Welcome to our crazy world, where toxin exposure is a normal, everyday occurrence, and if you develop a reaction- then you’re just odd. And it’s hard to breathe. That’s kinda what it’s like to have multiple chemical sensitivity.
So what is this crazy new disease?
Or is it crazy for people to think they have it?
Read on to discover the symptoms, causes, and what you can do about multiple chemical sensitivity!
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What is multiple chemical sensitivity?
Multiple chemical sensitivity is the unofficial diagnosis of the symptoms that occur after you’re exposed to different toxic chemicals.
It’s also called idiopathic environmental intolerance (IEI), or environmental illness, but for this post, we’ll stick with MCS.
So is multiple chemical sensitivity real?
As of this writing, there are no accurate tests, and it’s not an official disease that can be diagnosed (yet). But the symptoms and reactions that people experience and have to live with every day are absolutely, 100% real.
It isn’t made up. And we need to listen to (not mock, belittle, or scoff at) anyone who has MCS.
No matter if it isn’t classified as an illness, there are still people that suffer because of it, and because others don’t understand or accept their needs. So let’s jump into this so that more people can understand, spread awareness, and have compassion!
Symptoms of multiple chemical sensitivity
Symptoms can occur as a reaction any time after exposure to chemicals that your body can’t tolerate. This level is different for everyone.
The symptoms of multiple chemical sensitivity may include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Memory problems
- Skin rash
- Muscle pain
- …And more
Symptoms might pop up after exposure to even a small amount of conventional cleaners, fragrances, paint, or other everyday toxins. But of course, not everyone feels the same after smelling some strong perfume.
So how does MCS develop, you ask?
The symptoms of multiple chemical sensitivity might develop after a major exposure to toxins, or it might creep up over time. See more on this below under “toxic body burden”.
Symptoms can also worsen after you’ve cut toxins out of your life and you’re suddenly exposed. After pursuing a non-toxic lifestyle for a bit, you might find that normal things, like walking down the aisle at the store with all the cleaning supplies, suddenly get really tough.
This makes me think that multiple chemical sensitivity, rather than being a disease, might just be our natural state.
Some people might just be so regularly exposed that their brains have to shut down those senses because it’s too much.
….Maybe we should all be sensitive to toxins?
How to recover from multiple chemical sensitivity
When symptoms start showing up, it makes sense that people would want to know how to recover from multiple chemical sensitivity. It’s common to ask “how to cure my mcs”…
…But my question is, does it need “curing?”
Think about it… if you put your hand on a hot stove, and it hurt, you wouldn’t pull out your phone with your free hand and start Googling, ‘how to cure terrible finger pain’ and start popping pain pills so that you could leave your hand there! No, you’d take your hand off the stove!
Your body’s cues aren’t meant to be ignored, or simply have its symptoms treated, but listened to. Your body is smart and wants to protect you!
Instead, what do we usually do?
Ignore, cover up, medicate.
Very commonly, doctors prescribe antidepressants (SSRIs) or other medications for anxiety when treating patients with MCS. How is that a treatment solution? It’s just a bandaid at best, and it’s potentially harmful in the long run. Not to mention all the possible side effects, which then require even more medication!
Best not to even go down that route.
Related: The best herbs for stress and anxiety
Instead, my opinion is that the best “remedy” is to remove toxins from your life completely (or as much as possible, there are always ways we’ll be exposed just by living life). And then educate the people you’re around on why toxins are harmful. More on that below.
It can be tough to convince others to get rid of everyday toxins, but you can at least start in your own house.
For a quick start guide, download my free eBook on toxin-free living!
WebMD claims that “avoiding any possible allergens and pollutants” is “a big burden”… Yeah, I’m calling bull on that one. For many people, it’s just an unfortunate necessity.
Let’s talk about the bigger burden that all of us face.
The toxic body burden
So what causes a reaction to toxins in the first place? Not all of us have the same symptoms.
That’s because of your toxic body burden.
Imagine it as a bucket… toxins start filling up your bucket, at different rates, and if it fills up too much, too fast, and starts overflowing, that’s when we start showing symptoms.
