There’s no doubt that our world is filled with harsh chemicals. We hear it from news articles, concerned parents, and environmental activists. However, some individuals are alerted to the presence of harsh chemicals not from the news, but from their own senses. Multiple chemical sensitivity, or MCS—a condition that causes the body to respond to certain chemicals with symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, nausea, skin rashes, chest pains, or breathing problems—is a condition that affects approximately 51.8 million adults. Chemicals aren’t going away anytime soon, so it’s important to know how to live safe with a chemical sensitivity in a chemical-filled world.
With any condition, the first step to fighting it is knowing what you’re up against. Educating yourself on chemical sensitivities can include doing your own personal research and talking with your doctor. Since chemical sensitivities can look very different from person to person, speaking to your own doctor is especially important.
Know Your Triggers
Once you’ve educated yourself on MCS, it’s important to educate yourself on what the condition looks like for you. A wide variety of chemicals—such as pesticides, car exhaust and gasoline, new carpet, perfume or fragrant oil, tobacco smoke, and latex, to name just a few—can trigger MCS. It’s important to know what specific chemicals trigger your symptoms and the warning signs that a reaction is going to take place. Keeping a personal log or journal about instances when you have a reaction is invaluable to helping you managing your symptoms.
Reduce Chemicals in Your Living Space
Knowing the chemicals that trigger your symptoms will help you know exactly how to manage the chemicals in your own space. Some chemicals are unavoidable, but you can do your best to reduce their presence. Many typical home products are common culprits for triggering MCS symptoms. Fortunately, there are plenty of nontoxic, unscented, and organic alternatives for many of these products—including cleaning products, pesticides, hygiene and beauty products, food, and even paint—that should be gentler to chemical sensitivities. Installing air filters in the house will also reduce the amount of chemicals in the air.
Have a Plan for Symptoms
Sometimes exposure to chemicals is unavoidable, even in your own home. Part of knowing how to live safely with a chemical sensitivity is knowing how to respond when exposure occurs. Have a space in your home that’s clean, closed off, and free of chemicals so that, in cases of exposure, you have a safe place to wait while symptoms subside. If you’re out and notice warning signs, leave the area you’re in immediately. It’s a good idea to keep a change of clothes with you so that, if necessary, you can change out of contaminated clothes. Also, be sure that people around you know in advance about your MCS so that they can also respond accordingly.