Olfaction and symptoms in the multiple chemical sensitivities syndrome
Air Pollution, Indoor
Whereas most idiosyncratic environmental sensitivity complaints do not fit known diagnoses, the multiple chemical sensitivities syndrome (MCS) is an extreme presentation that has defined diagnostic criteria. MCS symptomatics claim that they acquired a sensitized state as the result of a chemical exposure, usually to a solvent or pesticide, but not to a fragrance. Before this exposure, they did not experience symptoms. Following sensitization, symptoms increasing in number and severity with time are attributed by the MCS symptomatic to various exposures that are innocuous to most individuals. Although phenomenological studies have provided no evidence that particular odors elicit MCS symptoms, low levels of fragrances and perfumes are frequently associated with the reporting of MCS symptoms. This evaluation examines proposed mechanisms by which odorants and fragrances might cause either sensitization or elicitation of MCS symptoms, including altered odor sensitivity, primary irritancy or irritancy-induced upper airway reactivity, neurogenic switching of trigeminal irritancy signals, time-dependent sensitization and limbic kindling, CNS toxicity, and various psychiatric conditions. In no case was there persuasive evidence that any olfactory mechanism involving fragrance underlies either induction of a sensitized state or the triggering of MCS symptoms. Fragrances and other odorants could, however, be associated with symptoms as claimed by MCS symptomatics, because they are recognizable stimuli, but fragrance has not been demonstrated to be causal in the usual sense.