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Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Syndrome (MCSS)

Do you find yourself becoming more and more sensitive to certain smells, perfumes, or foods? Do you feel dizzy or nauseous after being exposed to these triggers? If so, you may be suffering from multiple chemical sensitivity syndrome, or MCSS. MCSS often occurs alongside fibromyalgia, causing extreme sensitivity to certain chemicals and odors. MCSS can have a particularly negative impact on your life, making work, school, and daily tasks difficult. It can also exacerbate your fibromyalgia symptoms. If you think that you may be suffering from MCSS, it is important to recognize your symptoms and visit with your health care provider to seek appropriate treatment.

What is Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Syndrome?

MCS is a syndrome that causes hypersensitivity to certain chemicals and smells. It can also cause you to be extra sensitive to lights, temperature, and loud sounds. MCSS can hit suddenly and without warning, and tends to become more severe as time passes. Typically, people with chemical sensitivity find that they are first sensitive to only one particular trigger, but the syndrome soon intensifies, making exposure to a variety of products troublesome. MCSS causes symptoms that affect all systems in your body, including the skin, respiratory system, musculoskeletal system, gastrointestinal tract, and neurological and immune systems.

Also known as Idiopathic Environmental Intolerance, multiple chemical sensitivity affects between 17% and 34% of Americans on a yearly basis. However, people with fibromyalgia syndrome tend to be at increased risk for this syndrome, probably because many of the symptoms of MCSS overlap with the symptoms of fibromyalgia. Up to two-thirds of those who suffer from fibromyalgia pain will also have to deal with MCSS. Like fibromyalgia, MCSS typically affects women more than men, particularly those women between the ages of 20 and 50.

Types of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Syndrome

In order to be diagnosed with multiple chemical sensitivities, you must show sensitivity to certain environmental factors. In particular, people with MCSS are sensitive to perfumes, pesticides, fuels, food additives, carpets, and building materials. These sensitivities can extend to include various other chemicals.

There are two main types of MCSS. Both can produce similar symptoms, but have different onsets.

MCSS with Identifiable Exposure: The majority of people with MCSS are able to identify a time when they were exposed to large quantities of a chemical. About 60% of people with MCSS recall being exposed to chemicals, typically at work or in the home.

MCSS with Non-Identifiable Exposure: About 40% of people suffering from MCSS are unable to recall being exposed to chemicals in any large quantities. Therefore, this type of MCSS has no identifiable root exposure. Most people with fibromyalgia suffer from this type of MCSS.

Symptoms of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Syndrome

Symptoms of MCSS can be numerous, and tend to wax and wane in intensity. Most sufferers notice that they become more sensitive over time and are their symptoms are triggered by an increasing number of chemicals and products. Keep an eye out for these symptoms if you think you might have MCSS:

• runny nose, itchy eyes, sore throat, and other cold-like symptoms

• nausea and diarrhea

• abdominal cramping

• aching muscles and joints

• earache

• fatigue and difficulty sleeping

• scalp pain

• difficulty breathing

• migraines and headaches

• difficulty concentrating

Occasionally, sufferers of MCSS will experience other symptoms that may be indicative of an environmental sensitivity. These include:

• problems with balance

• sensitivity to loud noises

• increased sensitivity to bright lights

• sensitivity to weather changes

• sensitivity to electromagnetic fields

Causes of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Syndrome

No one is really sure what actually causes chemical sensitivity. Many researchers regard the syndrome as a psychological rather than a physical problem. Others see MCSS as being very similar to fibromyalgia, and feel that there may be a neurological problem that is causing the sensitivity. To date, there has been no conclusive evidence to support any one theory, although a variety of theories have been presented, including:

Neural Sensitization Theory: This theory suggests that MCSS may share a similar cause to fibromyalgia. Studies have shown that a deficiency in neural synapses in the brain may be causing extreme sensitivity to certain chemicals and foods. Neural synapses are responsible for stimulating nerve cells in the brain. Synapses in people with MCSS show abnormal electrical activity and may actually be overly sensitive.

Nitric Oxide Theory: This theory rests on the similarity of MCSS and chronic fatigue syndrome. Both of these syndromes share similar symptoms and therefore may share a similar cause. Nitric oxide helps the brain to react to sensitivity. Certain solvents actually increase the levels of nitric oxide in the brain, causing it to overreact to certain stimuli. This is what causes extreme sensitivity to certain products.

Misattribution Theory: The misattribution theory views MCSS as a result of anxiety and depression, both of which are common among fibromyalgia sufferers. Studies performed on people with MCSS illustrate high levels of panic and anxiety when they were exposed to chemicals. It may be this panic and anxiety that is actually causing the manifestation of symptoms.