Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS)
Other names for Multiple Chemical Sensitivity include: Environmental illness, Chemical AIDS, 20th Century disease, Total allergy syndrome, Sick building syndrome, Chemophobia, Gulf War Syndrome and Immune dysregulation.
Interesting Facts about Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS):
- Multiple Chemical Sensitivity symptoms are ongoing, reproducible and repeated upon exposure to the trigger.
- Multiple Chemical Sensitive people are often referred to psychotherapists for “help” when allopathic practitioners don’t know how to help the MCS person.
- Patients with MCS syndrome can have severe symptoms that interfere with daily life and work.
- The MCS patient improves once the pollutant and chemical triggers are removed.
- Avoidance and removal of pollutants and toxins are the key to minimizing multiple chemical sensitivity reactions.
- Multiple Chemical Sensitivity is a clinical syndrome defined as an unusual, severe sensitivity or allergy-like reaction to many different kinds of pollutants including solvents, VOC’s (Volatile Organic Compounds), perfumes, petrochemicals (including diesel and smoke), synthetic chemicals in general and MCS often encompasses reactions to pollen, house dust mites, pet fur and dander.
- The mechanisms of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity reactions are not well understood which often makes treatment with conventional medicine and practices ineffective or inappropriate. Some tests that could help diagnose MCS are actually not a part of the routine tests recommended for discovering the diagnosis.
- MCS people are even allergic to some types of clothing and many seek to purchase used sheets for their bedding so as to minimize exposure to toxins.
- Most patients (85 to 90 percent) complaining of MCS syndrome are women. Most present between the ages of 30 and 50 years.
Some symptoms of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity include:
- Anxiety and panic attacks
- Blurred vision
- Burning, stinging eyes
- Difficulty concentrating
- Digestive upset
- Extreme fatigue/lethargy
- Heat intolerance
- Memory loss
- Muscle & joint pain
- Numbness of extremities and fingers
- Personality changes (anger/anxiety/nervousness) upon exposure to a trigger
- Runny nose (rhinitis)
- Sensitivity to light and noise
- Sinus problems
- Skin rashes and/or itching skin
- Sleeping problems, insomnia and sleep apnea
- Sore throat, cough
- Stress (Well yeah! Wouldn’t you be stressed or stressed out if you had to watch and wonder about everything you ate, drank, touched and breathed in?)
- Watery eyes
- Wheezing, breathlessness nausea
Multiple Chemical Sensitivity people often react to extremely low levels of irritant, toxins and triggers. These levels are often so low “normal” people are not even aware of them and don’t react to the presence of these substances. Of course this makes them look like hypochondriacs and frankly it’s pretty embarrassing for them at times. Features of MCS often seem unrealistic, impossible and implausible to the public, the family of the MCS person and to conventional scientifically-trained practitioners involved in cases like these.
Some common things I’ve heard clients relate to me over the years regarding multiple chemical sensitivity include phrases like:
- “What IS your problem?
- “Ahh, you’re just making this stuff up to get attention.”
- “Don’t you think you’re over reacting a bit?”
- “Don’t you think this is all in your head?” and my personal favorite. . .
- “I bet if I sprayed (herbicides) and you didn’t see me do it that you wouldn’t react to it.”
The fact is (and I know this from personal experience and from client interactions) that these unthinking, unbelieving people that don’t understand what they are doing IS hurting the MCS person. The offender does not see what the multiple chemical sensitive person is going through several days after they spray their poisons. The MCS person DOES know that some kind of chemical has been used and they ARE reacting to it.
People spraying herbicides and pesticides often ignore ‘No Spray’ signs posted outside of the client’s property. These sensitive people end up having to stay inside their house because they are in agony and can’t get out of bed for a few days. The lucky ones get out of town for a few days to a pre-established “safe house” usually of a friend or an understanding family member. The offenders are not knocking on the MCS person’s door to check out the results of their ‘experiment’. They just assume they can spray whenever they want and not take responsibility for their actions. As one of my patients aptly put it. . .
“If only the person spraying could spend just ONE day in my body and feel what I’m feeling after they spray. Maybe they would understand.”
