If you have fibromyalgia (FMS) or chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), you know that a lot of things started bugging you after you got sick. Bright lights, noise, crowds, clothing tags, waistbands, textures, fragrances, foods ... it seems that just about anything can rattle your nerves or stir up your symptoms, and all of it is aggravating.
So why does so much stuff bug us? Two words: central sensitization. Let's take a closer look at the second word first.
A key aspect of both FMS and ME/CFS is that our bodies are overly sensitive to, well, pretty much everything. It's not that we're emotionally over sensitive -- it's a physiological thing.
Medically speaking, the word sensitivity is most often used when talking about allergies. When allergies form, it's because something in the immune system malfunctions and begins reacting inappropriately to a substance. The immune system has been "sensitized" to the substance.
In non-allergy situations, it's essentially the same but in a different system of the body. And that takes us to the first word above....
What Does "Central" Mean?
In this case, "central" means "central nervous system," or CNS. The CNS is made up of your brain, spinal cord, and nerves of the spinal cord. In FMS and ME/CFS, the entire nervous system becomes sensitized. To what? Anything unpleasant.
The medical term for those unpleasant things is "noxious stimuli." It can be a bad smell, pain, bright light, anything. Because our bodies are sensitized, they react more strongly than most people's. That means lights are too bright for us when they're just fine for other people. Same goes for noise, visual chaos, heat, cold, pressure on the skin, etc. Our nerves over-react to the things around us, and our brains basically throw a little hissy fit when they get the signals, and that makes it all the worse.
What environmental things really bug you? Does it seem like everything does? What have you done to cope with all these irritants? Leave your comments below!
New from the Glossary
Photo © Tom Fullum/Getty Images