Written By Liz Oakes
The symptoms of MCS or multiple chemical sensitivity can resemble the symptoms of a number of different allergies. This includes chemical allergy, hay fever and dust allergies.
You may have all or some of the symptoms, depending on the individual. Chemical allergy is an allergic reaction to chemicals and is uncommon.
Yet this term is sometimes used to refer to multiple chemical sensitivity or MCS, which is not an allergy at all but a severe and debilitating sensitivity.
So why do people think MCS is allergy? MCS is often called chemical allergy because MCS symptoms have a lot in common with allergy, so it can be very confusing.
There are not many people with real chemical allergy, but they do have a lot of symptoms that are like allergies.
The degree to which each individual is effected may also vary, with some people having less symptoms but having stronger reactions than another who may have more symptoms.
The whole area of multiple chemical sensitivity or MCS is often very hard to diagnose and is commonly misunderstood by many people in the community.
Adding to the problem, many people who have MCS say they have chemical allergy when they really have the symptoms of MCS.
There are a number of reasons why people may get this confused, and the common tests make the process harder rather than easier.
Most people find that when they are tested for chemical allergies that they do not have allergens in their system to chemicals.
It is more common for you to have what is called a sensitivity to chemicals. The reason for some of the confusion, is that allergy is a term that most people understand.
So some people who have MCS, find it easier to get people to recognize that they are sick when the use the word allergy.
Often it is easier when a person says "I'm allergic to chemicals", rather than saying "I have MCS" because the first is understood quite easily, and the second may not be.
The main problem is the similarity between the symptoms of MCS and the symptoms of some common allergies.
Many symptoms of a number of different allergies are very similar to those of MCS, including those of chemical allergy and of hay fever or spring allergies.
It is confusing that many of the most common symptoms of multiple chemical sensitivity or MCS look like and present like allergy.
For those with an allergy to dust mites, your reactions can be similar in nature to some of the MCS symptoms.
Regardless of whether you think its allergy or MCS these symptoms are very debilitating and make you very sick. As stated in the introduction, not everyone has all of the symptoms.
If you do have any of these, and you have a persistent lasting reaction, that happens each and every time you have contact with a particular chemical you may have MCS.
So lets look at the list of some of the common symptoms:
If you look at the symptoms above which apply to MCS you will understand why this is so confusing.
A common outcome when you go to an allergist, is that your allergy test may come back negative. If you look at the symptoms of seasonal allergy you will see that they have a lot in common.
People think their symptoms are allergy and may refer to it as chemical allergy as so many of the symptoms above closely resemble spring allergies or hay fever.
For many people, the problems you can get when you're exposed to dust or dust mites, can be very similar to the symptoms of MCS.
These symptoms are commonly related to contact with chemicals, although many people with MCS also react to dust.
There are also other symptoms of multiple chemical sensitivity or MCS that are not commonly seen as symptoms of allergy:
Often you will present to your doctor with some of the symptoms of MCS. Often they do allergy tests that come back negative. In this case your doctor may put it down to a virus or something else.
Alternatively you may be allergic to some things, like dust mites or grasses, common allergies across the community. Yet the other symptoms you have are not usually allergy symptoms.
This is where you need to be very aware, especially if you get these symptoms after contact with perfume, cleaning products or other chemicals.
It may be quite difficult to definitely diagnose if you have MCS unless the doctor is a doctor who has training and experience in recognizing chemical sensitivities.
Often the person who has the symptoms will tell the doctor that they have a 'chemical allergy' as they recognize that they feel so much worse when they go to a particular place where there are certain chemicals.
If your doctor seems skeptical don't be deterred, even if they look at you like you are making up a bit of a story.
It is my experience that until you are seen by a doctor who specializes in MCS you may not get help. But you may be fortunate as more general practice physicians are becoming educated about multiple chemical sensitivity and the way it presents.
One thing that I believe may benefit anyone who feels they have this problem and has not yet been diagnosed with it, is to start a diet diary.
This is a good natural health idea to help you to better understand your health issues. Just get an ordinary notebook for this purpose.
This is a similar idea to what an allergist may suggest for helping you to control allergy to foods. Except there is one very important difference in the type of diary you need to keep.
It should also list how you feel each day, and if you felt worse after you did a particular thing, or came into contact with a particular chemical and the symptoms of MCS that you experienced.
Also keep a record of any new products you used, even if they are fragrance free or unperfumed. It can be also be 'natural ingredients' that can cause you problems.
Maybe it was when you visited a certain shop or fueled your car, or even visited a relation. Record where you went and your reactions and any symptoms you had that day.
Have two pages for each day. On one side note in the diary what you ate or drank that day, and on the other side note down any symptoms you may have had, plus when and where you were before it happened.
Often it may be a combination of food allergy and chemical sensitivities. If your problem is partly a food allergy or sensitivity, this may help you to find it and eliminate it.
Some things that you can do to begin the process of improving your health.
Firstly: do a home detox and start by getting rid of clutter from your home.
If you do not have MCS it will still be of benefit for you to clear out toxic products from your environment.
Secondly: Do all you can to improve your environment, so that if you do have the symptoms of MCS, you will have started on the path to improving how you feel.
Take a look at the health of your bedroom. That may seem an odd thing to say, but if you make changes in this room where you spend so many hours it can improve your health.
You may also find that you sleep better, an added advantage.
There are tests that can be done and they vary from doctor to doctor, and this is where your multiple chemical sensitivity support groups may benefit you.
Other members may be able to point you in the direction of doctors that can do the tests needed to get a diagnosis.
Its important to have allergy tests done and check if you do in fact have chemical allergies, even though its uncommon. Many of the natural remedies for allergies are also effective to aid MCS so they may be beneficial for you to use.
Note: Electrical Sensitivity is often experienced by a large number of people with MCS, and many people are not aware of the symptoms.