Idiopathic environmental intolerances (IEI) - formerly multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS) - are characterized by diffuse symptoms reported after exposure to low doses of everyday chemicals. Previous theories about the origin of IEI have emphasized either biological or psychological factors, neglecting a probable interplay. Many have suggested classifying IEI as a somatoform or an anxiety disorder, irrespective of some incongruities. By focusing on dysfunctional cognitions we discuss obvious parallels of IEI with somatoform disorders, and also indicate overlaps with anxiety and delusional disorders. To propose a hypothetical psycho-neurobiological basis of IEI, recent evidence about cortically represented symptoms in the absence of peripheral stimuli is briefly summarized. We conclude that IEI can serve as an illustrative example for the impact of cognitive, representational processes in symptom generation.