Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) - a common problem and often triggered by exposure to chemicals

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The 20th century has brought a plethora of new chemicals to which humans have never previously been exposed. Largely speaking the body is able to ignore these as if they were not there. However, some patients become sensitive to them and react in an allergic way, for example with sneezing, runny nose, itching eyes, brain fog, headache or fatigue. A recent US study reported that

12.8% report medically diagnosed MCS and 25.9% report chemical sensitivity. Of those with MCS, 86.2% experience health problems, such as migraine headaches, when exposed to fragranced consumer products; 71.0% are asthmatic; 70.3% cannot access places that use fragranced products such as air fresheners; and 60.7% lost workdays or a job in the past year due to fragranced products in the workplace.

National Prevalence and Effects of Multiple Chemical Sensitivities

For most people this chemical intolerance is no more than a nuisance and symptoms are avoided by avoiding that chemical. However, some people become multiply allergic to many chemicals and have major problems with avoidance. In these cases health can sometimes be severely affected.


Professor Claudia Miller from America in her book "Low Levels High Stakes" ( Link to "Low Levels High Stakes") describes the important phenomenon of chemical sensitivity. Many suffers have their chemical sensitivity triggered by overwhelming exposure to some sort of toxic chemical such as organophosphates or other pesticides, silicone, carbon monoxide or prescription drug. This phenomenon is called "toxicant induced loss of tolerance" (TILT). Once sensitised to one chemical, patients often go on to sensitise to other unrelated chemicals and this is called the spreading phenomenon. Those patients who recognise their problem with chemicals avoid them strictly in order to avoid symptoms. However, intriguingly, just as with food allergy, often in the very short term patients' symptoms are relieved by a small dose of their offending chemical and they get addicted to it. Those people with addictions often have other addictions, i.e. to caffeine, sugar, alcohol, nicotine, or they have a history of such an addiction. This helps us to recognise these people clinically.

For treatment ideas, see related article Detoxification

Tests for MCS

There are three recognised tests for chemical sensitivity:

  • The best is double blind challenge in an environmentally controlled unit, but there are no such units in UK at present.
  • Second best is intradermal skin challenge using neutralisation but this is time consuming and expensive (see Neutralisation)
  • But the best is your own detective work!

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