by Dr. Sherri Singer, Psy.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
Attention, Behavior, Processing & Learning Expert
I have been an expert successfully treating ADHD symptoms in kids and adults for the last 25 years without using medication and what I recently found out could have knocked me over! Something that has been used for years in and around classrooms as a normal part of the day could be causing or exacerbating some of the symptoms we refer to as adhd. For all of my 25 years, I have been cautioning parents to not jump on the "adhd bus" too fast, since I have firmly believed that other environmental factors could cause the same symptoms, and cause the child to be on the wrong medication or on it when he or she may not have needed it at all.
The funny thing is, that I didn’t find this out through working with a patient or researching information just because I was interested. I found out through my own struggle respectfully arguing a point with my children’s school. Here is my story:
My kids have been homeschooled. While it was wonderful and they are far ahead of where they need to be, we felt that they needed more structure, more social life and exposure to other people sharing educational influences with them. So we enrolled them in the local public school, which is a very nice program, with great, dedicated people.
The first day, my two smiling little faces came home thrilled with their day, excited to tell us about it, and smelling to high heaven. Yes, SMELLING to high heaven. It was a cross between rotten tomato soup and cloves. I am not an allergic person most of the time, but when this smell hit me, my eyes watered and itched, my nose closed up and my head started to ache. An ache that wouldn’t let go until the next day when the kids left and would come back everyday when they would come home. I looked at both my kid’s faces and each had inch long purple allergy shiners under their eyes after school, something they had never had before.
I immediately contacted the school to track down this horrible smell. It was quickly traced to the electric air freshner in the classroom which was an apple cinnamon odor. I informed them about the allergic problems and they graciously offered to remove it. The smell decreased a bit, but did not go away. When I called about it again, I was told that while they could remove it from one room, the other rooms would not have to. I thought to myself, "I wonder how many of these things they have there?"
Since I felt this should have no place within an environment that housed children all day long, my curiosity was peaked and I went searching to see what effects these could have on human health. What I found should be of interest to every parent out there, but of even more interest to those who have kids accused of having adhd.
I will indicate what I found in a minute here, but suffice it to say that if a child is in a school environment with these products, and has been evaluated as having adhd, I think these kids need to be re-evaluated. It doesn’t seem fair for the environment to potentially contribute to the symptom and then to medicate the symptom. Especially when the environment surrounds them six hours a day. Isn’t that "chemicalizing" them to cause a symptom and then "chemicalizing" them to treat the same symptom?
This from Relax News: "While they may smell "fresh", Stanley Fineman, MD, president-elect of the ACAAI, (American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology), said in a statement: "many products contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as formaldehyde, petroleum distillates, limonene, esters and alcohols, which have been linked to increased risk of asthma in children. Plus VOCs can trigger eye and respiratory tract irritation, headaches, dizziness, and even memory impairment according to the statement.
All-natural" or unscented products can still emit hazardous chemicals, he added. "The safest option is to avoid exposure to pollutants that air fresheners emit." That means opening a window rather than using products labeled even "green" or "organic," he adds.
The worst offenders? A study of plug-in deodorizers found that they contained more than 20 different VOCs with more than one third of those classified as toxic or hazardous."
This from Jorg Mardian, RHN: "But in spite of what manufacturers would have us believe, air fresheners do not "purify" the surrounding air, nor do they add natural fragrances. In fact, they coat the nasal passages with an oil film (such as methoxychlor – a pesticide that accumulates in fat cells).
Even more dangerous, formaldehyde, (admitted by the EPA to be a cause of cancer), and benzene (a carcinogen for which the WHO recommends zero exposure), may hang around the air after the use of several types of incense or electric scenter. Not to mention all the other chemicals not mentioned here and about which we know nothing. (WECF, 2005)
Most of these chemicals have never been the subject of an in-depth toxicological study, and the effects on health and the environment have not been subjected to sufficient evaluation before the products were launched onto the market. When used in a confined area, like a homes, at work, or cars, they create an intense amount of toxins in a small area.
