Does improving indoor air quality lessen symptoms associated with chemical intolerance?

Roger B. Perales, Raymond F. Palmer, Rudy Rincon, Jacqueline N. Viramontes, Tatjana Walker, Carlos R. Jaén, Claudia S. Miller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Abstract Aim: To determine whether environmental house calls that improved indoor air quality (IAQ) is effective in reducing symptoms of chemical intolerance (CI). Background: Prevalence of CI is increasing worldwide. Those affected typically report symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, 'brain fog', and gastrointestinal problems - common primary care complaints. Substantial evidence suggests that improving IAQ may be helpful in reducing symptoms associated with CI. Methods: Primary care clinic patients were invited to participate in a series of structured environmental house calls (EHCs). To qualify, participants were assessed for CI with the Quick Environmental Exposure and Sensitivity Inventory. Those with CI volunteered to allow the EHC team to visit their homes to collect air samples for volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Initial and post-intervention IAQ sampling was analyzed by an independent lab to determine VOC levels (ng/L). The team discussed indoor air exposures, their health effects, and provided guidance for reducing exposures. Findings: Homes where recommendations were followed showed the greatest improvements in IAQ. The improvements were based upon decreased airborne VOCs associated with reduced use of cleaning chemicals, personal care products, and fragrances, and reduction in the index patients' symptoms. Symptom improvement generally was not reported among those whose homes showed no VOC improvement. Conclusion: Improvements in both IAQ and patients' symptoms occur when families implement an action plan developed and shared with them by a trained EHC team. Indoor air problems simply are not part of most doctors' differential diagnoses, despite relatively high prevalence rates of CI in primary care clinics. Our three-question screening questionnaire - the BREESI - can help physicians identify which patients should complete the QEESI. After identifying patients with CI, the practitioner can help by counseling them regarding their home exposures to VOCs. The future of clinical medicine could include environmental house calls as standard of practice for susceptible patients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere3
JournalPrimary Health Care Research and Development
StatePublished - Jan 12 2022


  • Key words: chemical intolerance
  • environmental house calls
  • indoor air quality
  • volatile organic compounds

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Care Planning


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