Chemical Intolerance: A Case Study

A 27-year old woman with a history of chemical, food, and drug intolerances reported difficulty in finding a place to live where she was not symptomatic. Her apartment had recently become uninhabitable when new neighbors began using fragranced candles, essential oils, and similar substances in an adjacent unit. She reported major changes in symptoms before, during, and after this event. Previous attempts to find housing had similarly been thwarted by various chemical exposures.

The woman reported moderate musculoskeletal and heart-related or chest symptoms prior to occupying the apartment. This was a repeating pattern with similar symptoms. The woman spent approximately two weeks attempting to adapt to the newly introduced fragrances next door, but became overwhelmed. She described her symptoms as “off the chart” for all parts of her body.


She moved out of her apartment and went to stay with a relative, where she soon felt a moderate reduction in symptoms. After a couple of weeks, she felt minimal further improvement, but remained with the relative.

The woman took the Quick Environmental Exposures and Sensitivity Inventory (QEESI) three times: a) before the adjacent unit was occupied, b) after neighbors and their fragrances moved in, and c) after she moved out of her unit to stay with relatives. The QEESI Symptom Star tracked changes in these symptoms.

Before the neighbors moved in, all but one of her QEESI symptoms were within the low to moderate range (the green line in Figure 1). After the neighbors moved in, she reported all but one of her symptoms at maximum impact (the red line in Figure 1).

Figure 1 

Figure 2

The blue line in Figure 2 represents her symptom severity after three weeks in the relative’s house. Figure 3 shows the progression of her symptoms over time.

Figure 3

By comparing her three Symptom Stars, she and her family were able to visualize how changes in her symptoms were related to her environment. Ultimately, she was able to return to work and a comparatively normal life. Despite improvement, she continues to report strong adverse reactions to fragrances.

-Carl Grimes

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