It is well known that there are many chemicals out and about that can be potentially harmful to humans such as insecticide or asbestos. However, during day-to-day activities human chemical exposure is very common: from laundry detergent; handling items made of plastic; your favorite perfume or cologne; the Aerosol air freshener in the living room; or the new coating of paint in the guest bathroom. Exposure to chemicals can cause a range of physical reactions from mild to severe and even impact the immune system. Hypersensitivity to chemicals may mean someone is suffering from Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. In this article, we will explore what Multiple Chemical Sensitivity is, how it is detected, and the surprising approach that many people are taking to permanently rid themselves of MCS.
What is multiple chemical sensitivity
Chemicals can cause almost allergy-like reactions in some people who are sensitive to them. This is known as Multiple Chemical Sensitivity or MCS. While some low level of reaction to environmental chemicals such as pesticides or solvents in cleaning products, can be normal, a person is thought to have MCS when even low levels of chemicals in small concentrations can lead to an outsized immune reaction and trigger other abnormalities, some of which may include.
The role of the limbic system in MCS
The limbic system is a set of structures in the midbrain including the amygdala, thalamus, hypothalamus, and the cingulate cortex. Collectively, these structures comprise the nervous system’s threat detection and response mechanism. The limbic kindling hypothesis, combined with our understanding of classical “pavlovian” conditioning, suggest if a person is exposed to large concentrations of environmental chemicals while the limbic system is already on high-alert, perhaps due to high levels of psychological stress, then this region of the brain can effectively “learn” to remain hyperactive and misclassify even mild amounts of chemical exposure as potentially life-threatening, thus creating hypersensitivity of the olfactory system and forming the condition known as multiple chemical sensitivity syndrome. Gulf war syndrome is one example often pointed to for how high mential, physical and psychological stress, when combined with an acute chemical exposure may lead to an ongoing inflammatory response that leads to a host of seemingly unrelated conditions.
It is important to note that MCS is also known by many names:
- Environmental Illness
- Sick Building Syndrome
- Idiopathic Environmental Intolerance
- Toxicant-induced Loss of Tolerance
- Chemical Sensitivity 20th Century Syndrome
- Toxic Injury
- Chronic inflammatory response syndrome
How is multiple chemical sensitivity detected?
Currently, there are no “go-to” tests for MCS that are widely used by general practitioners. However, a superior test to diagnose MCS is what is known as a chemical compound exposure test where changes in symptoms are monitored to decide whether the results are positive or negative. Sadly, there are no empirical standards for this test, and therefore is not scientifically proven for general use.
The difficulty in diagnosing MCS stems from the parallel symptoms this condition shares with other physical health conditions and concerns.
Chemical sensitivity testing & diagnosis
While not meant to function as or replace a clinically valid test for multiple chemical sensitivity, this quick MCS self-assessment was created by experts and patients who have lived with MCS and are intimately familiar with its particular symptoms.
How does this self-assessment work?
For each of the following questions, you will be asked to select one of the following options to indicate the frequency of your symptoms: never, very rarely, rarely, occasionally, frequently, or always. Your unique answers will then be used to calculate your results and determine whether your symptoms are mild, moderate, or severe. Further unique educational information will be shown in accordance with your results, and all results are strictly confidential.
Please note and acknowledge that this self-assessment is not intended to establish a physician-patient relationship, to replace the services of a trained physician or health care professional, or otherwise to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The aim of this quiz is to provide education about the condition. By filling out this self-assessment and clicking “calculate” you acknowledge that you’ve read and agree with this statement and agree to re-origin’s Terms & Conditions.
Symptoms of multiple chemical sensitivity
Due to many similarities with other health conditions symptoms are wide-ranging. They include:
- Headache or dizziness
- Itching or sneezing
- Sore throat
- Chest pain or changes in heart rhythm
- Breathing problems
- Muscle pain or stiffness
- Skin rash
- Trouble concentrating and memory problems
If you are experiencing one or more of these symptoms, it could be a signal that you are being affected by MCS. However, even with some of the symptoms clearly being related to exposure to both chemicals and toxins, health practitioners are still concerned with how to best differentiate MCS from other conditions. Individuals can often tell if they might have MCS based on their environment and the presence of symptoms in specific situations. Regardless, it is important that anyone suspecting they are afflicted with MCS both research the condition and speak with medical professionals about the possibility of diagnosis.
Health risk related to multiple chemical sensitivity
Similar to the wide range of symptoms, the risk factors to one’s health with MCS also ranges. Most of the health risks associated with MCS are confounding due to similarities with other conditions making it difficult to discern MCS-specific health risks. The largest risks to one’s health stem from the symptoms themselves.
Some of the symptoms are more medically serious than others such as chest pain, changes in heart rhythm, and trouble breathing. These ailments if experienced chronically can pose long-term health risks. If you begin showing signs of symptoms that concern you contact your health care provider right away.
How to manage multiple chemical sensitivity
There are multiple routes a person can take when attempting to manage MCS. Some treatment options are more effective than others depending on the individual so it is important to research treatment options carefully.
Prescription Medication poses the benefit of leveling out chemical imbalances causing sensitivity. However, many opt for prescriptions as a last resort due to the fact that any medication introduced into the body disrupts the body’s natural functionality.
Over-the-counter medication (OTC) is a common treatment due to its accessibility and low cost. These are most often antihistamines, nasal decongestants, anti-inflammatories, and saline sinus rinses. OTC medications rarely treat the root cause of MCS and simply cover up and lessen the intensity of symptoms, making OTC medications a difficult long-term solution.
Allergen avoidance allows for one to completely avoid symptoms by attempting to prevent coming in contact with the chemicals one is sensitive to. While the attraction to completely avoid symptoms seems promising, for most it can be virtually impossible to comprehensively avoid contact with all potentially triggering chemicals. The chronic high-awareness nature of this treatment makes it an unviable long-term solution.
More and more MCS sufferers are turning towards neuroplasticity and limbic system retraining programs. re-origin aims to address MCS at the root cause by addressing the overactive threat-response produced from the limbic system. As mentioned above, new research suggests that MCS is connected to maladaptive feedback loops in the brain which are developed by the individual’s limbic system when the chemical was first introduced to them or their environment and deemed a threat by the individual’s brain. From then on the limbic system responds to the chemical with an overly intense immune response that then leads to the symptoms associated with MCS. re-origin works with MCS sufferers to reestablish healthy feedback loops by helping them to retrain the limbic system through our science-based neuroplasticity program. The training allows the brain to recognize that the chemical is not a threat and better equip the body to handle normal daily levels of chemical exposure.