Homeopathic Treatment of Environmental Sensitivities

Tim Shannon, ND

Today many patients seek help for environmental sensitivities. This is true for adult patients as well as for children. In addition, many consider that toxicity is partly responsible for the increase in childhood developmental and cognitive disorders. This is not just about mercury and autism. It also appears that vaccines may be contributing to the whole range of behavioral, cognitive and social problems we are seeing in our children.

As a consequence, every manner of detoxification is being brought to the fore – protocols of the past, as well as newly created cleansing strategies. Like any therapy, some patients benefit greatly, some less so, some derive no benefit, and some patients are simply too sensitive.

Homeopathy offers an alternative for patients with environmental sensitivities. The intention is to reduce patients’ hypersensitivity. Over time many patients find they can tolerate smells, plastics, fluorescent lights, etc. The idea is that environmental sensitivities, in many cases, are similar to allergies. They are an over-defensiveness of the entire system, so the goal is to bring down the overall hypervigilance of the system. This allows the entire system to finally come to rest and respond to environmental stress in a more robust manner. The case below is offered as one example.

“Cindy,” July 2007

Cindy: I think I’m environmentally sick. I have been allergic to cats since childhood. I had a childhood with frequent chronic ear infections and tonsillitis. One year I lived with my grandmother who had no pets, and that was the only year that I did not have tonsillitis or allergies. I am allergic to dogs, birds and sheep, too. Insignificant medical history prior to 40 y.o.

I developed positional vertigo after a neck injury at age 30. I had a neck adjustment at age 40 from my husband and the room spun. I used to fall down when walking. At its worst, I just spin. I can’t lie flat on my back tilting the head back. When I would have vertigo, I would fall to the right. The whole right side of me didn’t work. When that would happen, I would get a rash, pustular vessels on the elbows.

I don’t get that anymore. I would panic when I had it because I could not function. I’ve never felt so vulnerable in my life. I was non-functional. The episodes would last for days. The baseline vertigo has never gone, even now. I tell where I am at through visual acuity rather than ear. If the streetcar is turning and I can’t predict the turn beforehand, I just spin without the visual reference. In the theater, keeping my head tilted back is very bad – feels swimmy, and squeamish. I think the chemical sensitivity is the hardest thing for me, though.

It came about over a period of years. I had a reaction to penicillin at the same time as vertigo. I got pinpoint rash. Animals made it worse. Then I had the Hep B vaccination series; took two shots and got very sick. Had to be off work both times and refused the last shot. Then I noticed more springtime allergies. My husband and I have been together 14 years. I moved into his house and he had pets. I thought I was getting flea bites because I had itchy pinpoint spots. Then I moved into food sensitivities [patient cites a long list of food sensitivities].

We bought a new bed eight years ago and I slept on it one night and my husband’s lips were blistered. After that, I noticed that I felt antsy, anxious and nervous around some plastics and latex. I started getting a rash under the skin – it starts red and itchy and then turns hemorrhagic. At the dentist, when using rubber dam, my lips swell. We moved to a house three years ago and made some renovations. Within 24 hours, I began to experience neurological symptoms: upper respiratory congestion, nervous feeling inside, shakiness. Now, I can’t go into the local health food stores because they are not well ventilated.

Plastics cause the worst reaction. Plastics make me feel like I am going to have a seizure. My brain goes on fog and I can’t process thoughts. I feel faint as if I was going to pass out. It is a very bizarre feeling. It also happens in other grocery stores.

(Dr. S): Fogginess remind you of something? No. I have seriously looked into this and I can’t figure out why the world has become a challenging place to me. I think I am wired for anxiety and depression. My grandmother at 90 had psychotic depression when my mother moved 40 miles away.

Can you navigate the world with these reactions? I can’t stay in my daughter’s home because of laundry soaps.

Anxiety around this phenomenon? I feel weary dealing with it and I feel isolated. I was a very social person and my sociability is impacted by this. That is isolating. I feel weakened by it. I’ve looked at it from a lot of different levels – I’ve meditated, had Reiki, had homeopathic care, qi gong … it’s weird.

A family member molested me when I was young – a huge breach of trust. I feel I have faced what the issues were. I am feeling comfortable in myself and who I am. Now we are going to go to the next layer, whatever this is.

