Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS) is an “invisible disability.”
Has “Tips On What Encourages & What Discourages Someone With A Chronic, Debilitating Illness”
Also see MCS Links for MCS and Chronic Illness Support Groups
But You Look Fine?
Among the greatest stressors for people with MCS are lack of validation and support. This is partly due to the fact that people with MCS, like people with heart conditions, can appear healthy even when very ill.
Here are some questions people frequently want to ask:
Q: My friend (neighbor or relative) looks fine; it is hard for me to believe that he is sick with MCS?
A: MCS is largely an Invisible Disability. When your friend has a reaction you may be able to see the effects in a stumbling gait, a dazed look, confusion, allergy type reactions, faintness, shortness of breath, complete collapse or seizures. However, a lack of these visible symptoms does not mean the person is well or not being affected by substances in the area. If he is not having a reaction he is trying to avoid having one.
Q: Why should I change my behavior just because someone doesn’t like perfume, or wood smoke or dryer sheets?
A: MCS is not a preference, a political belief or a lifestyle decision. It is a medical condition. Exposure to products like perfume can cause the chemically sensitive to have headaches, Fibromyalgia pains, weakness, faintness or other symptoms that will last for hours or even days or cause organ damage and even death. People of all beliefs and preferences can have MCS.
Q: What can I do?
A: Firstly believe your friend has a serious, life modifying medical condition. Ask him what you can do.
Q: Is MCS an allergy?
A: No. It is often compared to allergies and sometimes called Chemical Allergies, but this is an analogy. (Due to immune compromise, those with MCS often have chronic allergic conditions too).
Q: What did they do to get this condition?
A: That is not known for sure yet. It is known that some healthy people became chemically sensitive after exposure to some strong chemical, like those in the Gulf War, an accidental pesticide exposure or working in a very “sick building”. Other people who have a chronic illness such as CFIDS, MS, Arthritis, or cancer become have become very sensitive to chemicals and tend to become hypersensitive to any product they are around. There is evidence of genetic predisposition to varying abilities to detoxify.
Q: Will my friend get better?
A: Your friend will be “better” if he is not exposed to products or toxins to which he reacts. His tolerance may improve or worsen. He will never be able to withstand much exposure to chemicals or pollutants. If he can be in a clean environment and he does not have another chronic illness he will be able to feel better and do more.
Q: My friend complains even when I can’t smell or see anything in the air. Even when I don’t wear scents he backs away. I think he sometimes imagines things.
A: Agents that cause reactions may not have an odor or be visible. Your sense of smell has been dulled by constant exposure to multiple scents and chemicals such as air fresheners. These chemicals are in your clothes and have been absorbed by your skin; as part of you, you cannot smell them. And, a person with MCS often does not smell something that is causing a reaction. Remember, this is not a thinking process; it is a physical reaction. If your friend does smell something, experience has told him he will probably have a reaction and he wants to avoid it.
Copyright 2001-2010, HEAL of Southern Arizona. All rights reserved. Last updated:1/12/2010