New Leaflet: Sensitivities, Intolerances, and Hypersensitivities in ME/CFS

October 21, 2021


This leaflet provides information and practical self-help management tips on how to cope with most of the common sensitivities, intolerances, and hypersensitivities that can affect people with ME/CFS.

Many people will develop a sensitivity, or a hypersensitivity to one or more things as part of the onset of ME/CFS or as the illness becomes chronic and/or severe. For some, increased sensitivities to noise, smells, light, touch, etc. are among the most challenging symptoms to manage.

The terms sensitivity and intolerance are to some extent overlapping whereas hypersensitivity implies a far more severe problem. Common sensitivities experienced by people with ME/CFS – particularly when they are severely or very severely affected – might also involve alcohol, chemicals, smells, drugs, food, pain, and temperature.

Topics featured in this leaflet include:

  • Alcohol, Chemicals, smells and multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS), Drugs, Foods, Light, Noise, Pain, Temperature regulation, and Touch.
  • Coeliac disease, Hay Fever, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Lactose intolerance.
  • Feedback and tips from the patient community.
Sensitivities, Intolerances, and Hypersensitivities in ME/CFS

Although the cause remains uncertain, and probably differs between  sensitivities, one possible explanation is that a viral infection, or whatever immune system stressor triggered ME/CFS in the first place, resets those control centres and chemical transmitter systems in the brain that are responsible for how we recognise and then react to things like alcohol and chemicals.

In addition, and with some sensitivities, there may be a problem in the way the peripheral nervous system transmits information about pain, touch, noise, light, temperature, etc. from the body back to the brain.

And while there is patient and some research evidence to indicate that various types of allergic disease are more common in people with ME/CFS, possibly as a result of the immune system dysfunction that might be present, the sensitivity problems discussed in this leaflet are not being caused by immune-mediated allergic reactions.

Unfortunately, apart from avoiding or minimising the impact of any known trigger factors, there is no simple solution to any of these problems. And drug treatments are not usually the answer.

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