Table of Contents
ISRN Public Health
Volume 2012, Article ID 285623, 6 pages
Research Article

Living with a Chemically Sensitive Wife: A “We” Situation

Department of Dermato-Allergology, The Danish Research Centre for Chemical Sensitivities, Copenhagen University Hospital Gentofte, 2900 Copenhagen, Denmark

Received 17 August 2012; Accepted 27 September 2012

Academic Editors: C. Banwell, E. Clays, A. Slep, and R. Spiewak

Copyright © 2012 K. Hutton Carlsen et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Objectives. Multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) is a medically unexplained and socially disabling disorder characterized by negative health effects attributed to exposure to common airborne chemicals. How spouses of chemically sensitive women experience and cope with their partners illness has not been described previously. Methods. This study presents data from three semistructured focus group interviews with a selective sample of 13 men whose spouses had MCS. Data was analyzed using systematic text condensation with a special focus on coping. Results. The informants expressed a great concern for their wives and described their role in the relationship as that of a “watchdog”, always alert and ready to protect. A considerable amount of time and effort was thus given to avoid symptom-eliciting chemicals to prevent illness. Informing guests of restrictions and observing neighbours’ daily routines were common occurrences. Masks, installation of additional air filters in cars and houses, and other protective measures had necessitated several participants taking on extra work to alleviate the economic burden. The wives' illness had thus become a “we” situation. Discussion. In conclusion, MCS was perceived as a “we” situation and may thus impose considerable strain on the relationship and the family as a whole.