Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Syndrome

Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Syndrome (MCS) - What Is It?

That sounds a little too technical but is self explanatory. It basically means a group of symptoms caused by a hypersensitivity to environmental chemicals or substances that may include synthetic fragrance or scented products like perfumes, agricultural chemicals, petroleum, ammonia and bleach in cleaning products, fabric softeners, laundry or dishwashing detergents, air fresheners, hair care products, and even food additives like MSG (Monosodium Glutamate).  

In the field of Medicine, this chronic condition does not have a valid diagnosis and remains highly controversial. It is, in fact, regarded as a psychological illness or just plain hypersensitivity issue despite a large number of sufferers who report unpleasant symptoms that can range in severity from nausea and/or vomiting, dizziness, headaches, fatigue, weakness, memory loss, skin rash and itching or irritation, runny nose, palpitations, upset stomach or abdominal cramping, difficulty breathing and, possibly, seizure. Several medical associations do not recognize MCS as a disease because of the lack of scientific evidence that supports a cause-and-effect relationship between exposure to those chemical compunds and the widely varying symptoms reported by sufferers. With the absence of pertinent studies on this syndrome, it is quite challenging to explain its pathophysiology especially with the involvement of multiple organ systems. It is, sadly, highly unlikely that this syndrome would receive more medical attention that it deserves with its increasing incidence because of the lack of financial funding from federal agencies for further research. It has been causing occupational health hazards among some employees who are subject to persistent exposure but are unable to file disability claims or demand proper medical treatment.

Most people who complain of the above chronic symptoms have not had prior problems when exposed to those chemicals which are commonly used in the household, for personal care, in public facilities, medical buildings including hospitals and clinics, and in the workplace. With constant exposure to those substances, over time, some people start presenting with symptoms that vary from individual to individual and may be either mildly, moderately, or severely disabling.  

Getting medical treatment may include psychotherapy and/or a prescription for antidepressants since this syndrome is often diagnosed as an anxiety or depressive disorder. Antidepressants, like a lot of prescription drugs, pose some risks because of the potential for adverse effects. You may also go see an Allergist to be tested for specific allergies that may be treated with antihistamines and/or corticosteroids. Because symptoms always manifest after an exposure to certain substances, there are ways to prevent or to manage symptoms. While symptoms may not completely be eliminated, your suffering may decrease significantly if you regularly practice self care by limiting exposure to known triggers.   

1. At home - Avoid buying and using cleaning, laundry and dishwashing products with dyes, fragrance, bleach and ammonia. There are all natural alternatives that do the job just as effectively. Fabric softeners are a big culprit and even unscented ones may potentially cause health risks especially to the respiratory system so if you can do without them, don't use them. Choose unscented, green, and sustainable soy candles if you like lighting them in your home. 

2. In public places - A lot of liquid hand soaps and lotions you find in public facilities contain harsh chemicals including fragrance. It may be a good idea to carry your own fragrance free sanitizers or a tiny bottle of soap and lotion in your purse wherever you go. If unsure of the level of pollution in a place where you're going, keep a mask on hand. It will be a lifesaver. If MSG in food is a problem, always ask food servers if they cook with or without it. A lot of Asian restaurants particularly Vietnamese and Chinese add MSG to their dishes. 

3. In skin care/hair care - Choose fragrance free personal care products. When buying perfumes or colognes, look at the ingredient list and select ones with essential oils versus synthetic fragrance. A lot of times, you may not know how you would react to a perfume until after having it on your skin for hours. Most department stores provide samples so it is recommended to test out some mild ones while at the store and take home samples that you can try individually so you will have sufficient amount of time to check yourself for reactions that may include respiratory and neurological symptoms and then decide which one(s) to purchase after making this determination. 

4. In the workplace -  This is the most challenging situation especially if your occupation requires handling substances that are problematic for you. If it is absolutely impossible for you to transfer to another department within your organization or to change career where exposure wouldn't be an issue, wear a mask to work everyday. This may be against facility policy but advocate for yourself by talking with supervisors and those that have the authority to permit its use. It is your health that is at risk, not theirs, so protect yourself before protecting organizational policies.