Multiple chemical sensitivity
|Household cleaning products make life a misery for those with MCS|
For most people, their home is a sanctuary, a place to retreat to at the end of a busy day. But for those with multiple chemical sensitivity, 'home sweet home', becomes a toxic hell.
Inside Out meets two women with multiple chemical sensitivity or MCS, to discover how allergies and intolerances have affected their daily lives.
Catherine Hislop has multiple chemical sensitivity.
So debilitating are her allergies, Catherine has been unable to work for the last 10 years.
"The eyes sting, then underneath the eyes is all swollen up," she explains.
|Catherine's allergies have left her unable to work for 10 years|
"It's like your throat is closing up and when that happens you can't breathe properly."
It took seven years for Catherine to discover that household cleaning products were the route of her allergy.
If Catherine comes into contact with any chemicals she is intolerant to she suffers a violent allergic reaction including stomach cramps, diarrhoea and skin rashes.
The secret ingredient
Melanie Garnham also has MCS, and has been able to pinpoint the precise chemical she is allergic to - formaldehyde.
This chemical is present in many household products including deodorant, mouthwash, air-freshener and many other cleaning solutions.
|"If I put something on my hands they would come up very red and they would eventually blister and weep."|
To add to the confusion, formaldehyde can be listed on bottles under one of five different names.
"The trouble I have is it will say 'ingredients contain preservatives', but it doesn't list what they are," explains Melanie.
In spite of her allergy, Melanie is still able to work, although as a midwife, she admits her heart sinks when a product is changed at work.
"If I put something on my hands they would come up very red and they would eventually blister and weep," she says.
All in the mind?
Despite being a recognised illness, both women have experienced difficulties convincing doctors that everyday products are causing the reaction.
|"There are a number of people in the medical profession who would argue that it doesn't actually exist."|
|Dr Andy Jones, lecturer in Environmental Sciences|
"I was just told it's a contact dermatitis - a professional hazard because I wear rubber gloves and wash my hands a lot at work," says Melanie.
Dr Andy Jones, a lecturer in Environmental Sciences, explains: "Multiple chemical sensitivity is a very contentious issue.
"There are a number of people in the medical profession who would argue that it doesn't actually exist."
Dr Damien Downing is one of only a handful of doctors in the UK who treats patients with MCS.
At his private clinic in Whelby, Essex, Dr Downing dismisses claims it is a psychological illness rather than a physical one.
"It's a clear physical based illness," he says.
"It's in the brain certainly, but it's also in every other cell in the body besides - it's very real.
"I've seen people who are effectively housebound and even bedbound by it."
|Dr Damien Downing treats patients with MCS|
Catherine and Melanie are one of a growing number of people with allergies to household products and toiletries.
The increase, suggests Dr Downing, stems from the infinite number of chemical combinations found in products.
"I think it comes from over-exposure to things we weren't designed for," he suggests.
"Chemical companies produce four million registered chemicals and we never know what we're exposed to at any one time."
Cleaning with the enemy
The British Allergy Foundation has set up Allergy UK to provide support and information to people with chemical allergies.
"People call us when they're at their wits end, they don't know what's affecting them," explains Lindsey McManus of Allergy UK.
"When we get talking they realise it's the everyday things we use."
Those with chemical allergies do not just endure the physical discomfort of an allergic reaction, but often, unable to get help from their GP or even identify the product they are reacting to, suffer great psychological strain as well.
|Top tips for allergy free cleaning|
Place one teaspoon baking powder soda in a spray bottle and add to it two tablespoons of white vinegar and two cups of clean water. After the foaming has stopped replace the spray top and shake well.
Wipe down the affected area with a solution of half vinegar and half water to keep ants at bay.
To remove sediment stains from bottles, jars and vases. Half fill with white vinegar and shake well. Leave for a few minutes, and then wash in the normal way.
Burnt pots and pans
Cover the burnt area with equal quantities of water and vinegar. Bring to the boil, remove from heat and soak overnight.
Windows, mirrors, and glass
To clean glass add two tablespoons of vinegar to a small bucket of warm water. To finish off, buff the surface with a clean dry cloth.
Add one cup of vinegar to five litres of water. Clean the carpet with a soft brush dipped in the solution. In case the carpet colours are not fast; always test on an inconspicuous area of the carpet before using.
Soak the sponge in one tablespoon of vinegar mixed with 570 ml (20 fluid ounces) of water for one hour. Rinse thoroughly afterwards.
Boil 200ml (8floz) of vinegar and pour directly into the drain. Leave for ten minutes before using the drain.
Smells can be difficult to remove from the microwave oven, particularly fish. Try heating a quarter cup of vinegar diluted with one cup of water in the microwave.
Source and full list available at: Allergy UK
Judith May of Allergy UK has worked with patients who have become so desperate they have been prescribed anti-depressants.
Some were threatened with the prospect of being struck-off surgeries for becoming a nuisance and one became so desperate, they contemplated suicide.
Good old days
When it comes to cleaning without suffering a reaction, Lindsey insists that 'grandmother knows best'.
"The old fashioned ways - hot water, borax, bicarb', white vinegar - you'll get things clean, but they won't give off nasty chemicals," she says.
Whilst Allergy UK provides advice on alternative cleaning products, Melanie has found a solution that even those who don't have MCS may find agreeable.
Daughters Hannah and Sally undertake all the household chores.
"The girls don't get cross, they're patient with me, they do understand," says Melanie.
However Catherine worries that her allergies are a great burden to her children.
"Over the years I've had stages where I've been very ill, not even been able to get out of bed. They've had to grow up very quick," she says.
The need to act
The manufacturers of chemical cleaning products were invited to contribute, but were unable to provide a qualified spokesperson to pass comment.
This doesn't come as a surprise to Dr Downing who says, "I find it hard to know what they'd say that would appear constructive, because as far as I'm aware, no steps are being taken to protect the consumer.
"They will have to take note sooner or later because the problem is getting bigger and bigger."