Air fresheners may damage your lungs. Another harmful ingredient is called 1, 4-dichlorobenzene, or 1,4-DCB, which could harm your lungs, according to a study by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
The study — published in Environmental Health Perspectives — analyzed the effect of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as 1,4 DCB on the lung function of 953 adult men and women. Of the 11 chemicals studied, only 1,4 DCB was linked to a reduction in pulmonary function; a link found to be significant even when smoking was factored in. This could be serious for those with asthma or other lung problems. Reduced lung function is also a risk factor for heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer. (WebMD July 27, 2006.)"
As an expert working in the field of ADHD for 25 years, I could tell you story after story of parents and teachers who would cite symptoms such as off task behavior, forgetfulness, unable to stay on task etc. When I would interview many of these same kids, they would complain of headaches, dizziness, lack of concentration and bad memory as their real problems. Anyone who lives with allergies can tell you that trying to concentrate and work at the peak of your performance is not possible with those symptoms going on. Even more despicable is this: if these kids are responding to chemicals within the school environment-be it air freshner, electric or spray, or other cleaners and then being accused of having adhd only to be medicated, what are we doing to the health, quality of life and longevity of that child? Seems like a bad set up to me.
Here are some interesting comments by teachers who have posted on a blog about the same topic:
Teacher 1) "As a teacher with allergies to different scents this makes me happy (referring to the state of Missouri banning these products in school). I am a special education teacher and teach inclusion. It is really hard to help teach a class when you cannot breathe or you are getting constant headaches from a scent. Last year I was in a classroom and after 40 minutes in there a day I would walk out with a headache that took the rest of the day to go away. Sometimes it takes a while to figure out what it causing it, days, or even weeks, of pain until I figure out a teacher got a new air freshener. Since I am in many different rooms I have to try to pinpoint which classroom it is in first. Many students will get headaches from things like these and have no idea what they are from so they will just silently suffer. Can a student learn their best like that? Sorry I started to rant on, just something I feel strongly about. I know that I am in the minority."
Teacher 2) "I need to agree with the state on this one. It is not the random spritz of air freshener that is the problem, it is the total whole room attack of our senses when a teacher has an air freshener plugged in that is blanketing the room in chemicals and smells all day long. It is like walking into some stores and having to walk out because of the overwhelming smells that form a cloud. What smells great to one person might be irritating to another. We are being assaulted by chemicals from every direction and now we are seeing an increase in autoimmune disorders and other problems in our kids."
Teacher 3) "All of our students are forced to spend the majority of their waking hours in our classrooms and I personally feel that we should keep that environment as chemical and synthetic free as possible."
Teacher 4) "I can see both sides, I guess. I think many of the things "outlawed" are way overboard. On the other hand, I suffer from frequent migraines and most plug in air-fresheners are a major trigger (even with the preventive meds I take daily). We have open classrooms (no doors, only partial walls). Thank goodness my neighbors don't do the plug-ins, so it hasn't been an issue for the past two years!"
Teacher 5) "The American Lung Association (ALA) website points out that commercially made room deodorizers are a contributing factor to the 56 percent increase in asthma cases since 1979. And the Canadian Lung Association (CLA) also lists air fresheners as a hazardous product."
Sometimes the problem isn't what you think it is! Ask the mom who had adhd medication recommended for her 7 year old by the school and after my private classroom observation realized that the child was actually having allergic problems that were interfering in classroom concentration and ultimately sleep too. That child would most likely have been placed on the wrong medication if that piece of information was not included. That child is doing well, the mom is forever grateful and I am thrilled to have been involved in uncovering the mystery piece!
Many schools have gone treat free to prevent allergies. Shouldn’t this be the same?
They start by using chemicals. Symptoms show up. Then they use more chemicals. What are we doing to our kids in the name of smelling good?
Dr. Sherri Singer, Psy.D. at drsher.weebly.com is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and attention, behavior, processing and learning expert. She thinks "outside the box" when it comes to adhd and provides many alternative treatments for helping abate the symptoms without medication. She is a telephone and webcam coach and a great support to many parents across the USA.
Article originally published on Trib Local
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