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By Daniel J. Vance

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences website defines “multiple chemical sensitivities syndrome (MCSS)” as a “chronic, recurring disease caused by a person's inability to tolerate an environmental chemical or class of foreign chemicals.”

Greg Erickson, 52, of St. Cloud, Minn., has been struggling with MCSS for more than 15 years. “In 1990, I was teaching at Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri,” he said in a telephone interview. “My landlord decided to spray my place for bugs. He must have used more pesticide than needed because the fumes came swarming up my vents. Soon I was in the hospital with a swollen tongue and throat and other symptoms.”

He learned to cope with the symptoms, and in time they improved.

Then in 1999, the people owning the building where he worked installed new carpeting. “I started having problems with itching scalp, tongue tingling, and burning eyes and ears. I went home early that Friday. Over the weekend I realized the symptoms were similar to what I'd had with the pesticide.”

So he never returned to that job. Over the next month he began noticing that his body suddenly was reacting very negatively to exhaust fumes and fragrances. And he soon had to quit smoking cigarettes because it made his throat close.

“It's hard explaining to people that what I have isn't an allergy,” he said. “Though my family has been very supportive, I have lost some friendships over this. For people thinking that my not working and staying at home sounds fun, they need to know I can't go too many places. I would rather be working.”

He and his fiancée live in a fragrance-free home. They wear clothing made only from natural fibers because polyester, for example, which originates from petroleum, causes his throat to swell. He rarely goes outside and must take antihistamines every day.

“I'm able to do things on occasion to make my life seem normal,” he said. “A couple years ago I saw a Paul McCartney concert, but I paid for it for a few weeks in terms of body aches and swollen throat. Thankfully, I wasn't sitting next to someone wearing perfume.”

Erickson strongly believes his symptoms have their origin in chemical poisoning.

“This isn't what I thought life was going to be like,” he said. “But it is what it is, and I deal with it.”

For more, see danieljvance.com or health.nih.gov. [This column made possible by a grant from Blue Valley Sod, www.bluevalleysod.com]