Study could not confirm link between mental illness and chemical sensitivity

For several years the Swedish Prof. Dr. Eva Millqvist researched the disease of hyperreactivity of the respiratory tract and the environmental condition of Chemical Sensitivity (MCS). She specializes in the range of responses to respiratory irritants.

Sick from odors and fragrances

Patients with respiratory symptoms which are triggered by chemicals and odors, are commonly found in allergy clinics. According to Millqvist and her team, these health problems are not explained by asthma or allergic reactions.

German patients frequently report that after they report reactions to chemicals or odors to their allergist, the prospect of seeing a psychologist has been recommended. Whether or not this recommendation is actually appropriate for these patients, it is precisely what this new study from Sweden addresses.

Studies showed reactions

Millqvist’s previous studies have shown that MCS patients often have an increased sensitivity to inhaled capsaicin. This ingredient of chili is famous sensory reactivity. A diagnosis of sensory hyperreactivity of the airways (SHR) is proposed for these kinds of complaints.

In a recent study this renowned scientist and two colleagues, sought to discover whether there is a relationship between asthma and sensory hyperreactivity (SHR). In addition, the research team wanted to investigate whether patients with signs of SHR had increased psychiatric morbidity (anxiety, depression, etc.).

Patients were subjected to tests and questionnaires

The researchers took 724 patients with suspected allergies or asthma from an asthma center. All patients had a questionnaire regarding reactions and behavioral disorders caused by fragrant substances.

A standardized Capsaicin test was carried out and then a questionnaire was given to assess psychiatric morbidity in patients with severe chemical sensitivity to identify those who suffer from SHR.

No evidence of depression or anxiety

Only about 6% of the asthma patients from the allergy center, who participated in the study, had sensory hyperreactivity (SHR). Millqvist and her colleagues stated that this is in consistent with the prevalence in the general Swedish population. There was no significant evidence that SHR is consistent with anxiety or is related to depression.

Patients should insist on precise diagnostic evaluation

The study appeared in the July 2010 issue of the medical journal “Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.” Those patients who respond to chemicals and odors with hyperreactive respiratory symptoms should perhaps seek an experienced environmental medicine professional if their allergist makes a reference to the possibility of a mental illness.

Author: Silvia K. Müller, CSN – Chemical Sensitivity Network, 2. September 2010.

Translation: Thank’s to Christi Howarth.


Johansson A, Millqvist E, Bende M., Relationship of airway sensory hyperreactivity to asthma and psychiatric morbidity, Department of Respiratory Medicine, Central Hospital, Skövde, Sweden, Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2010 Jul; 105(1):20-3.

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