Articles, Caroline Sutherland

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Why Your Christmas tree or That New Puppy Could be Making You Sick

By: Caroline Sutherland

I have spent over 25 years in Environmental Medicine, therefore I am very attuned to various environmental factors and how they affect people. 

People are often surprised to learn that the feathers on their bed, the plants in their bedrooms, or the pets that they love may be contributing to health problems. Christmas time is a season of scents, petroleum candles, presents and pesky issues that could be making you sick.

The environment, particularly where you sleep or work, or relax at home requires a closer look. Your aim is to create a “safe” place.

If you have a chronic cough or runny nose, maybe it’s not a good idea to bring home a new puppy on Christmas morning unless it’s a non-allergic variety. Many people are allergic to cats and dogs – not to mention the cedar tree, one of the highest of the coniferous allergies.

On an overall remedy level, take a look at the places where you spend the most amount of your time. Use your intuition to discern any environmental factors that could be disturbing your well-being.

Often people with sinus congestion, respiratory problems, asthma, puffiness and bags under the eyes, and skin problems can be affected by exposures to feathers, dust, molds, chemicals, and pets. Do your best to create a safe home environment, particularly in the bedroom so there is little or no contact with these elements.

When a person sleeps with a feather pillow, they breathe, sweat, and drool into the pillow at night. This moisture penetrates the feather pillow and various strains of environmental molds can grow in the damp feathers. Night after night when the person puts their head on the pillow, the heat from their body warms up the feathers. The mold and dust rises out of the pillow and come in contact with the person’s nasal passages and respiratory system thus contributing to puffy eyes or a stuffy nose. Tune in. Do you think that your pillow is bothering you? In the case of a sensitive respiratory tract or breathing problems, remove feathers from the bed. This also applies to the feather quilt or duvet.

But don’t despair. Take the quilt and the pillows off the bed for a few weeks. It is interesting to note that the g.i. tract (guts), the lungs, and the sinuses are all on the same acupuncture meridian or energy pathway. As your digestive system improves so will your lungs and sinuses. You may be able to put the feather quilt back on the bed because the quilt usually rests over the shoulders and is not often up near the face. You will probably breathe better without the feather pillow, which should be replaced with a synthetic, non-allergenic pillow.

All of the bedding, including the mattress pad, should be tumbled in a hot clothes dryer for ten minutes or hung out on a clothesline. Or air the bedding in the hot sun once a week. The heat from the clothes dryer will destroy the airborne mold, dust particles, and dust mites harbored in the bedding.

If you do have respiratory issues keep pets out of the bedroom. Create a nice, soft, cozy, welcoming environment in the kitchen or laundry room so that your nasal passages will be free of the effects of cat hair and dog dander.

As adorable and lovable as pets are, they are also the breeding grounds for some not so adorable parasites, worms, bacteria and infectious strains of disease. Not to mention hair and dander which can be highly allergic for some people, especially those with respiratory problems and asthma. Many people sleep with cats, dogs, ferrets, rodents, and even snakes!

Treya had been suffering with asthma for many years. She used an inhaler several times a day and was unable to participate in any strenuous activity for fear of triggering an asthma attack. She and her family lived in a dry area of the country and there were four cats in the house. Respiratory tract infections can be greatly helped by the elimination of milk and dairy products. The avoidance of these items and excess sugars was instituted immediately, and her condition began to improve. The next step was to change the living environment – especially the bedroom. The addition of a humidifier, to counteract the dry climate, was a positive benefit.

Several months later, Treya called to say that she was much improved and only needed to use her inhaler approximately three times a week. But I “knew” that the cats were the last remaining part of the problem and Treya did not want to remove them from the house. A year later, Treya called to say that she had finally made the decision, the cats were happy living in the garage and her children enjoyed playing with them outdoors. All the carpet in the home had been replaced with tile to remove any traces of cat hair and dander. She was delighted to report that the inhaler was “a thing of the past” and for the first time in her life, she is enjoying hiking, basketball, and vigorous exercise.

Parasites can be another problem when it comes to cats and dogs. I don’t mean to be graphic, but these furry, lovable creatures are sleeping on your bed and sitting on your pillow after they have spent the day roaming around in the world. They have been having a lovely time, sniffing other dogs’ bottoms and genitalia as well as fire hydrants and convenient bushes in search of any scent that attracts them. Then they return home to lick your face and hands and sit on the pillow upon which you will lay your head at night.

