Prevalence of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS)
Around 1% of people are affected by MCS to varying degrees on a more ongoing basis, up to 16% of people report heightened sensitivities to some chemicals [SA Health Department] [Caress][Genius]
Characteristics of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS):
• People with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) are experiencing heightened toxicity (primarily metabolic gut can also be toxic); heightened inflammation (primarily nerve) and heightened stress (no wonder!), I call this TIS. For people to recover each of these elements need to be addressed – but very carefully.
• There are two distinct stages in the development of MCS: initiation and triggering.
• People with MCS experience unpleasant symptoms from low dose exposures to a variety of air born chemicals including chemicals being off gassed from a variety of products commonly found in homes and the workplace that are normally well tolerate by the general population. These include Volatile Organic Compounds and fragrances and sometimes salicylates – which can also off-gas from personal care, cleaning and beauty products.
• The most common symptoms complained about by people with MCS are the same as those linked to Sick Building Syndrome e.g. fatigue, headaches, memory and concentration problems, respiratory (breathing difficulties) and heightened anxiety. However, they are not just triggered by unhealthy work and home environments where levels of biological contaminants such as mould and volatile organic compounds such as solvents, pesticides and formaldehyde are at unhealthy and toxic levels.
• Others symptoms complained about by people MCS vary both in type and severity. They can affect any body part.
• While some symptoms of MCS can overlap with symptoms of allergy, MCS is not an allergy as symptoms are mostly triggered by nerve inflammation and hyper-responsiveness, whereas an allergy is due to a hyper-responsive immune system which is immune IgE mediated.
• Often the MCS triggers are not obvious especially if exposure to triggers is ongoing as they tend to be masked (covered up) by chronic stress adaptions. When a person starts to reduce their exposures to triggers (which there are generally many) they will go through an ‘unmasking process’. During this phase the chronic stress adaption can become acute and symptom flares (substance withdrawal symptoms and immune intensifications), prior to resolution. Usually flares last 3-4 days, however in people with very severe and disabling MCS they can last for several weeks. If flares are too pain – the unmasking process needs to be slowed down.
• People with MCS can also experience other environmental sensitivities e.g. unpleasant symptoms from exposure to biological contaminants, noise, light and weather changes.
• Medicine sensitivity, food intolerance and supplement sensitivity is very common to people with MCS. Particularly problematic for some are those containing phenols and salicylates.
• The longer a person with MCS is exposed to a triggering substance or a stimuli stressor, the more unpleasant the symptoms become. This is thought to be due in part to sensitisation particularly to the nociceptor sensory nerves and the somatosensory system. These are responsible for our survival and for keeping us safe. One way they do this is by turning up the volume on pain and emotions such as fear and anxiety to communicate that something is wrong and it is not possible for your neuro-endo-immune systems to heal and restore balance (homeostasis) without your help or professional help.
• To reduce pain and heightened emotions people with MCS generally need to remove themselves from the trigger for a period time, and reduce their overall exposure to triggers on a day to day basis by creating a safe home and choosing products and foods carefully. They may also require medical attention if they are also experiencing another illness that is contributing to symptoms.
• Often MCS is not a stand alone illness, many people with MCS also experience other “Central Sensitivity Syndromes” such as Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Migraines as well as peripheral neuropathy. Other illnesses may also be present that mimic the symptoms of MCS or causing the symptoms being attributed to MCS including thyroid illness, diabetes , Multiple Sclerosis, Celiac Disease. This is why it is important for people who have or suspect they have MCS find a doctor who can provide proper diagnosis and interpretation of symptoms – many people with MCS find doctors trained in Biomedicine, Ecology or Nutrition and Environmental Medicine best.
• Sometimes symptoms occur immediately from exposures to triggers, however often they are delayed and only occur once a person with MCS exceeds their individual dose and exposure related threshold limits – this is often referred to as the load phenomenon. Threshold limits can be increased.
• Sometimes symptoms relieve immediately after a person removes himself or herself from a trigger (e.g. walk into a higher fragranced environment have difficult breathing, concentrating, eyes burn, go outside in the fresh air feel better). However, sometimes it takes times for the effects of the exposure to reverse and for people with MCS to feel better.
• Having a safe (low chemical, low stimuli) quiet space to go to for a period of time can hasten recovery especially if the person practises the stress reduction method referred to as mindfulness and calms their anxiety about symptoms. Sensitivities heighten anxiety and anxiety heightens sensitivity – it is a bi-directional loop.
• People with MCS are often experiencing injury to the nervous system and c-fibers (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Group_C_nerve_fiber ) at a cellular levels where injury cannot be seen without very specialised medical equipment generally only used in research. This can cause heightened pain, prolonged pain and widespread pain (allodynia, hyperalgesia, hyperpathia) and is significantly worsened if a person also has very impaired liver detoxification (FLDP Test) and very low levels of cortisol (can be measured by the doctor). To counter this and improve the odds of recovery (which is possible) people with MCS need to get more REST (and in my opinion practise mindfulness a lot). REDUCE exposure to all stressors, triggers and stimuli for a period of time, but do so at a PACE that is right for them. In other words they need to REST, REDUCE, PACE.
• PACING is very important, if treatment, change and reduction is not PACED people with MCS can experience flare-ups which can sometimes be very painful and prolonged.
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