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Multiple chemical sensitivity – causes, side effects and treatments at

Thursday, May 24, 2018 by

Idiopathic environmental intolerance (IEI), formerly called multiple chemical sensitivity, is a subjective illness characterized by recurrent sensitivity to multiple, chemically unrelated substances. Patients typically report becoming ill with heterogeneous, nonspecific symptoms when exposed to low concentrations of chemicals.

These symptoms occur in the absence of consistent objective diagnostic physical findings or laboratory tests that define an illness. Many experiments and observational studies consistently identify psychopathology in patients with IEI, and implicate behavioral or psychiatric causes for this illness. This indicates that the underlying illness in many cases of IEI is actually a psychiatric disorder, such as a somatoform, depressive, or anxiety disorder.

Exposure to certain chemicals may cause reactions similar to those experienced with allergies. Chemicals that may cause sensitivity include synthetic and natural substances found in:

  • Carpeting
  • Plastics
  • Perfumes
  • Plants
  • Paint
  • Cigarette smoke

Low levels of chemicals found in everyday materials, such as soaps, detergents, cosmetics, and newspaper inks, can trigger physical symptoms in people with multiple chemical sensitivity.

Known symptoms and risk factors for multiple chemical sensitivity

The following are the most common symptoms of multiple chemical sensitivity. However, each person experiences symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Diarrhea, bloating
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Food allergies and intolerances
  • Headaches, migraines
  • Insomnia or excessive sleeping
  • Lethargy
  • Malaise
  • Mood changes, depression, anxiety
  • Muscle weakness, muscle or joint aches, arthritis
  • Nausea, vomiting,
  • Poor immune function, recurrent infections
  • Respiratory mucus, sinusitis, coated tongue
  • Skin rashes or eruptions, eczema, dermatitis
  • Visual disturbances

All these symptoms may or may not immediately follow exposure to offending chemical/s. Symptoms of multiple chemical sensitivity may resemble other medical conditions. Always consult your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

Possible causes, triggers, and exacerbating factors:

  • Overexposure to chemicals
  • Exposure to a mix of chemicals that have unexpected reactions or effects on the body
  • Heavy metal exposure
  • Poor liver function, poor digestive function
  • Malnutrition, nutritional deficiencies
  • Chronic illness, poor immune function, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
  • Stress
  • Biochemical imbalances and inherited sensitivities

Body systems harmed by multiple chemical sensitivity

People with allergies are at risk of developing complications that range from mild to potentially life-threatening.

  • Anaphylaxis – Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency. It can cause seizures, arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat), shock, or respiratory distress.
  • Asthma – Allergic asthma causes inflamed airways to become irritated and over-respond when an irritant is inhaled, triggering an asthma attack. An asthma attack causes chest tightness, coughing, wheezing, and episodes of severe shortness of breath.

People with allergies are also at risk of developing:

  • Eczema (a skin condition characterized by inflammation)
  • Ear or lung infections
  • Sinusitis or sinus infection
  • Nasal polyps (growths on the lining of the nose or sinuses)
  • Migraine headaches

Food items or nutrients that may prevent multiple chemical sensitivity

Here are some nutrients that may be helpful in fighting allergies. For the best allergy-alleviating action, add these nutrients to your balanced diet:

  • Magnesium may ease breathing – This mineral helps relieve constricted airways in the lungs.
  • Vitamin C stops histamine – high levels of vitamin C help reduce histamine release and make histamine break down faster once it is released.
  • Bioflavonoids – these chemical compounds, which are closely related to vitamin C, may help reduce the body’s release of symptom-producing histamine.

Treatments, management plans for multiple chemical sensitivity

Home remedies have been used extensively to heal a range of allergies. Try these natural allergy remedies to cut back on seasonal sniffles.

  • Saline spray – spritz a saline rinse into your nose daily to wash away pollen. In one study, participants who rinsed their sinuses twice a day for three to six weeks reported less nasal congestion than those who didn’t.
  • Fish oil supplement – A study of people with allergic asthma (asthma caused by allergies) found those who took daily fish-oil supplements for a month had lower levels of leukotrienes, chemicals that contribute to the allergic reaction.
  • Butterbur – butterbur has the best track record among herbs used for pollen allergies. Some studies suggest it can be as effective for nasal symptoms as an antihistamine, with no accompanying sleepiness.
  • Turmeric – may act as a decongestant, help reduce allergy symptoms, and ward off colds.
  • Probiotics – Many studies link the presence of beneficial bacteria in the gut with reduced incidence of allergies.

Where to learn more


Multiple chemical sensitivity is an illness marked by recurrent sensitivity to multiple, chemically unrelated substances. Patients become ill with heterogeneous, nonspecific symptoms similar to allergic reactions when exposed to low concentrations of chemicals.

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