Those symptoms mean your body is overburdened and just can’t keep up any more. It isn’t able to detox fast enough from everything it’s getting filled with.
And it’s your chance to start listening to your body and cutting down on the inflow of toxins. It’s like a warning light coming on in the car- be thankful that your body is telling you it’s time to start making some changes!
So what’s the next step? It’s not about perfectly avoiding every single toxin known to mankind.
That’s kinda impossible but it becomes easier as you get more sensitive to toxins- thanks to your reduced exposure, your body can now warn you about toxins instead of just shutting down because it’s overwhelmed!
The real goal is to slow down how fast you’re filling up your toxic bucket. This gives your body more of a chance to do what it’s made to do. You can help it to recover and detox.
How to detox
Once you’ve started noticing your sensitivities to chemicals due to overexposure, it’s time to do something.
Or, if you aren’t showing symptoms yet, it would still be a good idea to support your body’s natural detoxification!
The big first step is to reduce your exposure. Get artificial fragrances, toxic cleaning supplies, and other harsh chemicals out of your house. See below for some good alternatives.
The goal is to lighten your body’s toxic load as much as possible so that it can more quickly get rid of the toxins that have built up over time.
Next, there are a few things that you can do to support a gentle detox for your body without any major changes that might be rough as your body heals.
You can start dry brushing to help your body’s detox pathways flow a little better. Check out this post to learn all about dry brushing.
Try to eat an anti-inflammatory diet- cutting out processed foods is a great place to start. And include plenty of antioxidants in your diet! Did you know that dandelion can help with detoxification and inflammation?
Related: 12 recipes for the dandelions in your backyard
You might also want to try intermittent fasting to give your body more time to concentrate on healing instead of spending energy on digesting all day long. Check out this post for everything you need to know to start intermittent fasting.
You can also try my simple recipe for a detoxing cacao face mask… get some yummy self-care at the same time as you detox!
Beginner’s detox protocol
If you’re ready for a bit more major of a detox, I’d highly recommend a detox protocol from Earthley. They use nothing but tested ingredients from nature to gently support your body as it gets rid of toxins. Earthley is my go-to for natural remedies and I trust their ingredients wholeheartedly!
You can use gut health oil, which helps reset your gut and is very important to overall detoxification. Just a few drops are powerful! Follow the instructions on the product page but start slow. While you’re using this oil, it can also be a good idea to cut out sugar and dairy to reduce inflammation and restore your gut faster.
Another great option is their vaccine detox herbal extract, which isn’t just for after getting a shot!
It includes chlorella, which helps to remove heavy metals. You can also get the free vaccine detox protocol that goes with it. Their protocol is a fantastic guide that’s easy to follow, and won’t leave you feeling like you’re just guessing at the best method of detoxing!
Start both of these at very low doses. Watch for any detox reactions, such as breakouts, hormonal shifts, or headaches. These signs might just mean that your body is detoxing quickly and it might be good to slow down your detox protocol a bit.
Other useful items from Earthley for detoxing include liver love, a castor oil detox pack, and lymphatic cream, which helps keep detox pathways flowing. You can mix and match which ones you use depending on your needs.
Product alternatives for multiple chemical sensitivity
When you have multiple chemical sensitivity (or live with someone who does), it can be tough finding products that don’t result in a reaction.
Thanks to the rising interest in naturally derived ingredients, many companies are making claims that their products are “all-natural”. That label doesn’t mean anything, though, and it’s called greenwashing when companies make their toxic products look all pretty and green and natural.
A good first step in finding better products is to refer to EWG.org– they have thousands of products and ingredients in their database, and you can check on the toxicity of pretty much anything. Use this guide for cleaners and this one for personal care items.
Cleaning is a big category for super toxic products. But the good news is, you only need a few simple, all-natural ingredients on hand to disinfect and clean every part of your house!
Check out this post for 15 all-natural cleaner recipes for a non-toxic home.
My favorite store-bought cleaner/disinfectant is Seventh Generation’s Disinfecting Multi-Surface Cleaner. It’s just as powerful as bleach without the nasty smell and toxicity!
