Multiple chemical sensitivity

Multiple chemical sensitivity, also known as MCS syndrome is a disorder in which a person develops symptoms from exposure to chemicals in the environment.With each incidence of exposure, lower levels of the chemical trigger a reaction, and the person becomes increasingly vulnerable to reactions triggered by other chemicals.

Multiple chemical sensitivity typically begins with one high-dose exposure toa chemical, but it may also develop with long-term exposure to a low level of a chemical. Chemical exposure is often a result of indoor air pollution. Buildings that are tightly sealed for energy conservation may cause a related illness called sick building syndrome, in which people develop symptoms from chronic exposure to airborne environmental chemicals such as formaldehyde fromthe furniture, carpet glues, and latex caulking. A person moving into a newly constructed building that has not had time to degas may experience the initial high-dose exposure to chemicals that leads to MCS.

Chemicals most often connected with MCS include: formaldehyde; pesticides; solvents; petrochemical fuels such as diesel, gasoline, and kerosene; waxes, detergents, and cleaning products; latex; tobacco smoke; perfumes and fragrances; and artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives. People who develop MCSare commonly exposed in one of the following situations: on the job as an industrial worker; residing or working in a poorly ventilated building; or living in conditions of high air or water pollution. Others may be exposed in unique incidents.

Because MCS is difficult to diagnose, estimates vary as to what percentage ofthe population develops MCS. However, most MCS patients are female. The median age of MCS patients is 40 years old, and most sufferers experience symptoms before they are 30 years old.

The symptoms of MCS vary from person to person and are not chemical-specific.Symptoms are not limited to one physiological system, but primarily affect the respiratory and nervous systems. Commonly reported symptoms are headache,fatigue, weakness, difficulty concentrating, short-term memory loss, dizziness, irritability and depression, itching, numbness, burning sensation, congestion, sore throat, hoarseness, shortness of breath, cough, and stomach pains.

Multiple chemical sensitivity is a modern disorder, becoming more prevalent as more man-made chemicals are introduced into the environment in greater quantities. It is especially difficult to diagnose because it presents no consistent or measurable set of symptoms and has no single diagnostic test or marker. Physicians are often unaware of MCS as a condition. They may be unable to diagnose it, or may misdiagnose it as another degenerative disease, or may label it as a psychosomatic illness (a physical illness that is caused by emotional problems). Their lack of understanding generates frustration, anxiety, and distrust in patients already struggling with MCS. However, a new specialtyof medicine is evolving to address MCS and related illnesses: occupational and environmental medicine.

A physician looking for MCS takes a complete patient history and try to identify chemical exposures. Doctors may recommend antihistamines, analgesics, andother medications to combat the symptoms. The most effective treatment for MCS is to avoid chemicals that trigger symptoms. This becomes increasingly difficult as the number of offending chemicals increases and people with MCS often remain at home where they are able to control the chemicals in their environment. This isolation limits their abilities to work and socialize, so supportive counseling may also be appropriate.

Some MCS patients find relief with detoxification programs of exercise and sweating, and chelation of heavy metals. Others support their health with nutritional regimens and immunotherapy vaccines. Some undergo food-allergy testingand testing for accumulated pesticides in the body to learn more about theircondition and what chemicals to avoid. Homeopathy and acupuncture can give added support to any treatment program for MCS patients. Botanical medicine can help to support the liver and other involved organs.

Multiple chemical sensitivity is difficult to prevent because even at high-dose exposures, different people react differently. Ensuring adequate ventilation in situations with potential for chemical exposure and wearing the properprotective equipment in industrial situations minimizes the risk. Once MCS sets in, sensitivity continues to increase and a person's health continues to deteriorate. Strictly avoiding exposure to triggering chemicals for a year ormore may improve health.

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