Chemicals that normally would not bother you can give off fumes when they get hot. You may suddenly notice fumes from asphalt surfaces, from car tyres, or from car interiors on hot days. Open up cars and air them before driving off in hot weather. You may be able to tolerate synthetic materials unless you wear them or sleep on them -thereby making them warm enough to give off fumes. You may be able to use plastic bags, boxes, or plastic wrap, unless you use them on warm food. Decorating and furnishing materials, such as paints and plastics, may not bother you unless they get heated, so take care with paint on radiators, around windows and doors, and with lagging and insulating materials, and with fabric or plastic lampshades that get heated. Televisions, computers and audio equipment can give off fumes when hot, so you may have to moderate their use and ventilate well when they are on.

Avoid using a foam padded ironing board cover, or one with a metallic cover.

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Veneers and Sheets

Veneers are thin layers of wood glued to a thicker surface, often particle board. The particle board is often the cause of reactions to veneers rather than the veneer itself.

Melamine and plastic sheets used as a covering on particle boards can give off fumes when new, but usually air off well. Again, the particle board is the more likely source of problems.

Wallpaper

Wallpaper, including lining paper, is best avoided if you are highly sensitive to moulds as moulds grow on it. Again, it is best avoided.

For wall finishes, use plaster with simple emulsion paint, or tile walls where appropriate.

For stripping wallpaper, use a steam stripper rather than solvent strippers.

Wiring

Some people who are extremely sensitive to plastics can react to plastic-covered electric wiring if it heats up. If this affects you, contain wiring behind skirtings if possible. Alternatively, you can contain wires in steel conduit, or use mineral-insulated copper cable (MICC). The latter option is usually cheaper.

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If you suspect your baby is ill in any way, you should always go to see a doctor to obtain a proper diagnosis. You should always make sure that all other possible causes, as well as allergy and sensitivity, are considered. Never jump to conclusions yourself.

What Symptoms Might I See?

If your baby has been sensitive or allergic from birth, it may be very difficult to work out what are symptoms, and what are just features of the baby itself. Some allergic or sensitive babies are constantly snuffly, or restless; some cry constantly, are grizzly, irritable and have difficulty in sleeping. Some have colic, excessive wind and constipation. Some have rough skin, itchy eyes and dermatitis. Some have flushed, red faces and shiny skin. With a newborn, it can sometimes be impossible to tell whether he or she is reacting or not. Unless you feel strongly that something is wrong, or the baby has clear reactions to changes in routine, it may be unwise to draw any conclusions.

You might also investigate whether he or she is sensitive to cleaning, sterilising and laundry agents, toiletries, or other chemicals you are using; or to inhalants such as house dust mites, moulds or pets.

Many babies develop the first clear signs of allergy and sensitivity at between two and six months. It is not possible to say whether this is due to some particular vulnerability or immaturity of the body’s immune, digestive and other systems, or whether this simply coincides with many babies’ first exposures to foods other than milk, or to other allergens, or chemicals causing sensitivity.

Eczema is particularly common at this stage of a baby’s life often flaring up for a while and then disappearing, either totally or to reappear later in life. Asthma can occur in very young children; some doctors argue that babies under one year cannot develop asthma because they are incapable of wheezing. Non-wheezing asthma can be observed, however – a hoarse, dry cough unrelated to a head cold or virus, which can become productive of phlegm. Gut symptoms of allergy and intolerance are also common. As babies grow older, it is often easier to detect their symptoms as they develop more of their own character and temperament, and a particular routine and diet. It becomes simpler to spot changes and triggers, whether it is a change of diet, a new food, a new pet, a new childminder, a change of season, new bedding, moving house, vaccinations, or a viral or gastric infection.

Symptoms due to other types of sensitivity (e.g. chemicals, inhalants) include breathing and nasal symptoms, eczema, urticaria and asthma. Digestive symptoms are most likely to be caused by food sensitivity. Many parents whose babies go on to develop more serious symptoms as children or adults often recall that their child was unhappy and restless as a young baby, with mild symptoms. It is often difficult to distinguish low level symptoms from an occasional head cold or virus, or from the general crankiness that babies or toddlers often exhibit when they are tired, hungry, bored, or thwarted in their desires.

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Certain environments do not favour house dust mites. They are killed by sunlight. The majority of mites live in the top 1-2 cm (% inch) of any surface, and sunlight can penetrate far enough to kill by light or drying many of the mites present, although it does not remove their faeces or debris. Washing at high temperatures (90oC/194°F plus) also kills mites, and, if thorough, can remove them and their faecal debris completely. A dry environment kills them. They do not survive at a relative humidity level below 55 per cent, and if you can create localised dry conditions, say by drying a pillow on a radiator or hot water tank, or by drying a bed with hot water bottles, or with an electric blanket, this will kill them, although again faeces and debris are not removed. House dust mites do not occur in any concentration in the Alps; the combination of low humidity and low temperatures is probably the reason for this.

Synthetic materials are often claimed to deter house dust mites and advice is often given to use synthetic bedding, to avoid problems with house dust mite allergy. Despite the prevalence of this advice, there is little evidence to substantiate it, and the experience of many people with allergies indicates the need for caution.

Problems with mites can, and do, recur in synthetic bedding after a while, unless you take preventative measures to deter them (so the benefits can be due simply to the newness of the bedding, not to the change to synthetic material).

There is some evidence that synthetic carpets can reduce the level of airborne allergens (including house dust mites) because their increased level of static electricity attracts particles and holds them down. There are also some benefits to using synthetic bedding, compared to wool or feathers, in that it can be readily washed and dried. However, washing at low temperatures (40°C/105°F or less) does not kill mites. It simply rinses out the faecal pellets, but not always the mites themselves, who are tenacious and cling on to survive. You need a high temperature of wash to kill and eliminate mites.

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The body requires enzymes for many of its chemical reactions. For digestion, many different enzymes are needed to help break down and metabolise foods. Some people are deficient in specific enzymes and simply cannot digest certain foods properly. A number of these defects are well known and have specific symptoms. One of the most common is a deficiency of lactase, an enzyme that breaks down lactose, the sugar found in milk and milk products. The symptoms that result are diarrhoea, wind and a distended abdomen, and this can be a very serious condition in babies. Lactase deficiency can be inherited, or it can develop later in life. Lactase levels are reduced by a stomach upset or gastro-enteritis, and lactose intolerance can follow such an illness for a temporary period. Levels of lactase decrease with age, as well, so adults can also develop the condition.

It is known that up to 40 per cent of Japanese people are deficient in this enzyme, and they can suffer from flushing and other symptoms.

There are other documented enzyme defects besides these, and a specialist doctor may be able to identify them if you have a clear pattern of symptoms.

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