What is MCS?
Multiple chemical sensitivities is also known as MCS. Chemical sensitivities may affect a large proportion of the population, in people that are not even aware of this condition. We conventionally think of chemicals in the home as being present in the more industrial cleaning products that we keep tucked away under the kitchen sink. However, there is a growing awareness that many common skincare and hair care products, including soaps, shampoos, conditioners, moisturizers and styling products all contain chemicals that are equally harmful. Multiple chemical sensitivities is a condition that is also known as toxic injury, environmental illness and, most tellingly, 20th century syndrome. There are many different symptoms and triggers; once a person becomes sensitized, a range of chemicals can cause symptoms to manifest. However there are simple steps we can all take to reduce our chemical exposure in order to deal with the root cause of multiple chemical sensitivities.
What are the Symptoms of MCS?
Multiple chemical sensitivities is typified by chronic suffering of a variety of non-specific symptoms that affect quality of life to varying degrees, including headaches, nausea, fatigue and allergy-like symptoms such as congestion, runny nose and fogginess. In addition, multiple chemical sensitivities can affect sleeping patterns, as well as digestion and immune function. There are symptoms that are reminiscent of not only allergies but of complex conditions such as eczema and asthma – episodes of these immune conditions are already known to be triggered by environmental events whilst a genetic risk gives people a predisposition to these illnesses. Whilst these symptoms can be treated, they can never be eliminated unless the causes are addressed. The symptoms can be mild, severe or even life threatening, including heart palpitations and respiratory difficulties. A person being sensitive means that whether the chemical dose is large or small they will still experience serious symptoms and these symptoms occur chronically.
What Causes Multiple Chemical Sensitivites?
The fact is that whilst the lucky few feel no prominent adverse effects of being in regular contact with these chemicals, many of us will experience symptoms either regularly or from time to time and this may depend on general health and the demands already being placed on the immune system. Because chemicals so infiltrate our everyday lives, it is difficult to tease apart which chemicals cause which symptoms. In reality, it is likely that a combination of effects results from the exposure to multiple chemicals, and that a sensitivity to one can trigger sensitivities to others. Once a person is sensitized, a much lower level of chemical exposure can trigger symptoms – many people think that it is always possible to smell or to see these chemicals, whereas we may not even be aware that we have inhaled or touched anything harmful.
As well as household chemicals and skin and hair care products, people may be sensitive to environmental toxins such as exhaust fumes, solvents and even dust mites or pet dander. In the home or office, long term low level emission of fumes comes from most common paints, as well as from plastics and synthetic carpets.
How Do I Know if I Have Multiple Chemical Sensitivities?
It is difficult to assess whether a person has multiple chemical sensitivities, because symptoms can be triggered by very low levels and by different chemicals. However, the condition may come about from an unusual exposure in the past which constitutes a trigger event (such as inhaling paint, skin contact with washing powder, or a significant amount of exhaust fumes) and repeated exposure ought to trigger symptoms once more. Alternatively, a person could have a genetic predisposition to multiple chemical sensitivities, in which case a trigger event may not be necessary. As this condition is affected by the continual presence of chemicals, it is very likely that a person that is suffering continual symptoms of tiredness, allergy-like symptoms, migraines or digestive problems, could be suffering from multiple chemical sensitivities. In this case, in addition to medication, the causes can be properly addressed by reducing the amount of chemicals in the home environment by taking some simple steps.