Can Hypnosis Be Used in the Treatment of Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS)?

MCS, also known as Multiple Chemical Sensitivity or chemical hypersensitivity, is an acquired illness wherein a person becomes extremely sensitive to very small concentrations of chemicals in their everyday environment.

People with MCS can be sensitive to a variety of chemical substances but some of the most common are fragrances, cigarette smoke (even third hand smoke from a smoker’s clothes), chemicals from typical cleaning products, and chemicals present in air “fresheners.”

The tiny concentrations of these chemical substances usually go unnoticed by a healthy individual. However, for someone who has MCS, even the smallest exposure can lead to incapacitating symptoms. Common symptoms can include but are not limited to headaches, dizziness, nausea, malaise, fatigue, weakness, insomnia, confusion, trouble concentrating, breathing difficulties, asthma, widespread pain, irritability, depression, and seizures. MCS is a serious condition and is considered a disability. According to the Canadian Human Rights Commission, persons with environmental sensitivities (such as MCS) are entitled to protection by the Canadian Human Rights Act that prevents discrimination of persons with disabilities. (1,2,3)

MCS is more common that the average person may realize. Large population studies report that between 3% and 6% of Canadians and Americans have been diagnosed with MCS by a medical doctor. (3,4,5,6). The true prevalence of MCS and other related environmental illnesses is likely much higher, as most affected people go undiagnosed since there is an absence of awareness amongst the general public, and even within the medical community.

Also, the number of doctors trained in the diagnosis and treatment of MCS and other environmental illnesses is extremely small, and the wait times in Canada for medical attention is long (up to 1.5 years).

While MCS is an extreme form of chemical sensitivity, population studies show that around 30% of North Americans appear to have some form of sensitivity to chemicals. Specifically, they report that 30% of Canadians and Americans say they have adverse reactions to fragranced products; 17-19% of the Americans surveyed reported experiencing breathing difficulties and other health related problems when exposed to air fresheners; 10% reported irritation to scented laundry products. (4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11). Research has also shown a significant overlap between chemical sensitivities and asthma, with many fragranced products triggering asthma symptoms. (12,13)

How Can Hypnosis Help?

Research has suggested that the neural pathways in the brain and nervous system responsible for chronic pain and abnormal pain may be similar to those involved with the sensitization to chemicals that leads to chemical hypersensitivity (MCS). Research has also shown that the activity within the brain associated with pain perception is highly modifiable by interventions such as hypnosis, therefore it has been suggested that hypnosis may also be effective at modifying symptoms of chemical sensitivity.(14)

In my own practice where I treat MCS patients, I have already seen the benefits of hypnosis in reducing the frequency and severity of symptoms related to MCS.

I highly encourage the exploration of using hypnosis as part of the treatment strategy in helping people with MCS recover and lead normal lives.

Remember to make your office and home space safe and comfortable for everyone by avoiding the use of fragrances and fragranced products. Using options labelled “fragrance free” is always best. Below is a list of products that contain fragrances and harmful chemicals that can seriously affect persons with MCS and should be avoided or substituted with non-toxic, Fragrance-Free versions: Perfume and Cologne; Aftershave; Shampoos and Conditioners; Deodorant; Hairsprays and Gel; Lotions and Creams; Soap and Body Wash; Laundry Detergent; Cosmetics; Air Fresheners and Deodorizers; Potpourri, Essential Oils, Incense, Candles; Industrial and Household Cleaners.


1. Disability and human rights (brochure). (n.d.). Ontario Human Rights Commission. Retrieved from http://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/disability-and-human-rights-brochure on August 19, 2013.
2. Guide for Assessing Persons with disabilities. Public Service Commission of Canada. Retrieved fromhttp://www.psc-cfp.gc.ca/plcy-pltq/guides/assessment-evaluation/apwd-eph/ch8-9-eng.htm on August 19, 2013.
3. Sears, M. E. (2007). The Medical Perspective on Environmental Sensitivities. Canadian Human Rights Commission.
4. Park, J., & Knudson, S. (2007). Medically unexplained physical symptoms. Statistics Canada, pdf availble from: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-003-x/2006001/article/sympt/82-003-x2006002-eng.pdf
5. Statistics Canada. (2006). Findings from the 2005 National Survey of the Work and Health of Nurses. Statistics Canada . 11-12-2006. http://www.statcan.ca/english/freepub/83-003-XIE/83-003-XIE2006001.pdfavailable from http://www.statcan.ca/cgi-bin/downpub/listpub.cgi?catno=83-003-XIE2006001
6. Statistics Canada, Health Statistics Division. (2006). How healthy are Canadians? Health Reports – Supplement to Volume 16 catalogue no. 820003-XPE. Canadian Institute for Health Information. Health Reports. http://dsp-psd.pwgsc.gc.ca/Collection/Statcan/82-003-S/82-003-SIE2005000.pdf
7. Caress, Stanley M, & Steinemann, A. C. (2003). A review of a two-phase population study of multiple chemical sensitivities. Environmental health perspectives, 111(12), 1490–1497.
8. Caress, Stanley M, & Steinemann, A. C. (2004a). A national population study of the prevalence of multiple chemical sensitivity. Archives of environmental health, 59(6), 300–305.
9. Caress, Stanley M, & Steinemann, A. C. (2004b). Prevalence of multiple chemical sensitivities: a population-based study in the southeastern U.S. American journal of public health, 94(5), 746–747.
10. Caress, Stanley M, & Steinemann, A. C. (2004c). Prevalence of multiple chemical sensitivities: a population-based study in the southeastern U.S. American journal of public health, 94(5), 746–747.
11. Caress, Stanley M, & Steinemann, A. C. (2009). Prevalence of fragrance sensitivity in the American population. Journal of environmental health, 71(7), 46–50.
12. Caress, S M, & Steinemann, A. C. (2009). Asthma and chemical hypersensitivity: prevalence, etiology, and age of onset. Toxicology and industrial health, 25(1), 71–78.

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