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5 Things I Wish People Knew About Multiple Chemical Sensitivity

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What? You’ve never heard of multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS)? Don’t feel bad, many people haven’t. MCS can go by several different names, such as environmental illness, toxicant-induced loss of tolerance, Gulf War syndrome and sick building syndrome. In an effort to get the word out, I have come up with five things I think are the most important for you, the reader, to know about people with MCS.

5. We need to breathe. I know that this may sound silly since most everyone can breathe, right? Well, those of us that have MCS may find that a tricky thing to do. We Canaries (we call ourselves that after the “canary in the coal mine” of years gone past) are different than other people. Our bodies cannot process many of the chemicals that are part of our modern world. Things like laundry products, air fresheners, shampoo and perfume are made up of hundreds of chemicals and not only can people with MCS not use them, but they cannot be near other people that do. I may stay isolated so as to not be exposed, but with no choice other than to go out, I often wear masks and protective clothing because I cannot breathe in all the toxins without being made very sick. And even with protective gear, I may still get sick because it is difficult to totally avoid these products.

4. We need help. Some people with MCS cannot work, drive or attend social functions like church or community events. While some can work from home, not all can. Some have family or friends that help, but sadly many do not. Many of us spend most of our time alone. Family gatherings and holidays are no exception, as others may disbelieve that we are ill and refuse to take measures to be unscented when around us. That presents us with heartbreaking choices. Often there are no doctors that are familiar with MCS in our area so we are left to our own devices.

3. We need to raise awareness. This is a real and debilitating illness, though the American Medical Association does not consider MCS to be a physiological illness. But this is not the case in other countries. In Spain, for example, MCS is recognized for the debilitating illness that it is, so they have the beginnings of acceptance we just do not have here. Raising awareness is the key to bringing about change.

2. We need more research. There is only a small bit of research being done about MCS, its causes, and potential cure. The first step to change this is is to have more time and money put into clinical research. Although a recent study made strides in the effort to develop a definitive test for MCS, we need more research! I believe that is only going to happen if enough people start calling for it. 

1. We’re not sure what caused it. Some believe a “toxic event” is what started them down this road, and while there seems to be a possible genetic element to MCS, some seem fine until one day they aren’t. And some scientists are concerned that the amount of chemicals people are exposed to every day could make them sick

Things are starting to change, but it is still slow going. The MCS community is working to change things for ourselves and those around us, but in the meantime you can help. Start by sharing this article and doing your own research into MCS. If we all work together, perhaps soon we can bring about the change needed for all of us.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness, and what would you say to teach them? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Originally published: May 3, 2016
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