Fears? Dogs when young, being alone. I was always very small – I had dogs attack me, roosters attacked me and horses bit me. When I was 3, I realized that I was going to have to take care of myself. I felt very low in the pecking order. I had a very challenging childhood, and realized that I needed to be in control and watch out for myself. I didn’t feel that I bonded with my mother because of her postpartum depression. When hurt, my mother didn’t respond. I had a sense that people weren’t watching out for me – was emotionally neglected. My sense was that you had better keep your eyes open and protect yourself. I felt vulnerable.

Felt unsafe? My dad was an alcoholic and my mom was a stay-at-home mom and probably angry at dad. I remember waking and hearing my mother yelling at my father when he arrived home drunk. Food was on the table, but no love. I did not know my father even loved me.

Responsibility? Very responsible, I do the right thing. I broke many rules in college, but as an adult, it’s important to do it right.

Responsibility as child? I was a rule-breaker, the black sheep. I told them what was going on, demanded, objected, asked and pointed my finger.

I was afraid to go to sleep as a child. I had the same dream until I had my tonsils out: an alligator getting me. A lot of green and some red. I was afraid of going to sleep because of the dream. I was choking. Sensitivity? Senses are balanced, except smell. It’s hyperacute. I do not know when it changed – it was not always that way.

Menses? Had a total hysterectomy due to fibroids at age 45. As a young person, I had heavy periods and cramps. I always wanted my period, it was the badge of courage because of being small. I was not recognized for my age. Period authenticated my growing up.

Menarche at 15. Regular period with heavy flow: 5-7 days, a couple of days with large clots and cramping. Cramping mainly during period. Heavy flow lasted only for a couple of days, then started to subside. Clots were darker. No odor. When ovulating, would have abdominal pain.

Children? Got pregnant in college. Problems with delivery? Got somewhat eclamptic when age 35 with son. I was starting to get high blood pressure, and herbal tea helped. With my daughter, they did a spinal tap and had forceps delivery. Both children were posterior, and I had about 8-10 hours of active labor. Lots of back pain. Postpartum? I was very young. Had a lot of body image problems. I did not want to get married. After my daughter, I was not into being a parent – I wanted to fulfill my life. My son was colicky after three weeks of age. No specific problems – I was delighted to have an opportunity to do a better job.

Warm/cool? Used to really love heat, but now I have Hashimoto’s so I don’t tolerate heat or cold. I was on bioidentical hormones for ten years and slowly went off over the last two years.

Trust? I used to not trust others until I realized that I must trust myself to trust others. I believe that people are basically good. The world is a good place – all my needs have been met.

Dairy? I get hives on my chest.

Headaches? I had migraines in college. After age 22 I did not have them anymore. I think it was hormonally based. I might have had one after the birth of my son, when he was two months old.

Physical energy? I had a lot of energy most of my life. With allergies, I feel tired and wasted. Mostly 7-8/10. I like it that way, so when I feel challenged with allergies, it is a drag.

Hypervigilance? All my life I have been hypervigilant. I can’t really point to why – other than the rooster who knocked me down and stood on my chest and pecked at my face and eyes. The surgeries I have had in the past have been emergencies. I get sick one day and have pain and my system starts shutting down and boom! I’ve had to have a hysterectomy. Because of a number of traumas, on some level, I am probably waiting for the next shoe to drop.

How would you see the world? Shit happens. I have also felt that when I’ve really felt frightened, I have a sense of the need to investigate and look into myself. I feel most of the solutions for my problems are in here. I need someone out there to be a guide. Homeopathy has the deep cure. There is something for me to grow and learn from here. Whatever there is to it, I am not afraid – I just want to know.

I was afraid to be alone in our house. My husband would go to India. I felt helpless – an odd sense of vulnerability to the unexpected – stark terror. I do not know where it comes from. Imagining that someone would come in the house – a male. I feel small. This started with the sense of feeling so little that all these things could get me. What would this man do? Felt like they would just kill me. Death at the hands of someone else – and not death, but being tortured. Feel too little to fight back, or run away. Felt powerless as a female, and that was another issue for me. I have not felt safe as a female. Men have power. I wanted to armor up and get the power my father had. Being a woman didn’t get you much – being a woman was being a victim. I was a scrapper as a kid. I had a lot of bravado.

Career life? I knew as a nurse I could go anywhere I wanted. It had flexibility and respect. I went into psych to try and figure myself out. I enjoy helping people. I have tried to integrate these two parts of myself. Maybe the fear came and that was the vulnerable, scary place.

