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  • Chloe Zuntz

Life With Multiple Chemical Sensitivity; Finding Joy in the Journey

Have you noticed yourself picking up on people's perfumes or air fresheners when others don’t? Or that you can smell a gas station a mile away? Maybe you get headaches from cleaning products. All these things could be a sign that you are one of the many people with multiple chemical sensitivity, MCS for short.

MCS is an illusive condition, whose cause is not well understood. Because it involves multiple organ systems, biological and psychological causes, and often coincides with other conditions, it is hard to study. Nevertheless, there are commonalities in people with MCS.

If you struggle with MCS, you likely have an increased awareness of or reaction to chemicals even at low doses. You probably also an irregular immune response to certain chemicals. While the chemicals that cause MCS cause everybody to become sick at high exposure levels, if you have MCS even doses so low they are usually undetectable can cause you to become symptomatic. Some common examples of chemicals which can trigger MCS symptoms are perfumes, air ‘fresheners’, cleaning products, vehicle and industrial exhaust, plastics, paint fumes, pesticides, and tobacco smoke. If you also find yourself reactive to foods, drugs, pollen, and electromagnetic fields you may also have MCS.

A short video summarizing what MCS is by renowned Dr. John Molot

Symptoms of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity

Have you ever gotten a weird metallic taste for no reason? This could be a symptom of MCS. Symptoms can occur when substances are inhaled, ingested, or absorbed through the skin. Typically symptoms arise gradually over time with repeated exposure to the triggering chemical or chemicals, or after a single high-level exposure. The symptoms of MCS are diverse and unique to each person, but some other common symptoms are headaches, brain fog, nausea, digestive issues, fatigue, weakness, dizziness, joint and muscle pain. More severe symptoms include arrhythmias and seizures. The effects of MCS go beyond just physical symptoms, and altered brain chemistry may also cause anxiety, depression and emotional outbursts.

As with most medical conditions, children show a different set of symptoms. In their case, MCS can also cause redness, dark circles under the eyes, hyperactivity, and behavioral and learning challenges. Just like the symptoms, the length of the reaction also varies. Commonly, symptoms occur immediately after exposure, but in some cases may not become apparent for hours or even days. They can last anywhere from minutes to weeks or months.

Other Impacts of MCS

The physical reactions listed above are just the obvious symptoms. Other symptoms actually arise from the most common treatment for MCS - to avoid triggers. Easier said than done. Triggers are everywhere. People's shampoos, deodorants, make-up, the office cleaning solution, even scented trash bags can trigger someone with MCS. It is almost impossible for some people with MCS to avoid their triggers while living a ‘normal’ life. Because it is so hard to live a normal life by today's standard and avoid triggers, people often feel isolated. If they choose to avoid triggers, it could mean they have to stay home and miss social events, work, or even just going out for a stroll around town. Being isolated like this can worsen some of the mental symptoms of MCS such as depression. It can also cause heightened anxiety. If you had to worry about whether your coworker had used that one laundry detergent pefore your shared shift, or if you had to ask your friends not to wear perfume to your lunch dates, would you not be anxious?

MCS can also have financial effects. If triggered, people may be too sick to go into work. People with MCS may also have to turn down opportunities if they can't be sure that they will be safe in an environment. For example, a person with MCS may not be able to take certain jobs or live in certain places based on exposure to their triggers. They may also have to spend more on natural alternatives to typical products like laundry detergents, soaps, or make-up, ect.

You Still Have Options

Living with MCS can be hard, but it isn’t hopeless. By using more natural alternatives to typical products, and limiting exposure to triggers, you can keep symptoms under control. Because it involves so many organ systems and has so many possible causes, there is no one perfect treatment plan. However, because of the importance of the central nervous system in perception of the outside world, and regulation of the response we have to it, regulating the brain can have huge positive effects on the symptoms of MCS. Neurofeedback is a great way to do this. It also has been shown to help with depression and anxiety, so undergoing neurofeedback training can help with these symptoms of MCS as well. If you think you might suffer from MCS, give neurofeedback a try to help mediate your symptoms and give us a call, send us a text or email, or reach out to a provider in your area.

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