Intuitively, I often pick up the feeling that parasites are present in many people, especially children.

Teach your children about parasites and how they are transmitted. It may not always be the best thing to have a pet lick a child on the mouth. Teach children to wash their hands after handling pets and always before handling food. Because of poor personal hygiene, children can often be affected by parasites. They may appear pale, listless, whiney or agitated, and parasites may be the problem. Children may be scratching themselves and may not be able to sit still. They often have pinworms, which are easily transmitted and easily eradicated.

If you own pets, research information about natural remedies for parasites and administer them to your family twice a year. Or ask your doctor to examine and test your child for parasites. Also be sure that your pet has had up-to-date shots, has been frequently de-wormed and has regular veterinarian attention.

Dust particles and dust mites abound in bedrooms and also contribute to breathing problems. These tiny particles and microscopic creatures live off dead human skin cells that are sloughed off in the bedding. They look huge and grotesque under a magnifying glass. It is impossible to get rid of them completely. They can contribute to all kinds of problems such as: coughing; itchy, watery eyes; breathing problems; and puffiness and bags under the eyes. Give your entire home and bedroom a thorough cleaning once a week. Remove articles and bric-a-brac, which could be gathering dust.

One Christmas I remember visiting friends who were playing some lively polka music after dinner. Several people were gallivanting around the living room in joyful response. Suddenly everyone in the room was coughing violently from the dust that rose from the carpet on the floor. You could see all the dust particles swirling around in the light. If you have a chronic cough, maybe it’s time to take a good look at the dust in your environment.

Some people respond to an air purifier in their bedroom. I have a silent air purifier in my bedroom that filters the air in the room several times an hour. The air in my bedroom always feels crisp and clean. If you are fortunate to have a medical doctor or practitioner who specializes in Environmental Medicine in your area, you can be tested for these allergens and treated with neutralizing drops for dust, molds, feathers and other airborne inhalants, which can bring relief. The purpose of this kind of treatment is to neutralize or desensitize the body for the effect of each of these airborne inhalants so that the person can actually tolerate exposures to these allergens and not be greatly affected by them.

Many people are chemically sensitive. At Christmastime, scents abound. Scented candles and pine cones that are impregnated with cinnamon and spice are the worst offenders.

Of all the people that I see, the most common chemical sensitivities are tobacco smoke, scents and perfumes, cleaning compounds, and gasoline fumes. Formaldehyde and chlorine can also play a role.

When people have weak immune systems they can become chemically sensitive.

Chemically sensitive people often react to perfume. They may feel nervous, high-strung, or develop headaches when they are exposed to the perfumes that they may even be spraying on themselves. This is because they do not have the reserves in their immune system “bank account” to handle the assault of the perfume, nail polish, scent, or any other chemical that pervades their personal environment. Cleaning solutions, which are highly scented, can also compound the problem. Look for essential oils, which are made from natural plant extracts, if you want to wear perfume. However, many people can react to these scents as well because they can be yet another element for a sensitive immune system to handle.

Choose unscented laundry detergents and cleaning compounds at your local health food store.  Highly scented laundry soaps, for instance, can contribute to breathing problems or skin irritations.

Diana had a persistent raspy cough. We isolated her food allergies, removed the cat from the bedroom, and changed the pillow to a hypoallergenic one. The cough subsided but did not disappear completely. Upon further investigation it was discovered that Diana used a strongly scented laundry detergent. Her clothing and her bedding continually emitted this scent. She began using an unscented detergent and her cough cleared up.

Its Christmas time so think carefully before giving a friend a scented gift. Instead choose a good book or a pretty scarf or a pair of gloves for him and forego the cologne.

If you or any one that you know is having symptoms, examine the personal environment with the eye of a detective. Now that you have an idea what to look for, let your instincts guide you to uncover factors in other areas that could be causing problems for you or your family.

Caroline Sutherland has been a medical intuitive for twenty-five years, she is the author of The Body Knows – How to tune into Your Body and Improve Your Health, The Body Knows Diet – Cracking the Weight Loss Code, The Body Knows About Hormones and her latest release, The Body Knows … How To Stay Young. Listen to Caroline on Hay House or visit online at

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