Mystery of condition revealed

By Tara Whitsed

By Tara Whitsed

It’s a term many have never heard of.

And although the condition has been prevalent throughout my entire life, I had not heard of multiple chemical sensitivity until this week either.

But watching an SBS The Feed video which appeared on my social media on Tuesday was a lightbulb moment when I learned my mother, who suffers from the condition, was not alone.

My entire life has been shaped by her inability to go anywhere near a chemical-based odour.

Imagine you could not smell someone’s perfume without getting a splitting headache and tasting the scent on your tongue for the rest of the week.

Imagine walking into a room where air freshener had been sprayed and feeling like you need to vomit.

Whether it was taking a wide berth around a store filled with scented candles or going out into the backyard to apply my aerosol deodorant, I can always remember my mum being intolerant to ‘heady’ smells.

When going to hotels with my mum we would hunt around the room looking for the disguised air freshener that was guaranteed to be there.

All of our cleaning, beauty and household products were scent-free and to be honest I used to think it was because she was completely bonkers.

I felt guilty this week when I learned she was not the only one with MCS to be treated as if they’ve completely lost their marbles.

Chatting to sufferer and Australian author Kate Grenville, SBS journalist Simon Cunich unpacked the condition which he said affected one million Australians but was dismissed by doctors.

While symptoms can clearly differ from individual to individual, it seems like my mum and Grenville are more tolerant of chemical-based smells than other MCS sufferers.

For some, according to the article, a mere spray of air freshener can induce a seizure.

Sufferer Michellina Van Loder spoke to The Feed about her experiences with the condition which has virtually left her housebound.

Ms Van Loder spoke about the debilitating condition which has caused her to only be able to leave the house with an oxygen mask.

And here in lies the huge problem with MCS — the difficulty in getting doctors to diagnose it, coupled with the basically impossible task of trying to avoid chemical-based smells.

I know my mum has consistently requested her colleagues not burn scented candles in the office, to no avail.

She has requested the cleaning staff use environmentally friendly products and had no luck.

She certainly can’t tell someone with stinky perfume to not speak to her and she simply cannot avoid smells that leave her with a burning headache on a daily basis.

While there are the likes of Professor Anne Steinemann who has researched MCS for the past 25 years, there is simply no awareness within the medical community and further afield which means so many Aussies are being gripped by the difficulties of living with the condition without support or treatment.

It is only the beginning of pulling the veritable thread of MCS but I can feel it will unravel in the future so that young Australians do not have to experience life the way my mum has had to.

The SBS The Feed article can be viewed on its website.

Tara Whitsed is a News journalist.