Wouldn’t it be so nice to know in advance that a neighbor or county was going to spray for weeds so the MCS person could make a decision as to what they were going to do and how they were going to accommodate? Ahh the perfect world. The MCS people I know personally don’t feel it’s their job to stop people from using inorganic farming techniques. They know this is a goal that they cannot accomplish realistically–they just want to know when they are going to spray or burn so they can make some choices on how to handle it and minimize the discomfort in their bodies.
Why are MCS people so sensitive to herbicides and pesticides? One resource I read talked about enzyme depletion. Enzyme depletion mechanisms are used in some pesticides to augment the primary poison. This mechanism blocks enzymes in the plant or body so that it cannot metabolize and break down the chemical thus keeping the poison in the body for longer periods of time so that toxicity is accentuated. It could be that some humans are more sensitive to this mechanism than others.
So, how can a person be affected by such a miniscule amount of chemical? One theory is that the patient has become sensitized to the chemical. But how does that happen? Some evidence indicates that just one whopping exposure of a chemical in a body that is sensitive to chemicals can cause multiple chemical sensitivity. This is the process of sensitization.
Sensitization: People with multiple chemical sensitivity often report that they had no symptoms before that single large exposure of a toxin, but that after that exposure, BAM. . . symptoms every time they are re-exposed—even at micro doses. Other research indicates that the patient has been exposed to a host of chemicals over a long period of time and finally their body just has had enough, so it is now reacting to many different chemicals.
Sensitization is defined as a true allergic reaction to one chemical or irritant and is caused by involvement within the body of mast cells and IgE antibodies. Once sensitized to a particular irritant, a subsequent exposure to even a tiny amount of the same irritant (yes, even parts per million or parts per billion) can cause an extreme allergic reactions.
One thing I’ve noticed with my own sensitivities is that often a group of toxins will contain the same chemical—like petrochemicals. It’s amazing how many products out there contain petrochemicals. It’s also a mystery why a person may react to a bunch of products that contain petrochemicals yet not react to other products containing which also contain them. Maybe it’s the combination of ingredients within a product?
Conditioned response: Another theory to being so sensitive includes the conditioned response. A conditioned response happens when two unrelated events occur at the same time and one event becomes associated with the other. When the first event is later repeated, the second event also manifests itself for the sufferer. We see this in patients that are traumatized emotionally. When a trigger event pushes someone’s button, their body responds the same way it did when they were initially traumatized.
Theoretically then, we should be able to use psychotherapy, Neuro Emotional Technique, Emotional Freedom Technique, hypnosis or past life regression to erase these responses or eliminate the trigger reaction. I’ve used some of these techniques on myself, but it hasn’t eliminated the reactions entirely. Every little bit helps though, so I do recommend exploring those avenues for clients who have multiple chemical sensitivities.
Generalization is another theory explored as to why symptoms show up in multiple chemical sensitive individuals. In the process of generalization, when the patient’s senses are triggered by a chemical that smells anything like something they are allergic to, they subconsciously are alerted to the possibility of a reaction so their body responds accordingly. These reactions are not true allergic reactions involving the release of immunoglobulins—specifically IgE.
Augmentation of existing disease: Being multiple chemical sensitive can augment and further debilitate patients who are also experiencing common allergies, depression, asthma and food intolerances. A majority of MCS people fit into this category.
Immune System Disruptors: There are a number of toxic chemicals which have been implicated in major single exposures for people who then subsequently became Multiple Chemical Sensitive sufferers. These chemicals are also known to be immune system disruptors. These chemicals include organochlorines, formaldehyde, pesticides, herbicides and organophosphates.
Exposures Precipitating Symptoms of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity:
Certain professions seem to harbor a number of chemicals that can trigger multiple chemical sensitivity. Some of these professions include:
- Artists who use mixed media (oil based paints and arc welding)
- Beauticians (perfumes, shampoos, acrylics, nail polish and remover, perm solutions, hair sprays)
- Being around air fresheners, room deodorizers, aerosol sprays and scented candles
- Construction and road workers (petrochemicals, paints, asphalt, gasses)
- Dog groomers (shampoos, pesticides, perfumes, nail polish and remover)
- Dry cleaning industry (dry-cleaning fluid, laundry detergents, moth balls and spot removing agents)
- Factory workers working around any toxic chemicals day after day
- Farmers (non-organic) using pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, sulfur and dormant oils
- Janitors and house cleaners (floor wax, air fresheners, smoke, furniture polish, pine tar agents and room deodorizers)
- Library workers (molds, fungus and the chemicals on NCR receipts)
- Mechanics (petrochemicals and solvents)
- Medical profession (anesthetics, cleaning agents, formaldehyde, latex)
- Morticians (embalming fluids) Ahh, remember those days of anatomy and cadavers?
