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Last updated January 1, 2014

Management of Chemical Sensitivities in CFIDS

Jim Leroy, The CFIDS Chronicle, 10(2):45-51. Spring 1997

1. Diagnosing MCS
2. Characteristic allergic reactions
3. Differentiating MCS from other CFS symptoms
4. Clues to chemical sensitivity
5. How to manage chemical sensitivities
6. Food sensitivities
7. Questionable tests for chemical sensitivity reactions
8. Questionable treatments for chemical sensitivities
9. Resources for the chemically sensitive
10. Does MCS have credibility?
11. Essentials of managing chemical sensitivities
12. References


Diagnosing MCS
A 1994 study found that 67% of people diagnosed with chronic fatigue and immune dysfunction syndrome (CFIDS) reported that the symptoms of their illness worsened when they were exposed to chemical fumes from gas, paint or solvents; 57% reported that their symptoms worsened when exposed to cigarette smoke or perfumes.[1] These results affirm something long understood by many physicians who treat people with CFIDS: A large segment of the CFIDS population has chemical sensitivities, a condition previously known as environmental illness (El) and now more commonly referred to as multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS).

In my own case, addressing food and chemical sensitivities has been the single most effective action I have taken to reduce the profoundly debilitating effects of CFIDS. After realizing that I was chemically sensitive and taking steps to deal with this aspect of my illness, I regained 80% of my lost cognitive functioning. Managing my chemical sensitivities has also freed me from a substantial portion of the misery wrought by this illness, sharply limiting headaches, mood disorder, nausea and, to some extent, fatigue.

"Sensitivities" is a mild sounding word. The effect of chemical sensitivity reactions can be anything but mild. In looking for an analogy to describe the potential severity of a chemical sensitivity reaction, I am reminded of my mother's description of migraines: unrelenting, all-encompassing, like an eclipse had swallowed the light of life.

The tragedy of chemical sensitivity among people with CFIDS is that so many are unaware that this aspect of their illness is the source of much of their suffering. I use the word tragedy because chemical sensitivity can be one of the most manageable aspects of CFIDS.

One critical reason for the lack of recognition of the extraordinary effect that chemical sensitivity can have upon people with CFIDS is the elusive nature of the condition. It is usually not intuitively obvious if one has developed chemical sensitivities, even if they are severe. A phenomenon called "masking" inherent in the disorder conceals these sensitivities. I am a person with CFIDS. I also have a raging set of chemical sensitivities, yet it took me years to figure this out.

The following article explains the method by which chemical sensitivities can be "unmasked," as well as offering some initial clues that may be helpful in suggesting whether chemical sensitivities might be affecting you. Most crucially, a short, practical program for addressing chemical sensitivities is provided on the last page. A set of basic information about chemical sensitivity for those unfamiliar with the condition is included as well: treatments and tests of which to be wary, resource books, support organizations and evidence of the degree of credibility that MCS has gained in recent years.


Figuring Out if You Have Chemical Sensitivities

The Tricky Part of Diagnosing MCS
Because of a phenomenon called "masking," it is quite possible to have terrible chemical (or food) sensitivities and not realize it. The idea behind masking is that if one is experiencing chemical sensitivity reactions from a number of different sources on an ongoing basis, then the specific reaction to each individual source is "masked" by the continual flood of reactions from the others.

Addressing food and chemical sensitivities has been the single most effective action I have ever taken to reduce the profoundly debilitating effects of CFIDS.

If I awake in a room that is regularly cleaned with Pine-sol, roll back the covers of my bed with sheets and pillowcases freshly laundered with scented detergents and fabric softeners, stumble out for breakfast into my kitchen which still reeks from last week's pesticiding, splash on some after-shave and drizzle hair spray over my locks before dashing out the door, there is no way I am going to notice that fumes from the new chemically treated carpeting in my sister's home are also making me ill.


