Article of Interest: The Health Risks of Airplane ‘Fume Events’

Our team at the Toxicant-Induced Loss of Tolerance (TILT) Program at UT Health San Antonio wanted to share this important external article:

The health risks of airplane ‘fume events’” from What Doctors Don’t Tell You magazine.

It’s not supposed to happen, at least according to the airline industry, but there’s a growing acceptance by the World Health Organization and even the US Congress that toxic fumes can seep into airplane cabins, causing anything from nausea to long-term neurological problems in the crew and passengers.
Admittedly, the phenomenon—known as a fume event—is relatively rare, but some pessimistic estimates reckon it happens on at least 1 percent of flights. If that’s true, of the 100,000 flights taking off every day around the globe, a fume event is happening on a thousand of them.

This is important for those with chemical intolerance (CI), said Dr. Claudia Miller, allergist/immunologist, professor emeritus, and leader of the TILT Program at UT Health San Antonio.

CI, also known as TILT (Toxicant Induced Loss of Tolerance), is a two-stage disease process initiated by a major exposure, or a series of low-level exposures, to chemicals in previously tolerable household products, foods, and drugs, which often cause symptoms in illnesses such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, brain fog, and more.

“Fume events increase the potential for aircraft pilots, flight attendants and the public to develop TILT, manifested by multi-system symptoms and allergic-like chemical intolerances for fragrances, engine exhaust, dyes and finishes in their uniforms, and food intolerances,” Miller said.

Pesticides used on board international flights, in terminals, and hotels where flight attendants stay also can alter and sensitize the immune system’s first responders, mast cells—the underlying biomechanism for TILT.

“Doctors are unlikely to ‘connect the dots’ until they understand mast cells and chemical intolerance,” Miller said.

How can you find out your chemical sensitivity and share the news with your doctor?

Answer these three questions from Hoffman TILT’s Brief Environmental Exposure and Sensitivity Inventory (BREESI):

  1. Do you feel sick when you are exposed to tobacco smoke, certain fragrances, nail polish/remover, engine exhaust, gasoline, air fresheners, pesticides, paint/thinner, fresh tar/asphalt, cleaning supplies, new carpet or furnishings? By sick, we mean: headache, difficulty thinking, difficulty breathing, weakness, dizziness, upset stomach, etc.
  2. Are you unable to tolerate or do you have adverse or allergic reactions to any drugs or medications (such as antibiotics, anesthetics, pain relievers, X-ray contrast dye, vaccines or birth control pills), or to an implant, prosthesis, contraceptive chemical or device, or other medical/surgical/dental material or procedure?
  3. Are you unable to tolerate or do you have adverse reactions to any foods such as dairy products, wheat, corn, eggs, caffeine, alcoholic beverages, or food additives (e.g., MSG, food dye)?

If you answer YES to any of these three questions, take the Quick Environmental Exposure and Sensitivity Inventory (QEESI) and share the results with your doctor!