Tick-Borne Diseases & Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS)

Exposure to chemicals affects people in different ways. Some substances cause no adverse effects, while others can be utterly toxic to humans – even in small amounts. 

Typically, these more dangerous chemicals are blatantly marked. People are made aware to avoid them altogether or to wear protective gear if avoidance isn’t possible. However, when a person is more sensitive to chemical exposure, it can be challenging to come into contact with even mild and non-toxic chemicals. 

Intolerance to certain chemicals is usually marked by accompanying symptoms such as a skin rash or other allergy-type signs. However, some cases of low-level chemical exposure can cause a person to experience multiple symptoms. When that happens, it is referred to as multiple chemical sensitivity disease (MCS). But what exactly is MCS, and what connection does it have with tick-borne diseases?  

What Is Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Disease (MCS)?

Multiple chemical sensitivity disease is a syndrome that causes an array of symptoms when a person is exposed to chemicals at a low level. The syndrome is often called environmental illness, sick building syndrome or idiopathic environmental intolerance. The chemical exposure can be so low that most people feel no ill effects. Still, someone with MCS experiences a range of adverse effects.  

The myriad of symptoms that develop in a person with the syndrome is wide-ranging and non-specific. That means the symptoms cannot be seen but only reported by the person experiencing them. For example, fatigue or chronic pain that isn’t caused by an apparent injury is deemed non-specific. 

Image by CDC on Unsplash: Can Lyme cause MCS? 

What Are The Symptoms Of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity? 

The symptoms associated with MCS can range significantly, and people may not experience all the symptoms at once. The signs that develop differ depending on the person. Some of the common symptoms associated with MCS include: 

  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea 
  • Congestion
  • Itching
  • Sneezing
  • Sore throat
  • Chest pain
  • Heart rhythm changes
  • Issues with breathing
  • Muscle stiffness or pain
  • Skin rash 
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea, bloating or gas 
  • Confusion 
  • Memory issues 
  • Changes in mood
  • Trouble concentrating

These symptoms tend to present with a variety of other disorders as well, so it can be difficult to tell whether they are caused by chemical exposure or by something else entirely. 

What Causes Multiple Chemical Sensitivity? 

The leading cause of MCS is low-level exposure to chemicals. High exposure to chemicals is well-known to cause people to fall ill or exacerbate existing health disorders. 

Determining why some people experience adverse effects from low-level exposure is challenging for medical professionals. Research has not yet found a definitive answer as to why certain people experience these symptoms while others do not. 

One theory surrounding the cause has to do with the immune system. It is thought that low-level exposure may set off an immune response similar to what occurs in people with allergies. It’s also believed that extreme smell sensitivity may set off symptoms, and that people sensitive to smells may physiologically react to chemical exposure by developing symptoms. Pre-existing health conditions such as depression or anxiety may also contribute to MCS. 

Other possible causes include: 

  • Significant exposure to chemicals, such as being subject to a chemical spill 
  • Low-level exposure continues at a steady pace over a long period 
Image by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash: Tick-Borne Diseases & MCS: is there a connection?

How Lyme Disease Can Lead To MCS

Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses are contracted by infected ticks. They can also cause a myriad of symptoms depending on the person. People with these types of bacterial infections can experience mild to moderate to severe symptoms, depending on how long they go untreated and how the bacteria respond to treatment. 

In terms of MCS, some people with a current Lyme disease infection are far more susceptible to developing MCS than those without it. MCS is one of the most common secondary syndromes or illnesses to develop alongside Lyme disease. 

The reason why Lyme disease plays a prominent role in the development of MCS is because of the way it affects the body. Lyme disease causes a lot of stress to the nervous system and the rest of the body. It negatively affects the brain, causing neural circuits to misfire. The tick-borne illness can also affect how the autonomic functions of the brain stem perform. These changes to the brain cause it to remain on alert, and when that happens, the brain sends unnecessary alarms to glands that produce hormones to cope with the stress. 

One particular area of the brain, the H-P-A axis, tends to remain hyperactive in people with Lyme disease. When this axis is hyperactive, normally unharmful substances in the environment are mistaken for pathogens or substances designed to cause the body harm. The brain produces histamine in response to the chemicals and, thus, causes symptoms. 

How Do You Get Rid Of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity? 

There is no cure for MCS, so getting rid of it can be challenging. The best things a person can do to cope with MCS are: 

  • Avoid chemical exposure wherever possible 
  • Boost the action of the immune system 
  • Eat a healthy diet that doesn’t encourage histamine production 
  • Use an air purifier where possible 

Research regarding MCS is ongoing to determine better possible treatments and other ways to cope with the syndrome. 

Featured image by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

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