Do you suffer from multiple chemical sensitivity?
You may not know it if you do. That’s because this is a fairly new condition that scientists and doctors are currently exploring.
What you should know is that anyone can develop this condition, and it can have significant effects on your life. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to recover.
What is Multiple Chemical Sensitivity?
Multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) is a syndrome triggered by exposure to chemicals, in which the individual has trouble processing or managing these chemicals when they come into contact with them. Also called environmental intolerance, it is a complex condition that manifests as a result of exposure to various contaminants at typically safe or nontoxic doses.
Researchers examined the condition in the scientific journal The American Family Physician back in 1998. They described MCS as a syndrome “in which multiple symptoms reportedly occur with low-level chemical exposure.” At that time, the condition was thought to be most commonly related to a single severe chemical exposure, such as which may occur with a chemical spill, or longer-term exposure to more toxic chemicals.
Today, however, researchers and doctors alike treat patients with MCS from chemicals found in everyday products like soaps, detergents, cosmetics, plastics, perfumes, paint, cigarette smoke, carpeting and furniture, and more.
Symptoms of MCS can vary, but typically include those like the following:
- Itching and skin rashes
- Muscle and joint aches
- Fatigue or weakness
- Burning or stinging eyes, nose, or throat
- Wheezing and/or difficulty breathing
- Digestive problems (nausea, gas, diarrhea)
- Insomnia, trouble sleeping
- Sinus problems (congestion, sinus pressure, nosebleeds)
- Memory loss
Can You Be Clinically Diagnosed with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity?
So far, the scientific and medical communities are still debating whether MCS should be an official clinical condition. According to John Hopkins, many in the medical community feel the symptoms are physical manifestations of psychiatric illness rather than a primary medical illness.
Others, however, believe that MCS is a negative physical reaction to certain chemicals. In a 1999 letter to the editor, printed in the American Family Physician, Dr. Grace Ziem stated, “I am a physician practicing occupational medicine who cares for hundreds of patients with MCS.” She noted that out of 100 patients with MCS seen in her practice, 88 percent met the diagnostic criteria for chronic fatigue syndrome (another potential symptom of MCS) and 49 percent met the criteria for fibromyalgia.
She went on to say that in her experience, MCS most often developed after repeated exposure to petrochemicals, combustion products, pesticides, solvents, chemicals used in the remodeling of buildings, adhesives, and more.
Could Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Be Related to Beauty Products?
Though most of the scientific literature to date has focused on occupational exposure (at work) to chemicals and how that may cause MCS, John Hopkins and other medical and scientific research centers acknowledge that exposure to chemicals in soaps, detergents, and cosmetics can also trigger symptoms in people with MCS.
Here at CV Skinlabs, we have long warned about the dangers of using beauty products with certain toxic chemicals like phthalates, formaldehyde, and 1,4-dioxane, among others. Exposure to these types of chemicals over and over again for years can’t be good for us. Though low levels may not cause problems, we’re talking about accumulating decades of exposure to chemicals that can be harmful and in some cases, even carcinogenic.
In the 1998 overview of MCS that was published in American Family Physician, researchers reviewed the data and noted what items patients were exposed to before experiencing symptoms of MCS. Among industrial chemicals such as those from diesel exhaust, asphalt pavement, and paint thinner were these personal-care and home products:
- Aerosol air freshener
- Aerosol deodorant
- After-shave lotion
- Colognes, perfumes
- Dry cleaning fluid
- Furniture polish
- Hair spray
- Insect repellant
- Laundry detergent
- Nail polish
- Public restroom deodorizers
Indeed, personal- and home-care products were primary triggers of MCS symptoms, with patients doing their best to avoid these triggers after reacting to them.
How Does Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Develop?
Scientists are still researching this condition. From what they know so far, they believe that MCS can develop from:
- Allergy: Exposure to the chemical over and over again for long periods can trigger an allergic reaction. This is particularly common with fragrance ingredients.
- Toxicologic Effects: Could patients with MCS experience toxic effects even from low doses of certain chemicals? This is another theory, but one that lacks supporting evidence.
- Inflammation: Some scientists theorize that as individuals are exposed to certain chemicals time and time again, the body begins to react with inflammation. As the inflammation becomes chronic, it causes damage to tissues and organs, lowering the body’s resistance to those chemicals.
- Neurobiologic Sensitization: After being exposed so many times, patients may develop an increasing neurologic sensitivity to the chemical. In animal studies, subjects repeatedly exposed to seizure-inducing chemicals or electrical stimulation have been found to develop lower thresholds for seizure induction than those observed before exposure. The same thing could happen in humans with exposure to other chemicals.
- Psychiatric Illness: Some scientists have also noticed a correlation between patients with MCS and mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression. There is a possibility that the disease can be a manifestation of a mental illness.
There are no standard diagnostic criteria for MCS, so there is no standard treatment either. Some doctors have suggested the following steps:
- Address any mental illness that may be present.
- If you’re avoiding certain activities in your life because of MCS, it’s important to work with your doctor to gradually recover your normal life routine.
- Avoid those chemicals that trigger symptoms, but try not to let that avoidance limit your life.
The truth is that it’s impossible to avoid exposure to chemicals in our modern world. They are all around us. We can, however, make healthier choices that limit how many chemicals are getting into our bodies. To do that, we recommend these tips:
- Choose fragrance-free cosmetics and beauty products, as well as laundry detergent and other personal-care items.
- Buy personal-care products from companies that are more conscientious about the ingredients they use. We highly suggest CV Skinlabs! Our ingredients are NOT linked to allergies and toxic effects. We are a truly non-toxic brand.
- Avoid areas where people smoke.
- Hang your dry-cleaning in the garage or somewhere outside of the home for a couple of days before bringing it in.
- Use home-cleaning products with fewer toxic chemicals as often as you can. You can also make your own cleaners with vinegar, dish soap, and other gentler ingredients. (See our post, “Are These 5 Housecleaning Products Poisoning Your Home?”)
- Check with your doctor to rule out other potential issues like fibromyalgia, infections, and chronic fatigue syndrome.
- Live a healthy lifestyle that includes a “clean” diet, regular exercise, a good night’s sleep, and connections with loved ones.
Do you have symptoms of multiple chemical sensitivity?