Is Your Child Suffering From This Not-So-Well-Known Allergy?

Most of us are well-aware that tree nuts, dairy, soy, corn, seafood and other foods can cause serious issues to those allergic to them.  However it is not so well-known that harsh, synthetic chemicals can also cause serious allergic reactions especially in children.

I found out the hard way a few years ago, when I slathered my then 2 year old’s body in a big brand chemical-based sunscreen thinking I was protecting her. The result was frightening. Her wee body swelled and turned red from head to toe. Luckily in our case no swelling of the throat occurred. The medical doctors attending to her described the situation as a ‘hyper-allergic reaction’.

However, as many parents of allergic children know, you NEVER let your guard down. You arm yourself the best way you know how and are always on guard. With allergies you can’t assume what the ‘next time’ could bring.  I now live life avoiding chemicals in my daughter’s products that could be suspect in fear of a similar or worse episode.

I was happy this week when CBCHealth raised awareness of chemical allergies. Their article documented the case of an otherwise healthy 8 year old girl who had an allergic reaction to a synthetic chemical in a children’s product. The girl was having her mouth wiped constantly with baby wipes containing methylisothiazolinone (aka MI or MIT). The picture of the young girl causes me upset. Unfortunately her parents had no idea what was in the wipes and the issue synthetic chemicals can cause.

MI is a very commonly used preservative that has been on my personal ‘hotlist’ since my daughter’s episode (it was one of the chems making up the chemical stew that was her sunscreen that day).  You will find this chemical on Health Canada’s Hotlist of cosmetic chemicals…a list of the nastiest chems known to be used in cosmetics in Canada. And if you research MI, you will also find medical studies linking it to neurotoxicity. All good reason for any parent to avoid methylisothiazolinone in their family’s products.

Also according to the CBC article the girl’s allergy was initially mis-diagnosed as impetigo or eczema and she was prescribed steroid creams and antibiotics.  As the baby wipes were still being used, the prescription drugs did nothing to clear up her skin. Makes me wonder how many other kids may have been similarly mis-diagnosed? And how many parents are not aware of the potential issues caused to children from commonly-used synthetic chemicals? How many parents think their child’s eczema-like symptoms may be an inherent skin condition as this girl’s family did?

Once I my guard down. My husband took my daughter to a classmate’s birthday party when she was in kindergarten.  It was being held in the family’s backyard. Being mid-June, the mom hosting the party opted to slather the child-guests upon arrival in big-brand sunscreen (full of the same chemicals that caused our family grief a few years before).  I never considered someone else would put product on my child’s body. As my husband ran to the car to retrieve our zinc-based sunscreen, the hostess was insisting not to bother as she had enough for all. In my perfect world all parents would be aware that products other than food can cause serious allergic reaction.

I understand navigating chemicals is not everyone’s cup of tea.  Fortunately, I have the advantage of having studied environmental chemistry at university. Since my daughter’s allergic reaction I have delved deeper into researching everyday household chemicals, all health issues they are linked to as well as alternative products which do not contain controversial chemicals. And I now love to talk chemicals to interested parents in hopes of helping out. So feel free to ask!

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8 Things You Should Know About Common Household Plastics

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Plastics are everywhere. They are used everything from building materials to shower curtains. Mass production of plastics was born out of a desire to make cheap, durable goods. Sadly, some plastics are now known to be toxic to human health as well as damaging to the environment. Here are some facts about plastics which may make you re-think your use of them.

1) Polyvinyl Chloride is toxic. PVC is very commonly used as its cheap to manufacture and allows for plastic to be pliable. So chances are you come in contact with PVC much too often. Look for recycling code #3 and avoid where you can. PVC is commonly used in children’s backpacks, rain gear, and school supplies such as 3-ring binders. Check this very informative list that gives non-PVC options for products kids typically take to school. And good to note that a #7 recycling code is ‘everything else’. Some drinking bottles made with this #7 ‘mystery’ plastic have recently been found to contain BPA.

2) Children’s toys contain PVC. In fact, the iconic kiddie toy, the rubber ducky has become a symbol of a toys made with toxic materials.  Apparently many toys do contain at least some PVC as no alternative suitable material to PVC has been found… claim at least a few of the giant toy manufacturers. And some parents are not taking this lightly creating petitions asking for change.

3) Although ALL plastics have some degree of negative environmental impact, know that the least toxic (based on containing no PVC) commonly used plastics are believed to be low density polyethylene and polypropylene. Recycling codes #4 and #5 respectively will allow you to easily identify these.

4) Saran food wrap (a Dow Chemical product) was once made of PVC but due to health concerns is now reported to made of polyethylene which is apparently much more permeable to oxygen than it ever was, so doesn’t keep your food as fresh.  So really what’s the point of it? Best to avoid all non-biodegradable plastic wrap altogether and use good quality, re-usable food containers made without toxins. I use lined, fabric sandwich bags for my kids lunches and have been pleasantly surprised and glass or stainless for leftovers in my fridge.

5) Plastics are being used in exfoliating face and body washes.  So hard to believe that anyone ever thought it was a good idea to put microscopic plastic beads in body care products.  Now the Great Lakes and other waterways are suffering for it. And the issue persists as municipal water systems weren’t built to remove theses plastic beads.  Check your scrub products for plastics such as ‘polyethylene’. Best to choose biodegradable exfoliators.

6) Plastics are harming aquatic wildlife by ingestion and by entanglement. In fact some who have recently journeyed across oceans give haunting accounts of unspeakable amounts of plastics floating in the oceans and the apparent cost to wildlife. Best for all of us to reduce plastics use where we can. Plastics NEVER breakdown. You throw it away and it then becomes someone else’s issue.

7) Many plastics gas off when they are new causing an unhealthy mix of compounds in the air. This translates into how much better it may be to buy used than new or recycle someone else’s products Who will covet that ‘new car smell’ when it most probably means toxic gassing off?

8) Plastic beverage bottles are a huge environmental issue. PET plastic can be recycled but stats show the majority aren’t recycled but thrown away and end up in landfill.  If you reach for a plastic bottle out of convenience, think again and bring a stainless steel or glass refillable bottle with you next time.

And the good news? There are lots of alternatives to plastic products being created everyday by companies who are being innovative and thoughtful.  Ask questions of product manufacturers and seek out alternatives where they exist. Google everything you question and you may be surprised to find how many alternatives to polluting, harmful plastics are available.