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5 Common Misconceptions About Multiple Chemical Sensitivity

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Like any medical condition, there are misconceptions about what multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) is and how it affects the thousands of us who are sensitive to the world around us.

MCS is a syndrome in which individuals report experiencing symptoms in response to low-level chemical or pollutant exposure. Individuals with MCS commonly report symptoms including fatigue, difficulty concentrating, memory loss, depressed mood, dizziness, weakness, headaches, heat intolerance and arthralgia.

Here are the top few misconceptions I have experienced:

1. MCS is not “all in my head.”

Currently, there is no official diagnosis of MCS. Most doctors are taught it is a somatoform disorder, meaning our symptoms are the result of mental illness. The few doctors and researchers who support us know these are real physical reactions to substances, most often chemicals, that we are exposed to. There is little research and no unanimous treatment plan, only avoidance. So, most of us live our lives disconnected from the rest of the world for our own safety.

2. MCS is not the same as allergies.

The process in the body that causes an allergic reaction is not the same as what happens to us “Canaries” (what we call ourselves, after the traditional canary in a coal mine) when we are exposed to chemicals. Most of us believe it is our body’s inability to properly deal with and overcome the toxins in the everyday world the way that most other people’s bodies can.

3. MCS is not something I can just “get over” if only I “suck it up.”

I have no control over what substances will make me sick. I cannot predict how sick something will make me because it might be more or it might be less than the last time I was exposed. Most of us experience cumulative effects from exposures, meaning the damage done to our bodies never really goes away. I have come to look at each exposure as time taken away from my life expectancy.

4. MCS is not me just not wanting to smell your perfume or air-freshener.

“Nose-blindness” is a real thing, and just the opposite happens as well. The longer I am not around scent, the more sensitive I become. That means whatever combination of scents you can no longer smell because you have been around them for so long will make me very sick if I do smell them. I avoid scents for my health, even when it means avoiding the person wearing them. It is heartbreaking sometimes to not get to hug my kids or grandchildren, but the week of being ill dictates that I avoid scents as often as possible. It is doctor’s orders, actually.

5. MCS is not a choice, like wearing perfume or using specific laundry products is.

There is almost always a non-toxic alternative to many toxic household cleaning and laundry supplies. For most people, it is a choice whether to use original or non-toxic products. I, on the other hand, need clean air to breathe and live. I have no choice in that. I have little choice in how I live my life now, thanks to my need to avoid chemicals and the people who use them.

Image by Grandfailure via Getty Images.

Originally published: April 5, 2019
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