Air – it’s one of the things that keeps us going, keeps us alive.  It’s full of that wonderful stuff: oxygen, without which we would be writhing on the floor gasping for breath.  It could never do us harm, right?  Wrong.  In recent years, there has been a frightening increase in allergies all over the world.  It’s not just an increase in the number of cases either.  Reported symptoms are more severe and illnesses more debilitating than ever before.  What’s more, traditional allergy treatments aren’t working.  So you may ask what’s causing these symptoms.  What exactly is causing the allergy?  That’s the scariest part.  It’s being caused by almost everything – everything manmade, at least.  It’s even in the air we breathe. 



Claudia Miller, an environmental health expert at the University of Texas, School of Medicine, has been researching these mysterious allergies for years and despite some resistance from her peers, she is desperate to get their source and consequent treatment into mainstream medicine.  Toxicant-Induced Loss of Tolerance (or TILT, as it is commonly known), produces the symptoms of many common allergies: headaches, flu-like symptoms, bladder problems, asthma, depression, gut problems, sleep disorders, cognitive difficulties, and even cardiac and neurological abnormalities.  The causes are similar to common allergies too: increased sensitivity to an airborne substance – or in TILT’s case, substances.  The main differences between TILT and other allergies is that the trigger substances vary wildly from person to person, it’s remarkably difficult to treat, and triggers are toxicants rather than toxins – or in other words, they are man-made poisons rather than naturally occurring substances[1]


TILT, Miller explains, works in two stages.  A person will become sick after a certain level of toxic exposure – renovating their home or having repairs done in a badly ventilated office are typical initial triggers – but rather than recovering in the normal way, their neurological and immune systems remain damaged.  It may seem like that person gets better but they don’t.  The second stage of the illness will affect the rest of that person’s life, as they lose tolerance to a wide range of common chemicals.  Such toxicants can be found in almost everything, from the car fumes we breathe, to prescription drugs, supplements, lotions, oils, soaps, newsprint, synthetic clothing, cleaning products, even processed foods such as pizza and alcohol.  Anything, that is, with man-made chemicals in it – which is almost everything these days, isn’t it?  In this sense, it could said that TILT sufferers become allergic to life or, as Miller comically puts it, they become TILTed[2]


A TILTed Controversy

Miller first described TILT back in 1996, although the disease has been around for much longer than that.  In fact, previously known as Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, or MCS, the disease has been under debate since the 1980s.  With this longevity in mind, it’s easy to wonder why scientists like Miller are having such a hard time getting the disease recognised within mainstream medicine but the truth is, many physicians believe it a psychological rather a physiological disorder.  The very fact that sufferers react to wildly different triggers and suffer wildly different symptoms means that finding a cause and a treatment is extremely difficult and may suggest that people are simply neurotic. 


In fact, the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Asthma, Allergy, and Immunology, both argue that the connection between the symptoms experienced and the toxicant exposure is speculative at best and that any evidence to the contrary is seriously lacking.  The AMA even suggest that TILT should not be considered a recognised clinical syndrome[3].  That is quite a blow for those who have to shy away from life in fear of sudden headaches or debilitating memory loss. 


In Defence of TILT

Of course the opponents of TILT are absolutely right – there is a shocking lack of evidence and what evidence there is, is all over the place.  That doesn’t mean that TILT doesn’t exist though, it only means that we need to investigate it further.  They are also right to say that the symptoms of TILT are non-specific and reactions vary but that doesn’t mean TILT is all in a person’s head, it only means that there are too many toxicants in our airways and on our products for us to make any sense of this new-found allergy.  There are no reliable tests or proven treatments yet but that doesn’t mean that TILT is controversial, only that we need to work harder for those who are struggling to live with this condition. 


There are those who are working tirelessly for the cause too, like Miller and her colleagues.  Not all medical bodies reject the disease either, as the National Institute of Health recognise it as a “chronic, recurring disease caused by a person’s inability to tolerate an environmental chemical or class of foreign chemicals”[4].  In fact, chemicals in oil and carcinogens in fumes are known to have health impacts – it’s only a short leap from there to include many other toxicants that we come in contact with every day.  What’s more, cases of TILT are higher in areas with greater exposure to chemicals – China, for example, with its massive pollution problems[5], or in Louisiana or Alabama where those involved in cleaning the BP oil spill reported severe symptoms[6]


TILT may be caused by an alteration in brain processing, lowering the set-point for sensitivity.  It could be a result of epigenetic changes, where cells are reprogrammed and cannot revert back to their original state.  It may be the result of high levels of immune cells[7].  The research is just beginning and there is evidence pointing to each of these solutions.  So whilst we don’t know the exact cause yet, that doesn’t mean we never will – and evidence suggests that we are close to discovering the truth. 


Although for the moment, we don’t know what causes TILT or how it can be treated, one thing is for sure: it’s neither controversial nor neurotic.  It’s a serious illness, with frightening implications; and whilst modern life may have eradicated illnesses like smallpox and gone some way in finding a cure for cancer, it is also making us sick in other ways – by poisoning us with seemingly innocent toxicants that invade every part of our lives, no matter how hard we try to stay away. 


[1]{C}Niemark, J., 2013. Extreme Chemical Sensitivity Makes Sufferers Allergic to Life, [online].  Available:, [accessed 11.16.13]

[2]{C} Ibid. 

[3]{C} Wed MD, 2013.  Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, [online].  Available:, [Accessed: 11.18.13]

[4]{C} Cited by Stugis, S., 2013.  TILT: The Illness Afflicting Workers Exposed to BP’s Oil Disaster?, [online].  Available: http://www/, [Accessed 11.18.13]

[5]{C} Miller, C., 2013.  TILTed in China, [online].  Available:, [Accessed 11.18.13]

[6]{C} Sturgis, S. Op. Cit.

[7]{C} Niemark, J.  Op. Cit.

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Have You Been TILTed? A Look at the Dangerous New Allergies Sweeping the Globe. by UrbanSculpt Staff Writer Victoria Froud, MA is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.
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