- Painters and the painting industry (solvents, oil-based paints, lacquers, paint thinner, varnish, shellac)
- People who smoke or who are around those that do (tobacco or marijuana)
- Perfume industry (colognes, aftershave and perfumes of all kinds)
- Pest control (insecticides, herbicides, molds, petrochemicals, endocrine disrupting agents)
- Printing industries (solvents and some printing inks)
- Research lab workers (xylenes/phenols and a host of other chemicals used in research)
- Working in a building filled with molds/mildews
Case Studies: Silicone Breast Implant Leakage causing Chemical AIDS and Severe Latex Allergies
I remember my first case of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. I was a beginning alternative practitioner and boy oh boy, were my eyes opened. The client was a nurse who had decided a few years earlier to have breast augmentation. She chose silicone implants. Well, the implants leaked. She had them removed but it was too late. In her words, she caused herself to have chemical AIDS. Her life was pretty much hell after that. She wouldn’t even take a sauna with another person for fear of their “off-gassing” and being afraid that she couldn’t handle the extra toxins in her body. She had every gadget for detoxification that I had ever seen or probably will ever see. She knew every doctor in the area and which ones she could trust and which ones were even a little bit open to her much-researched theories. And she had moved to an area where she felt the possibility of being exposed to chemicals was minimized. She used non-toxic everything and ate as organically as one can in a small town. Her life continues to be one chemical crisis after another to be controlled and managed.
Another client of mine who has latex allergies found herself in the emergency room. As the doctor was drawing up some drug to put into her IV fluids, she told him that she would go into anaphylaxis if he did not change the needle before injecting the substance into her line (he had already inserted the needle into the fluid port.) That miniscule exposure of the needle going into the latex cap on the bottle is what she would react to. He didn’t believe her, so she warned him to have some epinephrine and a crash cart handy. Within 30 seconds after the injection she went into anaphylaxis (as had happened twice before.) After they were able to bring her back from death, he apologized. How many doctors must this woman go through to find one or two that believe her? How can she feel safe traveling and being away from that doctor, system or team of people who know her case history? Who would want to move or start over with building a new team of healers after going through something like that? She has experience many anaphylactic reactions and had several Near Death Experiences because of this sensitivity. More and more health care providers are becoming sensitized to latex. Her case is just an extreme example. Some of my nurse clients have actually had to leave their jobs because of this allergy.
Behavioral Characteristics of the Multiple Chemical Sensitive Person: Multiple Chemical Sensitive patients often significantly alter their behavior in an attempt to avoid trigger chemicals.
- Multiple Chemical Sensitive people use non-toxic cleaning compounds.
- They change the types of clothing they wear to avoid dyes and synthetic clothing.
- They change their diets, use organic products, don’t like trying new foods and don’t eat out often because they fear reactions to hidden chemicals in the food—or they eat the same foods all the time.
- Multiple Chemical Sensitive people explore alternative medicine techniques (eventually).
- Many leave their jobs because of trigger exposures.
- They limit contact with friends (especially those friends who don’t understand the dis-ease.)
- They limit their travel (too many toxins and aberrant electromagnetic fields in the hotels/motels and in the sick buildings.)
- They read, read, read lots of labels, articles, websites and join online communities where they can talk to others that understand their challenges, to get to know what chemicals are in which products, what they are dealing with, what’s working for others and to get some kind of validation that they are not going crazy.
- Multiple Chemical Sensitive patients remove home furnishings from their homes (like couches and mattresses that off-gas.) I know of one woman who could not move into her new “non-toxic” dream home until it had off-gassed for over a year.
- They stop using fragrance products on their bodies and in their homes. They don’t allow other people wearing fragrances to enter their homes.
- They do not go down the laundry isle at the grocery store because of the odors there.
- The multiple chemical sensitive person has the tendency to withdraw from activities, friends and family in an attempt to eliminate chemical exposures.
