Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS)

What is Multiple Chemical Sensitivity?

Multiple Chemical Sensitivity is a chronic state of ill health characterized by the triggering of symptoms in various body systems. A person becomes intolerant of foreign chemicals that are present at low levels in modern environments. Being intolerant of chemicals, such as fragrances, affects about one fifth of the population. Multiple Chemical Sensitivity is defined by the state of ill health when symptoms are triggered.

Onset of the Illness

The onset of this state may occur suddenly, and in some patients, appears to be linked to poor air quality in a building. In some it follows a severe infection, accidental trauma, child birth or surgery. In half of the patients seen it develops in the absence of any identifiable exposure or major event and may be a gradual change from tolerance to ‘normal environments’ to intolerance - the triggering of symptoms in environments that were previously tolerated or that the majority of the population tolerates.

Diagnosis of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity

It is important to understand that the diagnosis of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity is based upon a person’s experience of trigger symptoms. Making the diagnosis does not identify the cause. Our experience leads us to conclude that a causal web of factors contributes to the onset. It is usually not possible to clearly identify any single chemical or factor. It is possible to objectively confirm chemical sensitivity if necessary and to measure reduced function in some body systems.

Commonly Reported Symptoms

When a person has Multiple Chemical Sensitivity they may have symptoms in any body system. Most patients experience symptoms of reduced ability to concentrate (mentally), to multitask, to remember and retrieve information. Fatigue is also very common. Exposure also results in irritative symptoms which are indistinguishable from typical allergic symptoms - nasal and sinus irritation, asthma, eye infection, for example.

Treatment for Multiple Chemical Sensitivity

Our treatment approach is individualized and multidisciplinary based on the symptoms presented by individuals. The time taken to improve varies and depends upon many factors including the degree and length of exposure. Individuals vary in how they are affected. Some people remain functioning quite well, while others become much more ill and dysfunctional. When a person is so ill that they have to stop work or their education, they often have associated chronic illnesses. There are various chronic illnesses that overlap with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, the two most frequent being Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) and Fibromyalgia. Clearly, these overlapping conditions are inter-related.

Having more than one such diagnosis does not mean that you have three distinct diseases which need to be treated individually. We treat the whole person and help the person manage their current state of health. Our overall approach remains the same and is directed at each individual’s needs, whatever the diagnosis.