It’s a familiar situation; your coworker, family member, or friend is wearing a heavy fragrance. As time passes you begin to notice a runny nose, sneezing, and perhaps even a headache developing. This could be a sign of MCS or Fragrance Sensitivity.
These issues with fragrance can be annoying. But for the rare few that have a condition called Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS), common everyday chemicals can cause severe and even life threatening health issues.
What is Multiple Chemical Sensitivity?
Medical Dictionary defines MCS as, “a disorder in which a person develops symptoms from exposure to chemicals in the environment. With each incidence of exposure, lower levels of the chemical will trigger a reaction and the person will become increasingly vulnerable to reactions triggered by other chemicals.”
MCS is different from an allergy because it does not involve IgE antibody presence. To complicate issues MCS is often defined as idiopathic, meaning that it is a disease considered to arise spontaneously for which no cause is known. MCS is gaining more research and interest as people with the condition gain a larger platform online and in media presence.
What Does MCS look like?
The symptoms vary wildly from person to person, but commonly reported symptoms include headache, fatigue, nausea, dizziness, congestion, runny and itchy nose, sneezing, differences in heart rate, light headedness, breathing problems, skin rashes and irritation, diarrhea, and memory problems.
A consensus Criteria for exactly what MCs looks like was developed in 1999 with the help of leaders in the field and healthcare providers. Together they came up with these six criteria:
- The symptoms must be reproducible.
- The condition has been persistent for a significant period of time.
- Low levels of exposure (lower than commonly tolerated) result in manifestations of symptoms.
- Symptoms improve when chemical is removed.
- Responses occur to multiple chemicals that are unrelated in terms of chemical structure.
- Symptoms must affect multiple organs.
What are common triggers for sensitivity symptoms?
Common chemicals, especially those with a fragrance, are often triggers for someone with MCS these can include:
- Perfume, aftershave, and other personal care scents
- Tobacco smoke
- Paint fumes
- Cleaning agents
- Gasoline and diesel
- Ink (newspapers, photocopiers, etc)
- Building materials such as wood stain and preservatives, formaldehyde, foam insulation, epoxy and glues.
- VOC (volatile organic compounds)Smoke (organic and non-organic)
- Smoke (organic and non-organic)
Why some people are more at risk for developing MCS
One common reason for developing MCS is an immune dysfunction. Specific research is currently being done, but the precise reason is still unknown. Research on genetics has also indicated that people with reduced activity of common detoxification proteins are at significantly higher risk for MCS.
Many people could have also acquired MCs though a brain or head injury that affects the areas of the brain that process smell. Some people can trace back their development to a certain chemical event or exposure. Those exposed to the 9/11 dust cloud report MCS at a higher rate. Gulf War veterans also report MCS, especially those that report chronic multisystem illness (aka Gulf War Syndrome), possibly due to burning of organic and non-organic debris.
MCS are also reported by people with existing psychological conditions. Those that have have OCD and anxiety make up a large percent of the MCS population. For people with MCS that experience obsessive thoughts, thinking about anything besides their condition can become increasingly difficult.
What can be done?
Most people that have MCS find that avoidance to the offending chemical(s) to be the most helpful. Other people find that testing dietary components and eliminating harmful foods to be of benefit.
Good air ventilation is especially important to make sure chemicals are being removed from the building, especially in the case of a building with materials that are off gassing. Checking and replacing filters in air conditioning is important, as particles can get trapped in a filter, weighting it down until it collapses and releases debris. Modifying a heating system to reduce exposure to combustion products can also be of help. In an office setting using an air purifier can reduce chemicals causing the issue (though this most efficient in an office that a room, rather than a cubicle.) On the homefront changing a gas stove to an electric stove will reduce exposure to combustion products and gas smells.
The Perfume Sensitivity Issue
Not everyone needs to have life threatening symptoms to consider themselves sensitive to a particular chemical. Many people are sensitive to strong fragrances. Results aggregated from a study conducted by the University of West Georgia found that 30.5% of the general population reported scented products on others irritating.
At the moment, there isn’t a scientific consensus on why fragrances can cause irritation. A common reason for a perfume headache is that the strong odor can cause a person’s blood vessels to swell and dilate which stimulates the brain and nervous system, bringing on a headache.
Women report more issues with fragrance than men. This may be due to the internal geometry of the nose and the amount of olfactory receptors. Women of reproductive age typically have more active olfactory receptors than any other age group or gender. For this reason some people may be getting a much bigger whiff of perfume.
More offices are moving to a fragrance free set up. The CDC (Center for Disease Control) recently created a policy that limits the use of fragrances in all their facilities. More offices and churches are adopting a fragrance free policy for the entire building, or even a single room or wing. According to the ADA, MCS and Fragrance sensitivities can be considered disabilities.
At Abel Heating and Cooling we Care About Your Health
At home, we suggest you have your HVAC system checked on a regular basis for ventilation and top performance. Replace filters often.
To keep your building clean and free of debris and dust we recommend the Lennox PCO or Hepa Filtration System.
For more information about ventilation, filtering out chemical fumes and pollutants, and keeping the air in your home and place of business clean to avoid Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, please call us at 952-472-COOL (2665) or Contact Us.