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Symptoms and Progression of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity

This week I thought I'd try to get all you multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) sufferers involved and conduct a kind of survey so we can see the most common symptoms of the condition and how it develops in different people. I hope this is an idea that interests you and you'll get involved by leaving comments below.

First of all I'd like to discuss my personal feeling on what MCS actually is. There has been a lot of confusion among both doctors and patients about whether MCS is an allergic condition or a neurological condition. My personal feeling through experience of the illness and reveiwing the available scientific literature is that it is most definitely a neurological disease caused by neurotoxicity (toxic damage to the brain).

 A leading theory which I believe to be along the right lines involves a process called 'limbic sensitization'. The idea is that either acute or chronic exposure to volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) makes the nerve cells in the limbic system of the brain hypersensitive so that in the future even minute amounts of these chemicals cause the nerve cells to fire and result in the symptoms characteristic of MCS. The limbic system is an old part of the brain intimately linked with mood, emotion and the stress response (fight-or-flight) which explains why many MCS patients experience mood disturbances and often a degree of panic following an exposure. More on this can be found in the book 'Chemical Exposures: Low Levels and High Stakes' by Nicholas Ashford and Claudia Miller - both well known MCS and toxic injury researchers.

 It is certainly possible that people may be allergic to certain chemicals but this is not MCS. Lourdes Salvador of MCS America has written an excellent article entitled 'Chemical Allergy Biomarkers' which describes the differences between 'chemical allergy' and MCS. 

In my own journey I had a cytotoxic ("cell-toxic") tests carried out which measures the response of lymphocytes (important immune cells) when exposed to specific chemicals thought to trigger MCS such as formaldehyde, diesel exhaust, domestic gas etc. Interestingly my results came back highly positive across the board - yet at that time I was not suffering from MCS, having no acute reaction when exposed to these substances. The interesting thing is that I later went on to develop MCS a few years later. So although the cytotoxic test does not correlate with the symptoms of MCS perhaps it can be an early marker of a problem that may develop into MCS in the near future.

Anyway, onto the main point of this blog entry - comparing MCS symptoms and illness progression. I will start us off by listing the main symptoms I experienced with MCS and how it started for me. I hope you will join me and share your experience too!


Main Symptoms


- Dizziness
- Light-headedness
- Confusion
- Brain-fog
- Memory-loss
- Rapid/Pounding Heartbeat
- Restlessness/Hyperactivity
- Mood Disturbance

Symptoms arising an hour or so later and often lasting for days:

- Headache
- All Over Muscle Aches
- Fatigue
- Depression/Anxiety
- Flu-like Illness


As you can see these are all sysmptoms that would suggest a central neurological  basis. I know many of you also experience symptoms such as breathing difficulties and these could also be caused neurologically or you may have concurrent asthma or other respiratory condition that is exacerbated by the chemicals. Lourdes Salvador's article discusess these issues. 


Progression of my MCS

My MCS started in late 2002 after I had had a general anaesthetic - ironically to insert a catheter at an alternative medicine hospital in Mexico. When I got back home to the UK I first noticed a reaction to perfume, nail varnish and cigarette smoke. I was still living with my parents at the time and they were understandably unwilling to completely change their lifestyle for something they didn't understand. I noticed over a period of weeks and months that it was taking smaller and smaller amounts of these chemicals to trigger the symptoms described above and that these were becoming more severe.

I remember taking my dog for a walk in a forest area out in the countryside where I thought I would be safe but even walking past other people wearing perfume/deodorant triggered my symptoms.

As time passed I rapidly became sensitive to a large range of products particulaly fragranced household products such as soaps, shampoos, laundry detergents and cleaning products, but also to vehicle exhausts and the gas stove.

After 6 months it became unbearable as I was constantly reacting to everything and these reactions were accumulating in terms of symptoms severity. At this point I had to move out and live on my own where I could rid my immediate environment of all triggers.

 This was the beginning of my recovery which I have talked about before across this weebsite and will continue to do so in future posts.


So, if my experiences resonate with you then please let us know. If you have experienced different symptoms and illness progression then it would also be great to hear from you so we can get a picture of how MCS develops and manifests in different people.

 I look forward to reading your comments. Best of health to all!





About: Matthew Hogg ("Maff")
Diagnosed with M.E./chronic fatigue syndrome aged only 11 years old and subsequently associated illnesses including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS). Despite his own struggles he has constantly sought to educate and support others suffering from such "invisible illnesses" through his website, The Environmental Illness Resource. He fully recovered from MCS using his own approach and holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Nutritional Health.