Characteristics of Chemical Sensitivity Reactions
Some of the most common symptoms of a chemical sensitivity reaction are:

(1) Brain fog, characterized by an inability to think clearly, losing one's train of thought in the middle of a sentence, an inability to remember words or difficulty concentrating

(2) Mood disorder, which is often described as being almost incapable of feeling good or happy;

(3) Respiratory problems, such as asthma or rhinitis; and

(4) Headaches.

Symptoms of reaction can also include problems in balance or coordination, nausea, migraine and fatigue. Although occurring less frequently, these symptoms can be the primary chemical sensitivity reactions experienced.

An important characteristic of chemical sensitivity reactions is their duration. One might think that reactions would lift immediately once the offending substance has been withdrawn. Unfortunately, this is not the case. For me, once a chemical sensitivity reaction has begun, it takes five to six hours for the symptoms to lift. In rare cases where exposure is intense or prolonged, it can take weeks or even months for the reaction to lift completely. I say "rare" because I do everything in my power to remove myself quickly from an exposure once I notice that a reaction has begun.

However, once unmasked, chemical sensitivity reactions usually begin swiftly. In my case, it often takes less than five minutes after exposure to chemical fumes from such sources as fresh paint, nail polish remover or ammonia cleaners for a chemical sensitivity reaction to begin. Usually, I can detect that a reaction is imminent by relying on early warning signals I've learned to observe. However, delayed reactions are possible, although I've rarely experienced a delay of more than 24 hours.


Differentiating Chemical Sensitivity Reactions From Other CFIDS Symptoms
Many of the symptoms described above sound exactly like those which accompany chronic fatigue syndrome. The primary way of distinguishing chemical sensitivity reactions from other CFIDS symptoms (or depression or any other medical condition) is that chemical sensitivity reactions will eventually stop after the offending substance is withdrawn. Also, once in an unmasked state, the onset of cognitive or other symptoms from a chemical sensitivity reaction is usually swift.

The best time to distinguish between symptoms caused by a chemical sensitivity reaction and the more general symptoms of CFIDS is when CFIDS symptoms are least severe. Chemical sensitivity reactions can be observed more easily when fevers, flu-like aches and fatigue are less intense, simply because chemical sensitivity reactions will stand out more prominently. In my own experience, chemical sensitivity reactions do not diminish when CFIDS is in remission.


Clues That You May Be Chemically Sensitive
While detecting the presence of chemical sensitivities is tricky, there are some clues suggestive of chemical sensitivity.

For example, do you dislike or like the smell of perfume, gasoline, paint, pesticides, cigarette smoke, hair spray, new carpeting, dry cleaning or combustion fumes? In speculating that chemical sensitivity may mimic the effects of addiction, some MCS experts suggest that chemically sensitive people may actually develop an affinity for those substances to which they are most sensitive. (An explanation for this odd tendency is proposed in Chapter 1 of the book An Alternative Approach to Allergies, by Theron Randolph, MD.)

Filling out the chemical questionnaires in Chapter 19 of An Alternative Approach to Allergies may also be helpful. These questionnaires provide an extensive list of the various substances to which chemically sensitive people may react. However, the only way that chemical sensitivities can be accurately confirmed is by personally observing the onset of symptoms following exposure to an offending substance. Because reactions to individual substances are usually "masked" in the beginning, often the only way to detect chemical sensitivity reactions is to begin a program of avoidance which will reduce the total load of exposures down to a point where individual reactions begin to stand out. The next section provides a description of such a program.


How to Manage Chemical Sensitivities
The most effective method for addressing chemical sensitivities is basic: identify the chemical products and substances to which you are sensitive and avoid them.

Frankly, when I first heard about chemical sensitivity, I quickly dismissed the possibility that such a diagnosis could be helpful, even if it applied to me, for lack of answers to the following obvious questions:

1) Synthetic chemicals are now almost as ubiquitous as air. How could one possibly avoid exposure to these products, even if exposure made one ill?

2) Among the thousands of synthetic chemical products, how would it ever be possible to identify those to which I was sensitive?