Related: Why you should never use bleach again (and how to disinfect without it)
Alternatives to toxic fragrances
When getting rid of toxic fragrances, you might just need to get used to not having as many yummy scents available for body spray or as an air freshener. It’s much harder to get natural scents than it is to make synthetic fragrances that smell like anything you like!
The good news is that after a few weeks of going fragrance-free, those old smells won’t smell as yummy any more. You’ll start to smell the toxins instead. I promise, you won’t miss artificial fragrances!
I’d recommend a diffuser with essential oils or incense as an alternative to plugins or air fresheners. Or just open a window and get (actual) fresh air!
It’s also really easy to make your own perfume and cologne using essential oils!
Learn more about how to make solid, spray, and roll-on perfumes at this post from Simple Pure Beauty.
How to talk to others about chemical sensitivity
Honestly, I’m not sure why this illness is so controversial.
I wish we could just say, “my body had too many toxins, and now it needs to not be exposed to more toxins.” It really is that simple!
We should just be able to say “I’m sensitive to chemicals” and have people jump up to accommodate us, just like with any other allergy.
But people don’t always honor that. Humans can tend to scoff at things we don’t understand, so sometimes you’ll need to speak up and educate people if you have multiple chemical sensitivity.
I’ve found that the best thing to do is to just be really, really straightforward.
With any other method, like trying to hint at toxins but stay inoffensive, I usually get a reaction like “oh it isn’t too bad” or “I have a sensitive nose and I’m fine”.
Not everybody smells or senses things the same way, so it’s better to just tell them how you’re feeling, straight up. Some people need help understanding that it isn’t just a preference for a different scent, it’s an actual sensitivity that’s causing issues.
Try this: use “I” instead of making a blanket statement. Instead of, “it smells really strong in here”, (which leaves room for arguing) say, “I’m really sensitive to the smells in here”. That kind of statement isn’t open for debate since it’s just your perspective.
And if you have kids, you can use them as an excuse! “Sorry, my little one is really sensitive to chemicals and I can smell your perfume, so we’re gonna need to stand a little further away”. Babies are extra sensitive to all toxins so it’s important to stand up for them.
For yourself, of course you could just ignore the chemicals as best as possible to keep everyone happy. But that isn’t something you’d do if you had, say, a nut allergy. You wouldn’t eat something with nuts for fear of being judged.
So why should it be any different with a chemical allergy?
Don’t allow anyone (even doctors) to belittle or gaslight you for your chemical sensitivities, and stand up for yourself when something is causing symptoms.
There are some other things you can start working into your routine too, such as remembering to send an email to your AirBnB host before traveling, asking them to unplug and put away any air fresheners. If I’m going over to a house I haven’t visited before, I’ll try to let the host know about my sensitivities a few days in advance.
Or, I’ll ask my husband to tell them. Having a friend or partner speak up for you can help make things less awkward and personal for everyone involved. Just make sure it’s someone you trust to stand up for you. Not anyone who will minimize or apologize for a natural reaction your body has!
Of course, it’s also good to choose your battles. I don’t complain to the manager every time I find a store bathroom with a strong air freshener. I just skip the bathroom or hold my breath and try to go quick.
But at the same time, the more that people speak up, the more we’ll bring awareness to the issues of everyday toxins!
If you don’t have multiple chemical sensitivity, chances are you know someone who does- whether or not they’ve told you about it. Hopefully, this post has helped you learn more about this issue and what you can do to avoid developing a sensitivity to toxins yourself!
And if you do have multiple chemical sensitivity, now is the time to speak up!
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First thank you for a clear description of MCS. It took me 5 years to finally get a correct diagnosis.
I can add a couple of symptoms to your list. One is rapid heart rate and two irregular heart rate ( A-fibs)
I believe we are all made perfect and our bodies can heal from anything, if we give it the chance.
Thank you for your comment! I will add those symptoms, that makes a lot of sense from what I’ve experienced! And definitely. Our bodies are wonderfully created to heal!