MCS – A Disease in Which Smells Can Make You Physically Ill

March 29, 2018

A condition called multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS) also known as idiopathic environmental intolerances (IEI), or toxic induced loss of tolerance (TILT), is a disputed chronic condition characterized by symptoms that the affected person attributes to low-level exposures to commonly used chemicals.

People experience MCS differently, so symptoms vary, but they often manifest as:

  • headache and visual disturbances
  • mental confusion and neurological dysfunction
  • weakness and nausea
  • rapid heart rate and dizziness
  • difficulty breathing
  • or even blacking out

Reported triggers include:

  • tobacco smoke
  • spray foam insulation
  • auto exhaust
  • perfume
  • insecticide
  • new carpet
  • chlorine
  • and countless others

Those affected are hyper-reactive to small amounts of chemicals and perfumes. Extreme chemical sensitivity in short makes sufferers ‘allergic’ to life. Persons affected were once dismissed as hypochondriacs, but there’s growing biological evidence to explain TILT.

TILT is a two-step process: First, a susceptible individual gets sick after toxic exposure or exposures. And subsequently instead of recovering, the neurological and immune systems remain damaged, and the individual fails to get well. The sufferer begins to lose tolerance to a wide range of chemicals common in everyday life.

An estimated 12 to 16 percent of Americans have some degree of chemical sensitivities—researchers don’t yet know why some people are more inclined to develop it than others, though it is suspected that genetics play a role. Intolerances range from simply not being able to tolerate certain cleaning products to violent physical reactions to most/all odors and chemical mixtures.

Severe MCS can start after an ongoing toxic exposure, like working in a moldy or so-called sick building (Sick Building Syndrome), or a single, greater toxic exposure, like walking through a field just after an aerial pesticide/herbicide spraying. MCS can also start more gradually, existing simultaneously with and usually independently of another medical condition.

MCS sufferers lose their sense of safety in the world – anywhere, at any time, your surroundings can turn into a pit of poison.

As the number of people living with some degree of chemical sensitivities grows, MCS is becoming a well-recognized condition. Plus, many people – adverse reactions or not – are rejecting the overabundance of chemicals in their lives. Companies are responding and making “fragrance-free” or hypo-allergenic versions of products from soap to floor wax.

Employers are also increasingly aware. More workplaces, doctors’ offices, and even houses of worship are posting notices requesting people refrain from wearing fragrances. A few state and local governments, including ever-progressive Portland, Oregon, and federal agencies, like the Center for Disease Control offices, now ban employees from wearing perfume in the office.

In some cases of MCS individuals were affected by neighboring homes.

The symptoms of MCS can be so destructive and all-consuming that, in the US, some sufferers have struggled to the point of breaking away from society altogether; starting up their own 25-mile square safe space in Navajo County, Arizona. The public support system is non-existent, so isolation is their last option to find MCS symptom relief.