Photo: Getty Images
Some diseases are so invisible, it can seem like the only people who are aware of them are the people who have them. Multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) also known as environmental illness, is such an invisible disease.
There are countless websites dedicated to MCS. There are whole MCS communities, many of them in tent villages. It's incredible that this substrata of people hasn't raised a blip on the radar.
Mind you, these folks aren't hiding in plain sight. Many of the sickest live in deserts or forests, as far away from chemical-laced modern life as they can get. The average citizen has good reason for being unaware but not so the medical community.
In recent years, though, things seem to have been changing.
According to the Arizona Center for Advanced Medicine, MCS is "a serious, chronic, and often disabling illness".
The Merck Manuals Online Medical Library described MCS as a "disorder that seems to be triggered by exposure to low levels of multiple identifiable or unidentifiable chemical substances commonly present in the environment."
Some symptoms are chest pain, dizziness, fatigue, flushing, rapid heart rate, shortness of breath and sweating. Other symptoms are choking, coughing, nausea, numbness, hoarseness, trembling and cognitive difficulties.
To diagnose MCS, a doctor performs tests for allergic disorders. The doctor takes note of whether symptoms recur after repeated chemical exposure, or decrease when the chemical is removed.
Medicinenet.com posited that chemicals may affect the limbic system, or that MCS may involve a damaged immune system. The "toxic-induced loss of tolerance" (TILT) theory speculates that some people lose their tolerance for chemicals after excessive exposure.
Multiple chemical sensitivity has been a controversial topic but research and an increase in MCS numbers have led to greater acceptance. We may not know why people are getting sick, but it's hard to dispute that something's going on.
Washington Governor Christine O. Gregoire declared May, 2011 to be Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Awareness Month in Washington State.