Here are answers I have since discovered: Yes, synthetic chemicals abound. However, the goal in managing chemical sensitivities is not to eliminate exposure to every offending chemical, but to reduce exposure levels down to those which the body can manage. Yes, there are thousands of synthetic chemicals currently produced. However, the chemical products which tend to cause the greatest problems for chemically sensitive people in everyday life comprise a small fraction of the planet's inventory. A simple, targeted program of avoidance can vastly reduce exposure to those chemical sources which represent the greatest threat to chemically sensitive people.

A practical beginner's guide for addressing chemical sensitivities appears at the end of this article. Chemically sensitive people will feel better on a program of avoidance. The improvement probably will be slow and it may take many months to fully reap the benefits, but it is reasonable to expect to see signs of improvement after two to six weeks.

The ultimate confirmation of chemical sensitivities is to observe reactions after an exposure. Going to a poorly ventilated movie theater on a Saturday night when people are so highly perfumed that one might expect a transient spark to ignite an instant inferno, I will react every time and the reaction will be nearly identical, give or take the precise chemical formulations of the aromas worn by those sitting closest to me. (As a result, I have become an exceedingly infrequent patron of movies on this night of the week.)

The point of this story is that, once unmasked, chemical sensitivity reactions are easily replicated. The final confirmation of my own chemical sensitivities occurred when I was able to observe the same reactions to the same exposures, over and over again. It felt (and actually was) just like a science experiment.


Food Sensitivities
A recent study [2] of chemically sensitive people found that 75% reported being significantly helped by avoiding foods to which they were sensitive. Food sensitivities are so common among people with CFIDS that the Cheney Clinic in Charlotte, North Carolina includes testing for them as a part of its program for all new patients. The most common foods to which people are sensitive include milk, wheat (and other high gluten grains such as rye and barley), corn, soy, eggs and yeast, as well as fermented foods.

The final confirmation of my chemical sensitivities occurred when I was able to observe the same reactions to the same exposures, over and over again. It felt (and actually was) just like a science experiment.

As with chemical sensitivities, food sensitivities are usually masked in the beginning. Food sensitivities are most easily unmasked by the use of elimination diets. For example, abstain from all milk and milk products for 10 days and then perform a challenge test by drinking a large glass of milk, watching for signs of reaction. When performing an elimination diet, it is most effective to avoid other foods in the same food family during the test period. When testing for wheat, for example, also avoid other grains.

In an act of perversity for which the cosmos has become famous, people are often sensitive to their favorite foods, particularly those eaten most frequently. As with chemical sensitivities, the most effective method for treating food sensitivities is avoidance. Some books propose adopting a gruesomely demanding regimen called a diversified rotation diet to prevent the development of new food sensitivities. Performing the rotation diet for a few months is an excellent way to identify food sensitivities. However, neither I nor most of my food-sensitive friends have found it necessary to maintain this regimen permanently. Note: The chemically sensitive should be particularly wary of processed foods containing chemical preservatives or additives.


Tests and Treatments of Which to be Wary

Questionable Tests for Chemical Sensitivities
There are at least four categories of clinical tests often suggested to detect chemical sensitivities. The first category, provocation testing, usually involves administering a small amount of a chemical substance under the tongue while the patient observes any response. A second category consists of various blood tests which attempt to identify specific chemical sensitivities. A third category employs kinesiology or muscle-resistance testing. A fourth category utilizes machines, such as the Dermitron and the Interro, that measure changes in skin resistance under different circumstances.

Unfortunately, I am not aware of any controlled, double-blinded evaluations of these tests that have yielded consistent results, let alone accurate ones. By consistent, I mean that the patient repeatedly responds in the same way to the same trial substance each time. By accurate, I mean that the results of the tests, as well as being consistent, also reliably identify substances to which an individual is actually sensitive in everyday life. (Some of these tests also can be quite expensive.)

