Lourdes Salvador's Column
...Co-founder of MCS America discusses the latest Multiple Chemical Sensitivity issues.
Lourdes Salvador is the founder of MCS America, a science writer, and a social advocate for the greater awareness of environmental contamination, human toxicology, and propagation of multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) as a disorder of organic biological origin induced by toxic environmental insults.
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by Lourdes Salvador
Thanksgiving is thought of by most Americas as a relaxing and happy holiday filled with family, friends, good times, and lots of food. For people with chronic illnesses, there is often a longing for a traditional American Thanksgiving. While some are able to enjoy a slightly modified holiday, others experience greater illness and loneliness during the holidays.
Three often sidelined chronic illnesses that interfere with normal holiday celebrations are fibromyalgia, myalgic encephalomyelitis / chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) and multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS), hereinafter referred to as environmental illnesses (EI).
Holiday shopping, travel, traffic, and preparations can be exhausting for anyone and often add extra anxiety and stress. For people with EIs, it is much more difficult. For an estimated 46 million Americans, chemical sensitivity throws another wrench in the works. Roughly 15% of the population experiences some level of sensitivity to multiple chemicals which reduces blood flow to the brain and leads to various disabling neurological, endocrine, and immune symptoms upon exposure to small amounts of common fragrances, scented candles, pesticides, and other toxic chemicals.
Symptoms of exposure can be brief or long lasting, depending on the individual and level of exposure. Because EI is not an allergy, there is no easy remedy other than avoiding exposures, supporting normal liver function to improve xenobiotic breakdown, and vacating the area for a less polluted environment. Unlike using antihistamines to treat allergies, medicine has yet to develop a simple on the spot treatment for toxic exposures. Medicine shouldn’t be treating toxic exposure to begin with. Toxic substances should not be in the human environment; and indeed, most toxic substances, such as perfumes, are completely unnecessary for health and hygiene.
Thanksgiving may also bring profound rejection and loneliness for those with EI when family and friends are not willing to make small changes to accommodate a person with EI. Loneliness occurs when a person with EI is unnecessarily excluded from celebrations. Sometimes exclusion includes denigration and harsh accusations of making more of exposures than there really is. These statements show a clear misunderstanding of EI and often result in the wrongful assumption that a person with EI just doesn’t want to attend the festivities. Far from the truth, most very much want to participate. If loved ones are willing to make accommodations, everyone can enjoy the holiday fun!
According to Gibson, “There are many people with MCS who function well in spite of the condition. They maintain relationships with friends and lovers, have satisfactory jobs, live in safe houses, and feel satisfied with their lives.” These people enjoy the support of their friends and family in much the same way that a diabetic’s family ensures there is a sugar-free dessert option at Thanksgiving for their loved one’s with diabetes.
Of the 46 million Americans who experience chemical sensitivity, approximately 9 million have been diagnosed with multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS). For those diagnosed with MCS, the condition has generally advanced to a disabling point. Many are no longer able to tolerate work, shopping, school, and church environments. However, many can improve tremendously with simple accommodations and biomedical treatment.
Thanksgiving brings everyone in America joy, sadness, stress, anxiety, and other emotions. Besides all of this, a person with MCS also struggles to merely be a part of the festivities. A chemical exposure need not be great to make a person with EI sick. Someone wearing perfume or scented lotion in the same room may be enough. A routine pesticide treatment from several weeks ago can trigger symptoms.
Symptoms are not treatable with allergy medications, leaving an affected person to evacuate the building and event. It’s easy to avoid this unfortunate occurrence. Below are simple ideas to make the holiday gathering a successful event!
Ten Holiday Ideas to Accommodate People with MCS
- Make the gathering a fragrance free event for everyone’s health.
- Hold the even outdoors if weather permits. Outdoor air is often more tolerable than enclosed spaces.
- Run an air filter to help filter chemicals out of the air.
- Open opposite windows for cross ventilation and air exchange. Turn the heat up if necessary.
- Ask the person with MCS what you can prepare especially for them with any food sensitivities in mind. You may find that everyone loves it!
- Make an extra effort to include the person with MCS and make them feel welcome while treating them normally (they have MCS, but they also have other interests).
- Do not tell a person to remove a needed mask or oxygen supply for the comfort of other guests. Allow the person with MCS to wear a medical device (mask or respirator) and alert guests ahead of time so they are prepared.
- Watch for reactions to chemicals and be careful not to misinterpret the behavior of person with MCS. Nervous appearing behavior, excessive talking, grogginess, repetitive movements, leaving the room, and other unusual behavior may be a sign of a reaction to the environment.
- If a person with MCS does have a bad reaction, ask what you can do to help.
- Have fun!
Ten Holiday Ideas for Those with MCS
- Start planning and shopping early by making a to do list.
- Avoid the stress, crowds, exposures, and hassles of shopping by employing alternatives such as buying gifts online.
- Take care of yourself by sticking to your normal foods and routine.
- When entertaining, stipulate the rules on party invitations (no fragrance, bring a potluck dish, event end time, etc.)
- When going to a gathering away from home bring a dish with foods you tolerate, take a separate vehicle in case you need to leave early, bring a mask, and wear layered clothing or a cover-up to make removing unexpected fragrance contaminated garments easier before entering your vehicle or home.
- Plan to do nothing or lighten your schedule a few days before and after an event.
- Just say no. It’s okay to pass on activities and outings, especially if accommodations will not be made for you. Your first priority is you.
- Speak to your friends and family in advance to outline your needs and make plans.
- Avoid making commitments you may not be able to keep. This will lessen the pressure you feel and you’ll win more points if you say maybe and no show than if you say yes and no show. And if you happen to show up in spite of “maybe”, everyone will be delighted.
- Pace yourself. It’s better to enjoy only one activity than be in bed for two weeks.
Tips to Enjoy a Spirited Thanksgiving Alone
- Cook your own thanksgiving dinner, using alternatives that suit your dietary needs.
- Contact your local church or meals on wheels program to have a holiday dinner delivered to you.
- Invite an understanding friend or fellow EI to spend time with you.
- Watch the Thanksgiving Day Parade or a few good holiday videos.
- Make crafts or decorations in advance for the local church or nonprofit programs to pick up.
- Join an EI chat group where people spend the holiday “together”.
- Call friends and family to chat and wish them a Happy Thanksgiving. Or, call another EI to chat and relate.
- Pace yourself, resting as needed.
- Be good to yourself. Plan something special, such as a relaxing bath, massage cushion session, or other treat.
- Read a good holiday book!
Gibson, Pamela Reed. Understanding and Accommodating Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. 2000. NewHarbinger Publications, Inc.
For more articles on this topic, see: MCSA News.
Copyrighted 2012 Lourdes Salvador & MCS America