More Information on Multiple Chemical Sensitivity

Other Names

Many other names have been applied to the condition called multiple chemical sensitivity. Among them are environmental illness (EI), ecological illness, total allergy syndrome, the 20th-century disease, and idiopathic environmental intolerances.
Until more is known about the cause of multiple chemical sensitivity, it is not possible to determine what name would be both descriptive and physiologically correct.

What Causes It?

Multiple chemical sensitivity represents a complex gene-environment interaction, the true cause of which is currently unknown. In multiple chemical sensitivity, there is almost always a precipitating event, usually associated with the smell of a chemical, and a response involving one or more organ systems.
Once the imitating event has passed, the same response or even an exaggerated one occurs each time the stimulus is encountered again. Often the initiating stimulus is a higher dose or an overwhelming dose, but subsequently much lower doses can trigger the multiple chemical sensitivity symptoms. A number of unrelated chemicals (e.g., insecticides and antiseptic cleaning agents) might precipitate the same response.
Because multiple chemical sensitivity syndrome is similar to certain allergic conditions and to certain organ-system responses caused by emotional disturbances, multiple chemical sensitivity has often been confused with allergy (atopy) or psychiatric illness.
Disagreement among physicians and medical researchers -- as to what IEI really is -- has, of course, made research funding difficult. In fact, in an environmental health sciences meeting in Brisbane, Australia, several years ago, there was an old-fashioned debate on multiple chemical sensitivity syndrome, and the proponents who believed that it was simply a psychiatric disorder won the debate!
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