Some people believe that these tests can be useful, particularly in emergency situations where few other options are available. To anyone about to embark on in-office testing, I would propose the following: Ask the practitioner to perform the tests on you in a double-blinded manner, with the same test administered several times. Include a "blank" in the testing. (For example, sterile water.) Neither you nor the person administering the test should know what is being tested. This method at least will verify that the tests provide consistent results. It will not determine if the results accurately reflect significant sensitivities that you experience in everyday life. However, if consistent results cannot be obtained, then the tests are clearly useless. Any legitimate practitioner should be willing to perform these tests in a double-blinded fashion.


Questionable Treatments for Chemical Sensitivities
Unfortunately, one of the largest sources of controversy about chemical sensitivity stems not from the condition itself, but rather from a particular therapy that has been widely used to treat chemically sensitive people. The therapy, called provocation/neutralization, attempts to desensitize people to food and chemical sensitivities in a way similar to that used by conventional allergists to desensitize people to common allergies such as dogs, cats, pollen and mold. (Desensitization is performed by injections under the skin. Neutralizations usually are performed by squirting substances from a syringe under the tongue.)

Although the two seem similar, the widely accepted validity of desensitization therapy in the treatment of conventional allergies cannot be used as grounds for asserting that neutralization therapy is an effective treatment for the chemically sensitive. The mechanisms by which conventional allergies and chemical sensitivities function are entirely different. Conventional allergies trigger an "IgE-mediated-response." When people with allergies to dogs, cats, pollen and mold have an allergic reaction, the reaction can be observed in the blood by a rise in immunoglobulin E. Chemical sensitivity reactions are not IgE mediated. Some other, as-yet unidentified, mechanism is at work.

In practice, neutralization therapy can be very expensive and appears not to work very well. In a survey [3] of 305 chemically sensitive people from 43 states conducted by DePaul University researchers in 1995, only 22% of those who had tried neutralizations for chemicals reported this treatment to be significantly helpful. (Neutralizations for foods scored even worse.) More troubling, 16% found the treatment harmful. At the same time, 93% reported being significantly helped by avoidance strategies. As a leader of MCS support groups in Chicago for five years, I knew of few people who found neutralizations to be significantly helpful. Some did find neutralization therapy useful in emergency situations. However, I knew of virtually no veteran members of our groups who continued to pursue this treatment on an ongoing basis.

Neutralization treatment is employed most widely by a group of doctors who describe themselves as clinical ecologists or specialists in environmental medicine. Unfortunately, neutralization therapy is the >em>primary mode of treatment used by many of these doctors in their approach to the management of chemical sensitivities.

Please note that, while the broad-scale effectiveness of neutralization is questionable, physicians specializing in the care of the chemically sensitive can be very helpful in providing basic education about chemical sensitivities, addressing secondary medical problems without exacerbating a patient's chemical sensitivities, and in offering testimony to disability review panels.

Other widely used treatments that scored particularly poorly in the DePaul survey of people with chemical sensitivities were dental amalgam removal (significantly helpful for only 28%), acupuncture (significantly helpful for 26%), colonics (significantly helpful for 24%, harmful for 13%), the anti-fungal drug nystatin (significantly helpful for 22%, harmful for 23%) and the anti-fungal drug nizoral (significantly helpful for 19%, harmful for 34%).


Resources for the Chemically Sensitive

A number of books, available in libraries, bookstores or through NEEDS [9] offer excellent information about managing chemical sensitivities. General books about dealing with the condition include:

An Alternative Approach to Allergies, by Theron Randolph, MD;

Coping with Your Allergies, by Natalie Golos;

Why Your House May Endanger Your Health, by Alfred Zamm, MD.

(Note: The first two books also cover food sensitivities.)

A book that lists alternative products to those which can be hazardous for the chemically sensitive is Less Toxic Living, by Carolyn Gorman, available from MCS Referral & Resources at 410/448-3319. Books listing a wider range of alternative products but not specifically written for the chemically sensitive include Nontoxic, Natural & Earthwise and The Nontoxic Home, both by Debra Lynn Dadd.

