Visiting Your Doctor with Environmental Concerns

Released: 1-Feb-2014 1:00 PM EST
Source Newsroom: Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment
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Newswise — Preparing for visits to our doctors or other healthcare providers is an important step to a successful outcome. Give your questions and concerns to your providers ahead of time, so that they can help address them and find additional resources as needed. If you have a particular concern, share it when you are scheduling the visit so the provider will have the chance to prepare for your questions about it.

Healthcare providers routinely ask questions about environmental health issues and consider the possible role of environmental exposures when evaluating your child. Unfortunately, healthcare providers, even doctors and nurses, typically have not received much training on environmental health issues, but they recognize the importance of environmental health concerns of their patients, and they seek further education and expertise about environmental health when needed.

Where does my health care provider get information about environmental health issues?

So, a number of organizations have stepped in to help healthcare providers by providing education and expertise about environmental health. For example, the federal government agency ATSDR (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry) has a continuing education overview article about pediatric environmental health issues on its website. A network of pediatric environmental health experts (Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Units or PEHSUs) also has been formed to assist with providing education and consultation resources for providers and for parents in caring for pediatric patients who may have environmentally-linked medical problems. The Physicians for Social Responsibility organization has developed and made available a number of resources for providers and parents on its website. The American Academy of Pediatrics offers multiple handouts for pediatricians to use when communicating with patients and parents about environmental health issues including exposures to lead/arsenic/carbon monoxide/mercury/radon/electromagnetic fields/pesticides, as well as other issues such as safe drinking water. These organizations are also listed at the end of this essay.

What information should I have ready for my visit?

You should be prepared to answer some common questions for obtaining medical histories from patients and their families about environmental health issues/concerns. Some of these questions are:

+ Where does your child spend time?
+ What type of housing/neighborhood do you live in?
+ Do you have pets?
+ Is your child exposed to cigarette smoke?
+ What is your source of drinking water?
+ What types of chemicals do you use in the home?
+ Where do the parents and/or the child work?
+ What are your/your child’s hobbies?
+ What types of food do you eat?

Some of these questions will vary depending upon factors such as the child’s age and the symptoms of concern. However, these types of information are key to sorting through a patient’s medical history to assess potential environmental exposures of concern. Environmental exposures can lead to the development of common medical problems, such as asthma, or nonspecific symptoms. The medical evaluation can assist in determining if exposures of concern are occurring and may be causing symptoms or health problems in patients. The medical evaluation also can assist in reducing or avoiding future exposures of concern.

More information on children's health related to chemical exposure, checkout the website, www.KidsChemicalSafety.org.


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