Commission on Disability: Educational Topic

Published March 31, 2014 | Commission on Disability | Automatically Archived on 4/7/2014

This Post has been archived and its content might be outdated. If you are looking for recent content, please check this Committee's Homepage.


Multiple Chemical Sensitivity

A New Disability – what it is, causes and treatments


Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) is used to describe a disorder or class of conditions that individuals may develop after being exposed to certain chemicals.  Even though these exposures may not be any higher than is usually tolerated, or was previously tolerated by the current sufferer, symptoms can still occur. 

Individual symptoms depend on the person’s exposure to specific chemicals.

Symptoms can vary from mild to severe – ranging from headaches to fatigue, body pains, breathing problems, mood changes, or confusion.

Chemical exposure is suspected to be the leading cause of MCS (although other factors such as natural allergens, certain foods and mold have also been implicated).

If you regularly experience the following kinds of symptoms you may want to consult your doctor and ask for a referral to a doctor who specializes in occupational and/or environmental medicine.  It may also be worth finding out if this specialist has experience in the diagnosis and treatment of MCS.

 Common symptoms include:


  • Headaches                                             ▪  Respiratory problems such as        
  • Fatigue                                                        tightness in chest or shortness of breath
  • Confusion                                               ▪  Muscle and joint pain and weakness
  • Short-term memory loss                        ▪  Palpitations
  • Dizziness                                                ▪  Increased sensitivity to odor
  • Fainting spells                                        ▪  Rashes
  • Flu-like symptoms                                  ▪  Gastrointestinal symptoms such as
  • Depression and Irritability                        loose stools

 An individual may develop MCS after one substantial chemical exposure or after several lower-level exposures to substances such as pesticides, solvents, or cleaning solutions.  It has been suggested that this initiation or “induction” stage is followed by “triggering” of symptoms by everyday levels of chemicals and certain foods that were previously tolerated.

 It is generally accepted that indoor air quality is likely to play a major role in both the development (induction) and chronic reoccurrence (triggering) of MCS symptoms.

 For more information:

 MDPH Bureau of Environmental Health, Boston, MA                          617-624-5757


MA Assoc. for the Chemically Injured (MACI)                                        978-681-5117