Armor? Protecting my vulnerability. I reject you before you reject me. The armoring up is getting big when you feel small. Self-protection.

Support? I can do okay on my own, but support is very important. I felt guilty as a kid when I was sick – felt ashamed that my system was not functioning as well as other people’s. Support is very important that I would not be treated as a hysteric or that all this was in my head [tearful].

Foods? Flavorful. Indian food. I like spicy. Pickles. Sauerkraut. I prefer salty food to sweet food.

Headaches/back problems? Don’t have a lot of pain. I have aches and muscle spasms, but not pain. They tend to be tight and spasmy.

Baseline:

  1. Overreaction to being around plastics
  2. Reaction to dogs and cats
  3. Reaction to laundry detergent, perfumes, chemical smells
  4. Anxiety of flare-up in new places, couple times a week
  5. Background vertigo
  6. Depression about condition

Assessment: After some study, I thought this case could require a remedy from the Asteraceae family. I attended a seminar with Massimo Mangialavori several years ago. He mentioned that certain remedies in this family, such as Arnica and Helianthus, share similar aspects. Massimo only teaches from first-hand knowledge, and from case studies of patients who have had deep healing for a minimum of two years using one precise remedy. His knowledge of Asteraceae remedies is extensive. In respect to this case, there were several themes that confirmed the family according to Massimo:

  • Integrity/Wholeness
  • Dignity
  • Vulnerability/Armored
  • Hypochondriasis/Invulnerable

In other cases I’ve seen that required remedies from this family, they often show up as patients who decompensate later in life. They are often relatively successful, sophisticated and physically healthy until mid-life or older. Many are runners or athletic, and they often eat very conscientiously (integrity). Once they decompensate and receive their “wound,” they often become hypochondriacs (overly focused on health/disease/toxicity).

In addition, they are often patients who are more identified with being productive and more “male” in their identification. They tend to spend much of their life identifying with the concept of being invulnerable, nothing hurts, they are strong and robust – think of Arnica “sends the doctor away.” But this is partly an armor that helps them deny the concept of being vulnerable – their greatest fear. Once that vulnerability can no longer be denied, they swing the other way – fear/anxiety about their health.

What struck me about this case was the emphasis on the fear of being murdered, of someone entering her house, almost a fear of persecution. Also there was the fear of letting down her guard and falling asleep. These are all symptoms that came out in the new proving of Chrysanthemum leucanthemum (Oxeye Daisy). Some pertinent rubrics:

  • FEAR to go to sleep
  • FEAR of being attacked
  • FEAR; something terrible will happen
  • FEAR; of violence
  • Imagination the body is brittle
  • DREAMS; robbers
  • DREAMS; of persecution
  • WATCHFULNESS

Plan: The patient was given a single dose of Chrysanthemum leucanthemum 30c; she took the dose on July 21, 2007.

September 10, 2007

What has changed? [The remedy] has helped. Rashes on my skin are almost non-existent – remarkable. Anxiety has been reduced. I had quite a reaction the first week after the dose; my allergies really kicked up. The plastics also really kicked up. In fact, the whole picture, felt like a healing crisis, really blossomed. Since that time, things have improved. More? The dizziness is about the same as before. The aggravation started about 24 hours after the dose. Then after seven to ten days it subsided. That is when the skin rashes resolved; I felt an improved sense of well-being; energy was improved. Positive feeling in general.

Well-being? I felt very depressed before, powerless to these external things to my environment that were threatening to my physical being. That sense of threat went away. The fear of being a burden to people because I have this condition eased.

How long with these issues? Cats and dogs – a lifetime. The anxiety, not until the last three or four years. Perfumes for years and years. Had other treatments? Some, but not for the environmental issues. I have been seeking treatment for the anxiety, and the enormity of it has been the last two years.

This feels significant? It has addressed what feels to be root issues, dialed down the anxiety, reactiveness, etc. The vertigo is anatomical. It is from riding a bike, looking down and some neck and upper back issues. I feel that is more anatomical injury related. My muscle issues have improved as well. They are not as disabling; I used to get more muscle spasms when doing exercise.