The word "allergy" in the titles of several of these books is used in its most generic sense as simply an atypical reaction to a substance. To avoid confusion with conventional, lgE-mediated allergies, the word "chemical sensitivity" was coined in the late 1980s.

Resource Groups
Contact one of the following organizations to locate chemical sensitivity support groups or obtain other resource information on MCS:

The National Center for Environmental Health Strategies

MCS Referral & Resources

Chemical Injury Information Network

You may also wish to contact Share, Care and Prayer, a national Christian-oriented support organization for people with MCS or CFIDS, at: PO Box 2080, Frazier Park CA 93225.

Let me offer whole-hearted encouragement along with a bit of advice about attending MCS support groups. The comradeship and practical suggestions I received from other people with chemical sensitivities made it vastly easier to carry out the changes needed to address my chemical sensitivities. Many of the best experts on managing chemical sensitivities (and some of the finest people I've ever met) can be found within these groups. Often, the best support can come from phone friends located through these groups.

However, I can guarantee that some people with CFIDS will be told by MCS members that all of their CFIDS symptoms are attributable to chemical sensitivity exposures. (I know because I used to believe this, too.) The old aphorism comes to mind: "when your best tool is a hammer, sometimes everything looks like a nail." Also, a few MCS support group members are infamous for scaring the bejeebers out of newcomers by implying that one is at great peril for disastrous consequences unless every scintilla of potential exposure is immediately eradicated from every corner of one's life.

Relax. Take one step at a time. The worst danger is to become overwhelmed and do nothing. Any avoidance regimen is ultimately trial and error. If you try something and it doesn't help, drop it and try something else.


Does Chemical Sensitivity Have Credibility?
Although still highly controversial in most quarters of the medical community, MCS has achieved a remarkable level of credibility and acceptance from a number of government, public health and research institutions. (A listing of specific citations and copies of all referenced research papers can be obtained from MCS Referral & Resources at 410/ 362-6400 for nominal fees.) 

Government Agencies
Multiple chemical sensitivity is formally recognized by the following U.S. government agencies as a legitimate disability entitling persons with MCS protection under specific laws enacted to safeguard the civil rights of the disabled:

The U.S. Department of justice in its enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act specifically includes "environmental illness (also known as multiple chemical sensitivity)" in its Final Rules on "Non-Discrimination on the Basis of Disability by Public Accommodation and in Commercial Facilities" (8CFR36).

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) specifically recognizes MCS as a disability granting those afflicted the full protection of federal fair housing laws for the disabled. 9 The U.S. Department of Education, in the enforcement by its Office of Civil Rights of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, requires accommodation of persons with "MCS Syndrome" as evidenced by several agency letters of finding.

Public Health Agencies
The booklet Indoor Air Pollution, An Introduction for Health Professionals states that "The current consensus is that in cases of claimed or suspected MCS, complaints should not be dismissed as psychogenic, and a thorough work-up is essential." This booklet is jointly published by the American Medical Association, the American Lung Association, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Current Research
Much of the current research into MCS is being performed by specialists in occupational medicine whose patients have developed chemical sensitivities as a result of chemical exposures in the workplace, and toxicologists, some of whom regard MCS as a subtle form of poisoning. A sampling of research published since 1992 includes papers focusing on the evaluation of MCS patients [1,3,4] prevalence assessments [5,6] and general research [7,8].

Until the cure comes, addressing chemical sensitivities may be one of PWCs' most productive and widely available avenues to significantly improved health.

The Taboo
The leader of a large CFIDS patient group in Chicago directly told me that the group was reluctant to even mention chemical sensitivity at their meetings or in their newsletter for fear of losing credibility among mainstream physicians whom they were courting. At several meetings of this group, some CFIDS people with chemical sensitivities had to stand in the hallway because a few of those attending came heavily perfumed.

