Environmental Factors

I have recently participated in a study looking at environmental factors that could determine whether someone would be susceptible to getting ms.

It was mainly looking at smoking. I do not smoke but have been bought up with smoking in the house.

I am interested in your points of view on this and what other environmental factors do you feel could be a trigger.

I am unsure of the smoking thing myself but also think possibilities are

  1. Stress

  2. allergies (in my case - dogs and cats)

I found it very interesting!

Teresa. x

Hi Teresa,

I have always assumed that by “environmental factors”, they were talking about, primarily: infections.

It has to be an infection, or infections, that are quite common “in the wild”, as if it was rare, we wouldn’t see so many people with MS. But it must also be something that does NOT have serious health implications for most people who come into contact with it - otherwise we’d be able to trace it easily!

So in short, it has to be something lots of people get, but not many have long-term complications.

I think smoking is one of the very few environmental factors that has been shown to influence both risk of MS, and its subsequent progression. But having said that, I’ve never been a smoker, and never been exposed to significant cigarette smoke as a child, or at any period in my life. So if smoking (active or passive) is a cause, it certainly can’t be the only one, because plenty of MSers can’t tick the box.

The same with allergies. Millions suffer from allergies. Only a tiny fraction go on to get MS. Also people with NO reported allergies still get MS.

So it can’t be that, either.

Years ago (this a bit of an off-topic ramble now, and might not be at all relevant), I saw a TV programme, that was something to do with the immune system, and one of the tests it showed was to scratch your own skin quite lightly with a fingernail, and leave 15 minutes, and see if a red welt develops.

Well, being a kid, I tried this, and it DID! So I showed my parents, and said: “Look, mine did it!”, but all they said was: “Oh, don’t do that to yourself!”

I’ve no idea what the test was indicative of, now, or even whether it was at all scientific. But I do remember thinking mine was positive, and that it meant something.

Now if only I could remember what…


I would include genetic, lack of vitimind3, smoking and month of birth on the list.

Pop smoking in the search at Barts & London and you will get quite a few hits, including this one on passive smoking.


This is interesting Teresa

I was listening to a programme on radio 4 the other evening called ‘all in the mind’. Where a doctor was talking about ‘The Hygiene hypothosis’. He was talking about the fact that because we are no longer exposed to microorganisms there has been an increase in autoimmune diseases and even depression. He was saying that there may be a vaccination produced in time that will prevent depression. I found this interesting as we often talk on this site about the increase in diseases such as MS and many others, in rich developed countries.

The organisms and worms that he spoke of are something that humans coevolved with in the past and helped the immune system. Anyway I don’t understand the technicallities but I wondered if that is why they are experimenting with hook worms to help treat MS or to control the immune system.

Must say I have never smoked either, but everyone around me; has.


Hi Wendy,

I think hookworms and other parasites DO dampen down the immune system, for the simple reason that if they didn’t, the body would expel them. So it has to be part of their survival strategy to tame the host’s defences, as far as possible. But they also mustn’t do anything that will kill the host (such as leaving them open to dying of a cold), as that would result in death of the parasite too.

So they have to strike a fine balance, that will make the host organism as hospitable as possible, without making it hospitable to things that will kill it.

I think that’s why it’s interesting for MS, and other auto-immune conditions. How can you stop the immune system going into overdrive, but without making it so weak the patient gets something else horrid?


yeah ive thought about this and i just dont know what to think… in my head at present time i lean most of the blame on the fact that i smoked for 4 or 5 years, took drugs at parties and worked for 5 years in an industry that exposes you to harmful substances such as asbestos and dust particles from all sorts of things, cement, mdf,gyproc etc. I think that these factors along with hard times and bad luck will have sped up the disease, but maybe one day it would have arrived anyway…

Hi Wendy

The hookworm trial is being done from the hospital i attend also. It is a teaching hospital. Didn’t fancy this trial though! lol!

Anita - one question asked on the study was ‘have you had a re-occuring rash that has persisted for more than 6 months?’ (or words to that effect). I have had this years ago but never linked it to ms. I thought i had a food allergy and was trying to eradicate one thing at a time from my diet to find what it was! I was never offered allergy testing.

Other questions about asthma and smoking habits of parents and exposure to smoking in workplace.

I think the smoking thing would be hard to prove as we have all inhaled smoke - even if not through choice.

Derek - I am a big believer in vit d having something to do with ms also.

I think we all have some thoughts as to ‘what went wrong!’ I am just interested in everyones thoughts as its good to hear other peoples thoughts on this. I think we are sometimes afraid to say as others may think us strange.

When i was about 9yrs old i had a very strange reaction to penicillin. I came out in hives and fainted. Doctor was very puzzled at the time. Start of ms? who knows?

