The Mysterious Illness Hitting Gulf Workers Now Identified As 'TILT'

For a few days now, we've been hearing and reading about Gulf cleanup workers and people living close to the Gulf coming down with strange 'flu-like' symptoms.  The true diagnosis was difficult, because flu symptoms are common in the illness that's actually overcoming these workers - now patients.  It's called TILT, short for Toxicant-Induced Loss of Tolerance.


Oil cleanup workers at Orange Beach, Ala.: Photo: Dave Martin, Associated Press, via WOAI.comOil cleanup workers at Orange Beach, Ala.: Photo: Dave Martin, Associated Press, via


TILT is characterized by intolerance of chemicals, foods, various odors, even water.  Joint pains, upper respiratory problems, difficulty breathing, stomach cramping, nervousness, inability to concentrate, balance difficulty, nausea, headaches, skin rashes, pain with or frequent urination, and more symptoms are common. The high temperatures and humidity on the Gulf shores make all these symptoms worse.

What can spark TILT?  Dr. Claudia Miller, Assistant Dean and Professor at the University of Texas School of Medicine, San Antonio, is an expert in allergy/immunology and environmental health.  She has devised  and tested the Quick Environmental Exposure and Sensitivity Inventory, aptly nicknamed QEESI, to help researchers, doctors and patients identify their intolerances.


QEESI helps diagnose TILT: ©Claudia S. Miller, MD, MSQEESI helps diagnose TILT: ©Claudia S. Miller, MD, MS


Exposure to diesel or gas engine exhaust, gasoline, tobacco smoke, insecticide, cleaning products like disinfectants or bleach cleansers, fresh tar or asphalt... even perfume-y odors, nail polish remover, or new furnishings can initiate TILT. Pregnant women and asthmatics are most susceptible to TILT.

The Gulf cleanup workers and citizens of Gulf communities probably didn't succumb to TILT from sniffing perfume.  And maybe they would not have succumbed to it at all if they were working with appropriate protective gear.  But now, the people we need the most on the Gulf, people cleaning the oil off the beaches and trying to save the oil-drenched wildlife are sick.  And the only way they will get better is to stay away from their thankless jobs.


sources:  Spotlight, PRNewswire,, QEESI