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Multiple Chemical Sensitivity

“Ann” is fifty-seven years old, lives in central Missouri and prefers remaining anonymous. She has multiple chemical sensitivity syndrome (MCSS), which the National Institute of Environmental Health Science defines as a "chronic, recurring disease caused by a person's inability to tolerate an environmental chemical or class of foreign chemicals."

“I started noticing symptoms at age thirty-nine,” said Ann in a telephone interview. “We were moving into a new home and had our house sprayed for termites. I started having headaches, was unable to think straight and began feeling tired. It was so frustrating because I couldn't understand what was going on.” Within the year she also began having muscle spasms.

Almost simultaneously, her twelve-year-old son had a traumatic brain injury from an automobile accident and, as is common in such cases, began having anger management problems. Ann and her husband over time had to have their son admitted to an institution because he “lost all ability to control his behavior.”

Due to all their stress, she and her husband took a European vacation and while there she had a violent allergic reaction to eating certain seafood.

She said, “After I came home (from Europe) my life fell apart. I lost a ton of weight. Suddenly I was allergic to everything. I couldn't even read a book because of reacting to the print. I felt allergic to the world. Then a friend saw a person on a television show talking about environmental illness. That's when I realized what I had.”

By then, her liver and kidneys had “just about shut down,” her face was turning purple, and she couldn't keep liquids down.

After thoroughly researching MCSS, she believed her only solution was moving to the “wilderness,” which in her case meant rural Missouri, away from man-made chemicals. Her husband built a chemical-free home there, and she began wearing chemical-free clothing and eating organic foods.

“My quality of life now is a hundred times better,” she said.

Relatives have called her a hypochondriac. Once a relative deliberately tried testing her by secretly spraying disinfectant in a room. Ann had a bad reaction, and “that night I had to sleep in the car,” she said.

She doesn't understand why certain chemicals make her ill, but they do. She added, “If you are going to survive this, you have to be a fighter.”

Sponsored by Blue Valley Sod.

Daniel J. Vance is a licensed professional counselor and national certified counselor from Vernon Center, Minn. His weekly newspaper column Disabilities has been published in more than 260 newspapers.

Daniel J. Vance may be reached at

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