MCAS & Research on Chemical Exposure

For too many years, medical doctors have questioned patients with symptoms and reactions from chemicals. I’ve had a doctor tell me that it must be in my head! But I knew that I was having breathing difficulties, rashes, or headaches from being around chemicals.

These chemicals could be Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) such as paint, aerosol spray, off gassing from wood floors and even nail polish remover. Or other chemicals such as pesticides, cigarette smoke and perfumes can also elicit a reaction in sensitive patients like me.

New research, recently published in December 2021, from researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio as well as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the AIM Center for Personalized Medicine, supports Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS) as an underlying mechanism for chemical intolerance. You can answer 3 questions as part of the Brief Environmental Exposure and Sensitivity Inventory (BREESI) to determine your level of intolerance.

If you’d like to read the full research report, you can do so here. You will notice a familiar name in the MCAS community on the research – Dr. Lawrence B. Afrin.

For those of us with chemical sensitivity, this research isn’t surprising at all! For too many medical doctors, it will take even more explanations as to what MCAS is and how chemicals can affect us. This isn’t an IgE allergy, but there are now questions that can be asked and answered to determine if you have a chemical intolerance. And this research is a starting point for a conversation to educate the medical community, and also our families, friends, schools and workplaces of the seriousness of reactions to chemicals.

This chemical sensitivity has kept me working out of my home since I got diagnosed with MCAS. My senses are assaulted in too many office places with the smell of cleaning solvents, perfumes and the pesticides sprayed to get rid of bugs. And the conversations that I’ve had with people have more commonly ended with them saying that I’m just too sensitive to my environment.

My husband lovingly says that I have the nose of dog – I can sniff out someone who has been smoking, or is wearing cologne from across the room! I have had to move away from someone wearing perfume if they sit next to me because my eyes start watering and I feel like my chest is tight making it difficult to breathe.

In our home, we no longer use any harsh cleaning chemicals. I found myself gagging too many times with the smell of 409 or Windex. The brand Better Life has been a great find for every type of cleaning product with natural ingredients. (They aren’t paying me to say that – I’ve just found that they are the best and they work!)

For a year or so, I colored my hair, but soon developed an allergy to the hair dye. My scalp began to burn when my hairdresser applied the color, and I decided to call it quits. After that, I also decided to no longer paint my fingernails or toe nails, wanting to keep anything chemically based away from my body to help it heal and not to be triggered.

A few years ago, I wrote about my daughter, Michaela, and the issues she was experiencing with chemical exposures in this blog post. She has had to continue to stay away from swimming because of the chlorine. I love to swim, but I too was disliking the chlorine exposure at the pools in our area, mainly because of skin rashes I was getting. I found an athletic club with a pool that uses an ozonator to filter the water, and a VERY minimal amount of chlorine. So little, in fact, that you can’t smell chlorine when you walk into the pool area. It has been so wonderful to be able to swim and to not get a rash from the chemicals!

I’ve also had to be very careful of the makeup, lotions, and anything else that I apply to my skin or hair to make sure that there are no fragrances and minimal chemicals in their ingredients. Once I find a product that works, I stick with it for years!

There is so much more research that needs to be done on MCAS and the range of triggers. We sensitive ones are like canaries in the coalmine, however all of this chemical exposure isn’t good for anyone. But for those of us with sensitive systems, it can literally be life threatening!