Multiple Chemical Sensitivity: Diagnosis Part 6 of 7
Based on the rapidly expanding exposure rates and the wide variety of symptoms, it is imperative doctors, naturopaths, Moms, Dads, grandparents, and anyone concerned about his/her health make a quick diagnosis of MCS. The faster a person understands what is happening to his/her body and brain, the faster he/she will be able to find solutions and the less residual effect the chemical exposure will have. It is not extreme to say that the faster the diagnosis, the less likely the person will experience any number of tragic consequences— homelessness, loss of job, family expulsion, poverty, loss of identity, etc.
According to a 1999 consensus statement published in the Archives of Environmental Health, there are six criteria for MCS diagnosis:
The MCS symptoms are chronic.
The symptoms are reproducible with repeated chemical exposure.
Low levels of chemical exposure trigger symptoms.
Symptoms occur with multiple, unrelated chemicals.
Symptoms improve when the chemicals are removed.
Symptoms involve multiple organ systems.1
As discussed, despite those criteria, MCS is difficult to diagnose. First, MCS “presents no consistent or measurable set of symptoms and has no single diagnostic test or marker.”2 Second, PET scans of MCS patients do not show significant functional changes in brain tissues.Third, physicians are unaware of MCS, refuse to accept that MCS exists, or are uninformed of the symptoms. Finally, physicians either can’t diagnose, or misdiagnose it as another degenerative disease, or label symptoms as psychosomatic.3
One way to evaluate patients with MCS is to administer the capsaicin inhalation test. Capsaicin “is an alkaloid found in hot peppers,” and when inhaled causes coughing in healthy persons, persons with allergies, and persons with MCS; however, people with MCS cough more deeply and frequently. So while not strictly diagnostic, the capsaicin inhalation test can help identify patients with MCS.4
In addition, occupational and environmental medicine is an evolving new specialty where physicians are well-versed in chemical exposures and environmental injury, including ways to detoxify and heal. These physicians take a complete patient history to identify chemical exposure.5 They then develop a unique program for that patient. The exposure history is the foundation for all their choices. A document on how to take an exposure history can be found at http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/HEC/CSEM/exphistory/docs/exposure_history.pdf.6
Although not necessarily part of an environmental specialist's program, if a person is experiencing panic attacks or other anxiety disorders, he/she may want/need a psychological evaluation.7 This is not to infer that the person has any kind of psychological problems or that they are any different psychologically than someone without chemical sensitivities. Given the emotional component of chemical exposure, they may find it helpful to have a listening ear, an impersonal guide, or just a safe place to talk about what’s happening to his/her body and mind. I would strongly suggest that if you seek psychological counseling, you make sure that person understands what happens with chemical exposure, that your psychological reactions may have a history in your childhood or some trauma, but are a problem for you now because of chemical exposures, and that chemical exposure in and of itself CAUSES psychological reactions just like being drunk on alcohol, stoned on marijuana, or impaired from taking LSD or some of psychotropic drug.
Although frightening to consider, there are some chemical and radioactive materials that can be detected in a blood or urine sampling. Your healthcare provider can either conduct this test or tell you where to go to have them done. If you are concerned that you are being regularly exposed to a chemical, take the time and spend the money to be tested. Some chemicals leave the body within 24-48 hours, but others linger. Peace of mind can prevent anxiety in your life, which is a good thing because anxiety/stress can make you more susceptible to chemical sensitivity.
ATSDR Exposure; Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, 4770 Buford Hwy NE, Atlanta, GA 30341; ATSDR. Environmental chemical exposure: The basics. Atlanta, GA: US Department of Health and Human Services. Page last updated: July 7, 2014.