This illness can cause confusion and frustration in both doctors and patients alike. One reason for this is the large number of presenting symptoms. These include irritation of the eyes, catarrh, cough, wheezing, digestive problems, muscular pain, fatigue, brain fog with memory difficulty and sometimes anxiety and depression, skin rashes, especially hives, urinary symptoms and chest pain and heart irregularities. The symptoms often overlap with chronic fatigue syndrome. To complicate things further, standard tests are usually normal.

Whenever doctors are faced with multiple symptoms coupled with normal tests, they find it hard to resist the temptation to tell the patient that it is all in their mind, even if there is no evidence of this.  The fact that these patients often have anxiety and other psychological symptoms (due to inflammation of the limbic system in the brain) makes this idea seem more plausible. However, unlike most psychological symptoms these ones are triggered by chemical exposure and improve or resolve when the stimuli are removed.

We have seen this assumption of a psychological origin before in chronic fatigue syndrome and inevitably this causes frustration to patients who know something else is going on in their bodies.

These problems could be avoided by careful questioning. Patients find symptoms often occur on exposure to chemicals and they are typically very sensitive to smells such as perfumes. Another clue is that they are often very sensitive to small amounts of alcohol. A further clue is that burning sensations are often high on the list of symptoms.

A common feature is the TILT syndrome (toxicant-induced loss of tolerance). What happens here is a patient develops symptoms after exposure to chemicals and then starts to become increasing sensitive to other chemicals that gave them no problem before (see case below). They can also become increasingly sensitive to electro-magnetic radiation.  Before long it seems that they are sensitive to everything in the modern world.

An example may help. Nancy Sokol Green describes in her book “Poisoning our Children” how she developed the following symptoms: lactating breasts and then dizziness, breathlessness, burning all over, weakness, sharp pains shooting down body and vaginal bleeding. Her doctors were baffled. She had 5 hospital visits. She received 23 diagnoses from 16 different doctors. These doctors gave her drugs and these made her worse. This is another big clue. It happens because of these patient’s poor tolerance to chemicals.

Finally, she saw an environmental doctor who asked her a series of diagnostic questions which included: How many times has the house been sprayed with pesticides? How old is the house? Did she have new carpets?  He was able to tell her what the problem was. It turned out her house was sprayed for pests twice a month and on the last occasion she has been in the house recovering from an operation.

In this case the illness was caused by exposure to pesticides but other chemicals including paint, formaldehyde, hairdressing agents, printing chemicals and drugs can cause it. In fact, when people are sensitive to several drugs this can be a clue to MCS.

It is thought about 8-24% of the population are affected by MCS. Patients with allergies and food intolerance are more susceptible to this syndrome.

Standard tests are typically normal but specialist tests give clues. For instance 6-hydroxymelatonin sulphate is nearly always low. Scans can show hypopoperfusion of the thalamic and limbic regions.

Treatment involves removing the source of the illness where possible and removing toxic material from the body. This can be difficult as chemical are so widespread in the environment. Eliminating electro-magnetic fields (EMFs) is even more difficult and can make life a nightmare. Getting medical treatment near impossible as surgeries and hospitals are awash with EMFs with no EMF-free zones.

In the case of Nacy Sokol Green she had treatment with saunas. She had 23 sauna treatments but could not tolerate the full course. The saunas caused her to excrete smelly orange sweat laced with pesticides coming out of her body causing irritation. She suffered from nausea, swollen eyes and blurred vision. Her sweat caused allergic reactions in other patients. She improved greatly but remained exquisitely sensitive to chemicals.

Patients often need a range of other measures to help. These include removing chemicals from their homes, using HEPA filters and infra-red saunas.

Because we are now exposed to more chemicals than ever before and more EMFs, these problems are likely to get increasingly common.