The leader of this CFIDS group was asked several times to post a message in meeting announcements requesting that people not wear perfume or other scented products when attending meetings out of deference to those CFIDS members who were chemically sensitive. The request was declined. I was told that such a request would "infringe on the personal freedoms" of those attending and was therefore unacceptable.

The majority of CFIDS support groups I have attended have been understanding and supportive of those members who were chemically sensitive. However, in some quarters of the CFIDS community, chemically sensitive people are ostracized, as demonstrated by the above story.

However, the reluctance to even discuss the presence of chemical sensitivities creates real problems. One obvious problem is that there are undoubtedly a substantial number of CFIDS people with undiagnosed chemical sensitivities. The lives of these people are more miserable than necessary, in large part because most have never been told that those with CFIDS are highly likely to also be chemically sensitive, a condition which, once discovered, actually can be quite manageable with proper information.


As someone with CFIDS, I can report that managing my chemical sensitivities has not been a magic cure for the illness. I still experience such characteristic symptoms of CFIDS as disordered sleep, a limited ability to perform exercise, fatigue and periodic flu-like relapses of the illness.

However, by addressing my chemical sensitivities, the striking improvements I did experience have been a godsend. The extraordinary recovery of my cognitive functioning alone has been well worth the effort I put into managing my chemical sensitivities.

Until the cure comes, I believe that addressing chemical sensitivities may be one of the most productive and widely available avenues to significantly improved health on the part of many people with CFIDS.


1.  Buchwald D, Garrity D: Comparison of patients with chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia and multiple chemical sensitivities. Arch Intern Med 1994;154:2049-2053.

2.   LeRoy J, Davis T, Jason L: Treatment efficacy: A survey of 305 MCS patients. CFIDS Chronicle 1996;Winter:52-53.

3.   Meggs W, Cleveland, Jr C: Rhinolaryngoscopic examination of patients with multiple chemical sensitivity syndrome. Arch Environ Health 1993;48(l):14-18.

4.   Heuser G, Wojdani A, Heuser S: Diagnostic markers in chemical sensitivity in: Multiple Chemical Sensitivities: Addendum to Biological Markers in Immunotoxicology, Wash, DC: National Academy Press, 1992.

5.    Meggs W, Dunn K, Bloch R, Goodman P, Davidoff A: Prevalence and nature of allergy and chemical sensitivity in a general population. Arch Environ Health 1996;51(4):275-282.

6.    Kipen H, Hallman W, Kelly-McNeil K, Fiedler N: Measuring chemical sensitivity prevalence: A questionnaire for population studies. Am J Pub Health 1995;85(4):574-577.

7.    Bell I, Miller C, Schwartz G: An olfactory-limbic model of multiple chemical sensitivity syndrome: possible relationships to kindling and affective spectrum disorders. Biol Psychiat 1992;32:218-242.

8.    Miller C: Chemical sensitivity: history and phenomenology. J Toxicol Indust Health 1994;(4/5):253-276.

9.    The National Ecological and Environmental Delivery System (NEEDS) is an organization which sells air purifiers, nutritional supplements, books and other products of interest to the chemically sensitive. Free catalogs are available by calling 800-634-1380.


Essentials of Managing Chemical Sensitivities
The goal of this beginner's guide for addressing chemical sensitivities is to remove or sharply lower exposure to those items most likely to trigger reactions. After the total load of exposures has been reduced, individual reactions to other offending products or substances should start to become obvious. Once "unmasked," you can let your body be your guide in identifying precisely what to avoid, remembering that it will take some time to fully achieve this state. (Note: the numbers in parentheses below refer to the entries in the Alternative Products list at the end of this page.)

Ground Zero: Unequivocally eliminate the use of:

Pesticides, exterminators and lawn-care companies.

Perfume, cologne and any other scented products.

Air "fresheners," which are virtually all scented.

Cigarettes, and avoid exposure to second-hand smoke.

