bring your own sheets. Use large t-shirts over the hotel pillows or bring your own as a backup.

Request that the room be aired out prior to your arrival. Make sure in advance that you can open windows for fresh air, especially if something is making you sick.

Ask that all perfumes, perfumed soaps, shampoos, etc., belonging to the hotel, be removed from the room prior to your arrival.

Ask that all robes or hotel clothing be removed from the closet and/or drawers.

Ask the hotel to empty the fridge of hotel beverages and other products so that you can store your medications, supplements, etc.

Ask them to remove all air fresheners from the room for a minimum of two days in advance.

The staff should not use Febreze or any similar product to mask smells or odours, even if these products are supposed to be hypoallergenic, biodegradable, ecological and natural.

Ask if there is evidence of mould in the bathroom.

Ask if there are any water marks on the ceiling or the walls of the room or bathroom.

Ask if pesticides have been used in the room and/or in the hotel. If so, which pesticide and when? And how many times.

Have renovations been done, if so, what kind, when, and which products were used.

Choose a non-carpeted room with wooden or ceramic floors. Be careful of floating floors that look like wood but have plastic in them. They emanate chemicals for a long time.

Ask if you can see the room before checking into the hotel and whether you can cancel the booking free of charge if you cannot tolerate the room.

For your safety, book a room at another hotel just in case this one does not work out – you can then choose the least toxic of the two.

Call the hotel a few days before your arrival and confirm with the person who made your reservation and with housekeeping that the requested accommodations have been made.

Be aware that in some areas of North America, bed bugs have become a serious problem in hotels.

How to Buy a Car

The process of finding and buying a car can be hard at the best of times, but especially so for people who suffer from environmental sensitivities. All cars age with time and at some point, we have to make a change, whether it is because the body of the car is threatening to fall apart, because the engine is giving out, or because the car has a smell which you cannot tolerate.

Whatever the reason, you then must decide between a new car and an older model, a decision which will depend on your tolerance level and your finances. If you decide on a new car, choose the type of car that appeals to you, and approach the dealer, letting them know about your health condition. Ask the agent meeting you to be scent-free and ask about last year’s model which has been used as a demonstrator. If you’re in luck, this model will not be scented (ask the agent before you visit). If you are happy with the car and decide to buy it, ask them not to dust, clean or vacuum it and also not to use any chemicals to give it a new car smell. The only thing you may wish to have is the eco beeswax anti-rust treatment which has a lifetime guarantee.

To get rid of any emanations from the car, ask someone to drive it down the highway with the windows open. You can also place bowls of vinegar and baking soda in the car while it is out in the sun. Open windows periodically to let the smell out. Vacuum and dust the car well using water and a micro fibre cloth. Depending on your sensitivity level, the process could take up to a year, so plan on keeping your old car until the off-gassing of your new car has been completed.

If you want to buy a second hand car, the best option is a car whose owner is a non-smoker and has not used air fresheners or perfumes. Some people will also need a car that has not carried cats or dogs. Verify that the car is in good working condition. Try the air conditioning and heater even if it’s not the appropriate time of year, to verify whether strong odours continue to emanate from the car.