In February of 2007 I was diagnosed with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS). The suspected culprit was a combination of exposure to black mold and airborne formaldehyde from off gassing paint and carpets. MCS is hard to diagnosis and often very hard to get support for because it manifests differently in almost every person. A lot of what is known about the illness is based on personal reports and a few doctors who have chosen to focus on studying it.
For me, MCS manifests as an allergic reaction to often very low doses of chemicals, both organic and synthetic. The most common problems for me are scented products like shampoo, conditioner, body wash, moisturizer, laundry detergent, fabric softener and of course, perfume. My reactions are anything from “hay fever” type symptoms to anaphylaxis (nothing like going into anaphylactic shock while in Disneyland!), and everything in between. I’m also allergic to a whole lot of “standard” things like dust mites, pollen from a dozen different sources and an assortment of food sensitivities. Thankfully I am not allergic to cats or I would probably cry and then refuse to let mine go.
There is no cure for MCS and the main pharmaceutical treatments in my case have been antihistamines, asthma medications & inhalers, eye drops, and my EpiPen. But honestly the most successful for me has been avoidance. We have combed through our home and our lives several times identifying potential problems and getting rid of them. In some cases this meant dust mite covers for our bed, pillows and blankets, cleaning out clutter to minimize dust and keep the house as clear as possible (not so easy when the kids were younger). We’ve also hunted down and eradicated places where mold was growing in the house and now have protocols for cleaning and maintenance to keep the mold from growing back. I had to stop riding mass transit because of the daily exposure to perfumes and the like. We have a list of stores that I can not go into (pretty much all fabric, crafting and clothing stores as well as any place selling paint, insecticides, flooring, carpet, MDF and so forth). There are only one or two grocery stores that I can safely shop at so I’ve become very good at online shopping.
Possibly the hardest thing for me has been the isolation and lack of things to do. I had to stop working in November of 2006 because of the MCS and haven’t worked since outside the occasional craft commission. Finding ceramics has been a blessing for my health and sanity because other than the dust (which everyone in a ceramic studio knows how to keep to a mimimum) ceramics is very low on allergens and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). I can’t spend much time in the kiln room because of the propane used to fire them, but other than at? the ceramic studio has become one of my safe havens.
From more information about MCS, please visit these sites:
Articles I have written:
“How to be Friends with People who have Allergies and Chemical Sensitivities“ first published on Artfire.com Fall 2008
Articles by other people:
Sheila Bastien, Ph.D – “Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS): What It Is, What It Is Not, And How It Is Manifested”
Claudia S. Miller – “Toxicant-induced Loss of Tolerance – An Emerging Theory of Disease?”