Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS): Understanding a Silent Disease
Imagine this scene. You are out to dinner with some of your friends when someone walks by you, smelling heavily of perfume. You instantly begin to get sick. A migraine headache comes on, you begin to sweat profusely, your throat closes up and your breathing becomes labored. In some very extreme instances, you might even begin to have convulsions.
This is what people who live with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Syndrome (MCS) have to put up with. What are chemical smells that you and I might live with every day, maybe even enjoy, become life or death hazards for those suffering from MCS.
Chances are you might have never heard of MCS before. Let me put it this way: If you have never heard of this disease, you don't have it, neither does anyone you know. I say that not in a mean way, but because the disease can be such a danger for those suffering from it, that one of the first things you learn about someone who suffers from MCS is that they have this condition.
Symptoms can vary from person to person, but usually include headaches, extreme fatigue, muscle and joint pain, eczema, rashes, flulike symptoms, asthma, sinus problems, anxiety, depression, memory problems, trouble concentrating, insomnia, irregular heartbeat, bloating, nausea, vomiting, intestinal problems, and seizures.
That list can sound a bit exaggerated, but I know quite a few people who have MCS and I have seen quite the array of symptoms. They aren't faked either. I have watched one of my friends suffer from seizures anytime she unwittingly gets a whiff of a strong fragrance.
How Widespread is it?
In the United States, it is estimated that about 15 to 17 percent of the population, amongst varying backgrounds, has an extreme sensitivity to chemical smells. However, the number of actually diagnosed conditions drops to only about 5 percent. Many people who suffer from MCS say that they didn't always have the condition. Rather, it was a growing exposure to pesticides and solvents that eventually caused them to develop the illness.
One big problem with MCS is that the exact nature of the illness is unknown. Some Doctors say that the effects are physical, while others say they are entirely psychological. I know of one older lady who suffers from MCS, however she has told me that her doctor says that when she smells a particular odor, it recalls a memory from her traumatic past and that's what causes her seizures.
It's not too far-fetched to say that most of us don't like to tolerate high amounts of chemical fragrances. I personally enjoy the smell of a floor that has recently been cleaned with a product like Mr. Clean, but if you get a big whiff of it, it starts to give you a headache. I know from experience that heavy cologne can also make you start to feel sick. But I wouldn't say that qualifies me to have MCS. I just think that chemical smells can have an adverse affect on anyone.
Mental Side Affects
While not just the physical condition of someone deteriorates, their mental condition can worsen as well. Because those who suffer from MCS often have to live a slightly more recluse life, they can easily suffer from depression. Can you imagine how terrible it would be to be locked up on a bright summer day because the air pollution makes you sick? You can't go shopping at a mall because you never know what chemicals someone might be wearing.
However, this is also an area where Doctors can't agree. Some believe that MCS attributes to mental issues, while others feel that a decrease in mental health brings on MCS type symptoms. Whatever the case may be, those suffering from MCS experience symptoms that are very real to them.
What can we do?
The reason I have become interested in this disease is because I am in charge of buying cleaning supplies for a public building. A building that is used by about 12 people who suffer from MCS. So my job grew a little more difficult when I was informed that I had to find an alternative to traditional cleaning products.
I was able to track down some organic cleaning solution. The stuff is amazing. It is proven to clean and disinfect, so you don't lose any of the cleaning power. For a public facility, disinfect is an absolute must. However, the stuff is all natural, they claim you could even drink it if you so desired. I shudder to think what is out there in nature that has that kind of power, but you get the idea.
If you have friends who suffer from MCS, chances are they have alerted you that they have this condition, and advised you how you can help them. Even something as simple as limiting strong fragrances when you will be in their company can help them. However, it is very difficult to eliminate all fragrances from our lives. Even shampoo can trigger symptoms in a sufferer, and I don't recommend not washing your hair just for that reason.
But remember, those who suffer from MCS are still humans. They still need love and affection, and it becomes increasingly harder for them the more their health deteriorates. If you know someone suffering from MCS, don't withdraw all association just because it can be slightly challenging to be around them. Just take a few precautionary steps and you might find that you can still enjoy their friendship.