Baseline

  1. Overreaction to being around plastics: That has gotten better. Within 24 hours of taking the remedy.
  2. Reaction to dogs and cats: Still there, but does seem to have changed. I have much less reaction now, able to tolerate that without feeling the panicky feelings. The emotional fight-or-flight has greatly diminished.
  3. Reaction to laundry detergent, perfumes, chemical smells: That has reduced as well. I took my son to the airport, his clothes had been heavily perfumed. I was able to deal with that without horrific feelings. It is now at levels that I can live with, not the threat it was before.
  4. Anxiety flare-up in new places, couple times a week: It has reduced. I’m not always anxious if I have to go out and be exposed. Now I feel I can be exposed and will deal with it if it happens; no dread about going out, and if exposed reaction is much milder.
  5. Background vertigo: Same.
  6. Depression about condition: That is absolutely better. That’s a different feeling. Not as limiting in my mind; I don’t feel as apologetic about it, or that it looms larger than I do.

Assessment: I told her it looks good; need more time to confirm. Watch and wait; may need to re-dose on low potency.

Summary: Sept 2007-March 2008:

The patient had a return of many of her symptoms after the 30c dose wore off. Given her sensitivity, I decided to trial her with a 2x of Chrysanthemum for a time, using liquid diluted doses. Even with this low dosing, she would have improvements mixed with brief worsening of her symptoms. As we worked, aggravations diminished and the case was managed well with the 2x potency for several months, adjusting the frequency of the dose as needed to manage the case without causing aggravations.

The symptoms in the baseline relating to hyper-reaction around plastics, animals and chemical smells all steadily and progressively improved. She found more freedom, and the intensity of her reactions diminished. While she would still react to exposures, she found the reactions to be less severe. The background vertigo was still present, but getting better. The depression about her condition decreased as her condition began to improve.

The patient had a follow-up in May 2008 and saw more improvements on all baseline symptoms:

Baseline

  1. Overreaction to being around plastics: Improved remarkably. It is improved since seeing you last. I’m amazed. I used to have to use a mask around my computer, now I don’t have to anymore.
  2. Reaction to dogs and cats: Improved more. Was at a friend’s home on Mother’s Day; they have two cats. I was able to be in that house without a huge reaction; had some minor reactive airway trouble afterwards.
  3. Reaction to laundry detergent, perfumes, chemical smells: Improved. I went to a place in the midst of people loaded with laundry products, and was able to be there without the reactive panic, that electric feeling, the out of control. Not at all. I’m not very happy with it.
  4. Anxiety of flare-up in new places, couple times a week: Still very good. I don’t have fears now of going to new environments. My life has opened up in so many ways, I’m so pleased. The world is my oyster.
  5. Background vertigo: I think it is much better than it was before. It still has an underlying presence, but it does seem better. I was able to look up for two hours at a show without the vertigo.
  6. Depression about condition: Gone. I don’t have a condition.

Assessment, Plan and Epilogue

At this point the patient was doing very well. However, I felt we could see greater improvement on her vertigo. She had also developed some depression that she attributed to her altering her thyroid meds.

I recommended we trial a bit of a different dosing strategy that I have seen work well with sensitive patients. Often, patients can be more easily managed by using the botanical tincture of their remedy rather than a potentized dose. So I had her take a dose of her remedy in tincture format.

She had this to say: “I took a dose on Tuesday, May 27. That afternoon, I felt better without flare of any symptoms. Moods were better. Prior to the dose I was feeling down, isolated and lonely. This all really dissipated with the dose. This is such a dramatic shift from when we began. Within 15 minutes of taking the dose I felt a sense of calm, almost sleepy, relaxation instead of that observing tension. The first night I was a bit observant until after midnight and then slept well the rest of the night. I also had a good night’s sleep last night. Yesterday there was a subtle sense of well-being.”

The definitive positive response to the tincture lasted about one week, so I had her take a drop of the tincture diluted in water once per week. She remains in treatment, but has commented that she no longer has allergic reactions to cats or dogs; little to no reaction around plastics; her vertigo has diminished markedly; and all the other baseline symptoms have maintained good improvement. At the last follow-up, she stated the changes overall since the beginning of treatment have been incredible. We are still working together to reduce sensitivity further, but for the most part, after one year of treatment Cindy has had marked improvements in all baseline symptoms, with many being entirely resolved.


ShannonTim Shannon, ND is in private practice in Portland. He specializes in the treatment of mental, emotional and behavioral health. He uses classical homeopathy to treat a wide range of mental health complaints: ADHD, OCD, PMS, autistic spectrum, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, PTSD, bi-polar, schizophrenia, etc. Dr. Shannon lectures at NCNM as well as to the local community on a variety of mental health complaints.

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