Paint, refinishers or new carpeting. Don't even think about these during your initial healing period.

Level 1: Use safer laundry and cleaning products free of such additives as ammonia, chlorine, formaldehyde, phenol, scents and sulfur compounds.

Wash clothes/bedding with a safe laundry soap (2).

Avoid fabric softeners, or at least use unscented ones.

Use safe dishwashing and all-purpose cleaners (3).

Avoid chlorine scouring powders (4).

Avoid common window, oven, floor and bathroom cleaners, which often contain a cornucopia of problematic chemical additives (5).

Level 2: Use safer personal care products, free of such additives as alcohol, formaldehyde, nitrates, plastic compounds, phenol and scents.

Use a safe shampoo (6).

Use a safe hair conditioner (7).

Use a safe soap (8).

Use a safe hair spray (9).

Be wary of any scented products, even "natural" ones.

Level 3: Create an "oasis" in your bedroom.

Remove all unnecessary clutter: boxes, papers, books, printed material, cosmetics, powders, etc.

If possible, remove carpeting since it tends to absorb and retain fumes previously present in the room.

Consider the use of barrier cloth (tightly woven cotton) to place over pillow cases and mattresses that may contain problematic materials (10).

Remove "suspicious" furniture: a dresser containing parts made of particle-board, a recently refinished chest, furniture that has been taken from storage which may be moldy or could have been pesticided.

If the room is heated by a gas-forced-air furnace, consider sealing the vent and heating the room with a metal electric space heater.

Use a window fan to air-out the room for five to 10 minutes a day, preferably just before bedtime.

Level 4: Create or Choose a Safer Home

Turn off your gas stove and use electric appliances. When acquiring furniture or appliances, consider buying used ones with chemical finishes which have already out-gassed.

When purchasing new home furnishings or appliances, consider doing so in the summer when windows can be opened for maximum ventilation.

Be careful about the use of plastics, particularly any plastic that could become heated. Hard plastics are preferable to soft because they out-gas less.

When looking for a new apartment, choose an older building with hardwood floors and which has not recently been pesticided or redecorated. Avoid apartments directly above a boiler, garage, laundry or smoker.

If your house is heated by gas-forced air, consider converting to a safer heating system such as a "closed combustion" gas furnace which vents heating by-products outside. The best tolerated heating system is usually hot water radiator heat, followed by steam radiator or electric heat.

Alternative Products

Note: Products and books are available from N.E.E.D.S. at 800-634-1380 unless otherwise noted. Some books may also be available or ordered through local bookstores or available at public libraries.

Consult the book Bug Busters [Bernice Lifton, 1991, Avery Communications Group, Inc., ISBN 0-89529-451-6] for alternatives to chemical pesticides.

Granny's Laundry Concentrate.

Granny's All-Purpose Cleaner.

Bon Ami, available widely

Consult the book Nontoxic, Natural & Earthwise by Debra Lynn Dadd.

Granny's Rich 'N Radiant shampoo.

Granny's Soft & Silky hair conditioner.

Kiss My Face pure olive oil soap or Simple Soap, both available at health food stores.

Consult the book Nontoxic, Natural & Earthwise for a homemade alternative.

Barrier cloth (tightly woven cotton) is available from Janice's at 800/JANICES.

The author wishes to thank the following people for their generous contributions to this article: Janet Dauble, Albert Donnay, Ann Jackson, Dr. Leonard Jason, Shirley Kaplan, Sarah LaBelle, Lynn Lawson, Susan Molloy, Christa Munson, Dr. Lawrence Plumlee and Dr. Grace Ziem.

Jim LeRoy was the coordinator for MCS support groups in Chicago for five years in the 1980s. Jim, a writer, lives with his wife Sarah LaBelle in Oak Park, Illinois.

This article was originally published in The CFIDS Chronicle, 10(2):45-51, Spring 1997.

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Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS): What It Is, What It Is Not, And How It Is Manifested.

Unscented Products for MCS

Additional Books on MCS

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