Carolina Holistic Medicine | Functional & Alternative Medicine | Charleston, SC

Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS)

What is CIRS?

Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS) also referred to a biotoxin illness or mold toxicity is a collection of symptoms initially thought to be caused by only mold exposure.

However, as further research added new knowledge, we have come to understand that bacteria (such as the spirochetes that cause Lyme), fungus and various viral infections (such as EBV or HHV6) are also implicated in the development of Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome.  CIRS is a multi-symptom, multi-system illness caused by exposure to biotoxins, or neurotoxins produced from a biological source.

The most common sources of biotoxins are toxic metabolic products and cell wall fragments from filamentous molds (many incorrectly or previously refer to this as mold toxin illness) that occur in water damaged buildings; tick-borne illnesses including Lyme Disease, Ehrlichia or Bartonella; cyanobacteria, dinoflagellates like ciguatera and red tide- Pfiesteria, and poisonous spiders like Brown Recluse and Mediterranean Recluse bites.

Exposure to these sources can create acute illness, and in some individuals, who have long-term exposure have weakened immunity or detoxification pathways or who are genetically unable to clear the biotoxins can create a chronic illness.

It is a consternation for the chronically ill patient who cannot get answers from many physicians, multiple hospital visits and many years of suffering; and the clinician trying desperately to help them to figure this all out.  Because the constellation of symptoms tend to overlap with others that mimic the symptoms such as autoimmune disorders, Lyme disease and other tick-borne-pathogens, environmental exposures, leaky gut syndrome, food allergies and intolerances CIRS has to be suspected and may be the final presentation of either a single or multiple issue. 

Therefore, the diagnosis of CIRS is often missed or misdiagnosed as another condition. The pitfall is that if the diagnosis of a superficial rheumatological condition such as Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is the ‘’final’’ diagnosis and a modern medical intervention with a monoclonal antibody designer biologic that blocks TNF-alpha is used, it could potentially spell disaster in the long term for that patient.

What are the Signs & Symptoms of CIRS?

Malaise, fatigue, weakness, a flu-like symptoms, exhaustion, insomnia, sensitivity to several environmental agents (such as pollen, metals, foods, toxins, and even ‘’stress’’). 

There may be other diagnosis I refer to as superficial that may have been placed on a patient by other doctors (such as chronic fatigue syndrome, autoimmunity, rheumatism, and many others).  Being pigeon-holed with a superficial diagnosis can lead to a much longer course of suffering before the deeper (or root cause) of the illness is discovered.

Eye/Ear/Nose/Throat Symptoms
Blurred vision, floaters, light sensitivity, tearing eyes, puffy/dark circles around the eyes, night blindness, tinnitus or ringing in the ears, hearing loss, dizziness, sinus/nasal congestion, nose bleeds, offensiveness to odors, vocal cord and nasal polyps, laryngitis or changes in phonation, and sore throat are a few.

Musculoskeletal Symptoms
Muscle and Joint pain, atypical burning pain in the chest, stabbing pain, cramps, muscle weakness, neurological tics, spastic muscles with hands curl up, toes & feet curl up, morning stiffness and neck pain and others.

Lungs/Heart Symptoms
Shortness of breath and air-hunger, constant yawning, Fluttering and palpitations, tachycardia (fast heartbeat) at rest or with exercise, dry cough, wheezing, asthma like symptoms, sweating, swelling of extremities, and symptoms similar to congestive heart failure and others.

Digestive/Liver/Urinary Symptoms 
Metallic taste in mouth, reflux, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, weight loss, weight gain, urinary frequency, symptoms diagnosed as inflammatory bowel disease or even irritable bowel syndrome among others.

Nervous/Endocrine/Immune Symptoms
Headache, insomnia, excessive daytime sleepiness, dizziness, mental confusion, poor concentration, poor long-term and short-term memory, forgetfulness, word hunting, poor word recall, disorientation, extreme thirst, low blood pressure (or POTS), poor temperature regulation, paresthesia or numbness, tremors, vertigo, Parkinson’s-like symptoms, mood disorders, anxiety, depression, irritability, low libido, swollen and painful lymph nodes, psychosis like syndrome, ADD, ADHD, Autism spectrum disorder and others.

Skin Symptoms
Unusual rashes, sensitive skin, pruritis or itchy skin, feels like bugs are crawling on you or stinging or biting but there is nothing there, easy to bruise, acne like lesions, skin sores, thickened skin, skin peeling, burning sensations, sweats – especially at night, sun sensitivity, vitiligo, and hives or urticaria, discolorations and other. 

Cold hands/feet, discolored hands and feet such as white and red mottling or blanching, numbness in parts of the body, tingling, hands shake, and several others. 

The Visual Contrast Sensitivity (VCS) Testing system commonly known as Visual Contrast Testing, was originally developed by the U.S. Military Medical Services as a visual assessment for jet fighter pilots and military personnel exposed to toxic warfare agents ( for more info on this test).

It checks your ability to see details at variable contrast levels of grey. While in fact it is a nonspecific test of neurological immune functional assessment- it is found to possess a high degree of accuracy and sensitivity for biotoxin exposure.

Visual contrast ability is impaired in most CIRS sufferers.  Over 90% of them fail a simple VCS test. VCS testing provides an initial indication of whether CIRS is a likely diagnosis, although it cannot confirm or rule out CIRS, it is a valuable tool.  In addition, we sometimes measure inflammatory markers, HLA-DR DQ; complement C3a and C4a, MMP-9, MSH, VEGF, TGFβ-1, VIP and others. We also check on occasion for those resistant to therapy for MARCoNS infections that cause direct neurotoxicity via the cribriform plate.

There are protocols for those that fit the diagnostic criteria of biotoxin toxicity or CIRS and the providers at Carolina Holistic Medicine are here to help diagnose and treat you.

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