Teresa. X

Interesting post Teresa, I have wounderd about environmental factors too, I feel that I have been exposed to a few (no more than others tough) Mumps aged 6 chickenpox around same sort of time. my dad died when I was 10 and I developed eczema and asthma along with hay fever…possibly bought only shock? Aged 13 I had back surgery. I grew up in a smoking house in Hong Kong so was exposed to a lot of pollution. I started smoking aged 16. I had glandular fever aged 20ish. ontop of that I have had around 12 Hep B vaccinations and I have read that this can increase the chances of developing MS. I think that it is a bit a a game of chance though really, in my case I was exposed to many factors that have all been linked in some form to MS, but do not know for sure if these have led to my neuro condition (still being investiged) what surprises me though is that not one neuro has asked me a history of me or my family! I think that the on going resurch is so important, but some how doubt if neuros will take a lot of notice! All the best Ppx

Hi pP!

My dad was killed in a road accident when i was 7. I then had alopecia for a little while. (shock?)

I had the funny allergic reaction to the antibiotic at 9.

I have had various allergies. I started with hayfever at about 18 and was given a hayfever tablet medication called ‘Triludan’. I ended up covered in an awful itchy rash. The doctor at the time said he had never seen a reaction to the medication that was supposed to calm down an allergy - not start a reaction. (signs perhaps that my immune system was going wrong!)

I really would like to get my hands on my medical records from years before - is this possible?

I have now been diagnosed 7 years and am very interested in putting some of the jigsaw pieces together.

The study was great as i have never been asked such questions about my medical background and it has made me very inquisitive!!

Teresa. x

Hi Teresa, Your current surgery should have all your medical records. When I was pregnant with my first son my doctor let me look at my records and I was interested to see that my Mum thought I was underweight as a baby (that is irrelevant to this but it just shows that you ought to be able to look back into your records). Anyway, this is my experience. A very interesting post Teresa. The one that seems to keep coming up is glandular fever which I had when I was 19 and at uni. Also, lack of vit D. Teresa xx

Hi Teresa I also have a few allergies including an antibiotic. Yes you can get to see your medical records, you need to apply to the hospital, I think that you need to be fairly percific about dates though. You will have to fill out some forms and may e pay a small fee. I expect it will be the same for your GP practice too, although how far back these will go is anyone’s guess as most things have been computerised since the good old days! It sounds like you had a very stressful time and I tend to believe that childhood stress can lead to poor health such as trigger allergies. If you have any information on the resurch I would be intrested to hear about it. All the best Ppx

Thanks Teresa and PollyP - i will try and get hold of my records. I don’t want a quick look at them - i want a good in depth read!! so i hope they might print them off for me! are they allowed to let me take away the info?

Anyway thanks for your replies.

I have had lots of weird symptoms but to my knowledge - i have never had glandular fever.

I do agree Pollyp that childhood stress has done me no favours at all and has affected me in many ways.


(i) lack of VitD in childhood

(ii) exposure to Epstein Barr at an unlucky time

(iii) shingles, ditto.

(iv) sheer, baldheaded bad luck. (Does that count? It should!)

(v) the wrong parents (that’s genetic rather than environmental though, isn’t it?)



Hello All,

I have some allergies, the worst being most painkillers, with the exception of paracetamol.

The allergy specialist did the stick thing that Tina mentioned; ran a cocktail stick gently down my back and within minutes I had a huge red welt on my back; the doc said this showed that I was very sensitive, so the skin patch tests that they usually do on your wrists, could not be performed as I may have gone into shock. This was about 8 yrs ago and triggered by aspirin, which led to a allergice reaction to anti inflammatories, that I never had before.

Perfumes, dust etc have always made me sneeze and skin sensitive to paper etc.

Vitamin D…found out recently got a severe deficiency(level 22). On week 7 of high dosage supps of 50,000 units and have not felt this well for about year, when my MS symptoms began.

Smoking…I am one of the stupid ones but hope to stop soon; goe one horrid disease, don’t need another!

This thread made me think, researchers need to look at the bigger picture and read this forum!

Take Care


I heard this too, Wendy, and I also found it interesting (it is on Listen Again if anyone wants to hear it.) As you say, the guy thinks the big increase in the developed world in illnesses with an inflammatory action, particularly auto immune ones, is down to our immune systems tending to run amok in the absence of the microorganisms you refer to - and that depression also has an inflammatory basis and might be caused in the same way. Fascinating, particularly as depression is often co-morbid with things like MS for reasons not easy to explain. He did not say this, but I bet he thinks the doctors’ automatic assumption that MS (or whatever) makes you depressed is perhaps more unexamined laziness than good medicine based on real evidence!




(i) lack of VitD in childhood

(ii) exposure to Epstein Barr at an unlucky time

(iii) shingles, ditto.

(iv) sheer, baldheaded bad luck. (Does that count? It should!)

(v) the wrong parents (that’s genetic rather than environmental though, isn’t it?)



[/quote] Yes sheer baldheaded bad luck does count - LOL!!