Allopathic medicine recommendations: From what I’ve been reading, it’s highly recommended that practitioners refer these cases to psychotherapists as part of their treatment. Clinicians also are directed to encourage the MCS patient to get out into the world and not pay attention to their symptoms—after all, chemicals are not really affecting their body according to lab tests anyway. The theory being is that exposure to trigger chemicals is not life threatening.
My feeling here is that the patient will only go as fast as the slowest part of them is ready to go. Recommending the MCS client continue to work in a toxic environment without changes, get out, socialize and basically ignore their symptoms will NOT build a healer-patient relationship in a positive direction for those being challenged with this syndrome. You may get a head nod (and a fake smile) but these patients will go home, do more reading, try more things. . .and then go find another healer that listens! Frankly I just don’t blame them.
My own theories and notes about Multiple Chemical Sensitivity:
- If you are multiple chemical sensitive, learn to muscle test because you might be the only person that can help you when others don’t believe a word you’re saying.
- Multiple Chemical Sensitivity people are often Non-Secretors and are quite sensitive energetically to earth changes and other factors in their environment like electromagnetic fields.
- Maybe multiple chemical sensitive people are just canaries in the mine of Mother Earth to help us understand what we are doing to our planet.
- Undiagnosed people with MCS spend so much money trying to figure out what is wrong with themselves, often to no avail, that they often expend all their financial resources and end up being on disability. I truly believe they don’t want to be on disability, they’ve just run out of options.
- There seems to be no re-training programs for people that need to spend most of their time sequestered in their homes. They aren’t hermits. They socialize online and save their time units spent out of their homes for doctor visits.
- These are intelligent people! They don’t really want to live in bubbles.
- These patients are truly suffering as a result of their symptoms and deserve compassionate evaluation and management from healers who is sympathetic to their plight. We as healers need to protect them from unwarranted, dangerous and expensive management. If you can’t be non-judgmental as their healer, then you need to refer the client right away so they can utilize their funds in the most effective manner possible. If they are labeled improperly as “severely depressed” or “psychologically deranged” or whatever else gets written in their file, this will follow the patient over and over and delay them from getting the help they need. It’s OK to refer to another healer. Really. Your honesty is greatly appreciated from these patients.
- Having Multiple Chemical Sensitivities is a draw into the world of natural medicine. I know of one woman with MCS that is now a medical intuitive herself with her own radio show. She works from home like I do and rarely travels because of her fear of Sick Building Syndrome.
- It really doesn’t matter what methods and techniques work as long as they work for a time. Forgiveness and acceptance is part of the journey of a multiple chemical sensitive person (among other lessons of course.)
- MCS people have spent so much time studying up on their symptoms that they probably have more knowledge than the typical healer of any sort. They need and want to take part in their plan of action to feel comfortable with their healing team. They need to have advocates on their side who believes what they are saying.
- Often the MCS patient will have no insurance because they have lost their jobs and will have to pay for tests themselves. They are happy to research the tests that are being recommended and will happily partake in deciding which tests may be the most helpful in developing a treatment strategy. Let them use their instincts in making those decisions.
- I personally wouldn’t be without Professional Complementary Health Formulations products to help me manage my own and my client’s chemical sensitivities. Lawn and Garden detox, Sick Building Detox, Petroleum drops, Food Additive Detox drops, Mer and Amalgam Detox, Whole Body Detox and for my nurses, the Latex Gloves drops have been God-sends for us.
Do you have Multiple Chemical Sensitivity? Techniques helpful in the management of multiple chemical sensitivity include: Discovering the life lessons surrounding multiple chemical sensitivity, finding your voice, establishing boundaries with people, listening to that Still Small Voice within, meditation, detoxification, eating a diet higher in fruits and vegetables, finding your place in the world, being happy and eating certain foods for your blood type or genotype.
Helpful Links and References for Multiple Chemical Sensitivity:
- Here’s an article on the types of clothing to avoid and what types to use if you are MCS: http://www.sixwise.com/newsletters/05/12/21/the-6-synthetic-fabrics-you-most-want-to-avoid-and-why.htm
- Products for the Chemically and Electrically Sensitive:http://www.ctaz.com/~bhima/products.htm
- Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Information: http://www.aafp.org/afp/1998/0901/p721.html
- Multiple Chemical Sensitivities: http://www.multiplechemicalsensitivity.org/