Fragrances? Not so welcome here!

Posted on March 16, 2017 by kerri

Next week, March 21, is National Fragrance Day. For a lot of people, fragrances are just a part of the morning routine—many do not even notice the fragrances they wear anymore, because they become so acclimatized to the scent of their choice. However, for a growing number of us—myself included—fragrances aren’t so pleasant, and can cause a variety of health problems to get worse. Remember, fragrances are not just in perfume—they are also in hand and body lotions, cleaning supplies, laundry detergents, shampoos and soaps, and more. Most of these, for those sensitive, can be easily avoided, but it becomes more difficult to cope with when we are in an environment with someone wearing perfume or cologne, or using hand lotion, with any sort of scent (fragrance)—which may seem nice to them, but it can make us sick.

  • Asthma is probably the condition that comes most quickly to mind when thinking about people having adverse reactions to fragrances. In asthma, fragrances—and other triggers—can cause the airways to narrow, constrict and produce more mucus that makes it difficult to breathe.
  • Multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) is where combinations of chemicals cause a variety of non-allergic reactions, including headaches, nausea, vomiting, and fatigue—just to name a few. It is not agreed upon whether or not MCS in itself is a disease, but the symptoms are seemingly well documented. [1]
  • Migraine headaches may be triggered by fragrances, even on occasion very severe cases where a person may rapidly drop to the ground due to the intense pain. [2]
  • Sinus problems, like rhinitis, may be made worse by exposure to fragrances.
  • Allergies Some people may experience true allergic or anaphylactic reactions to some fragrances. Milder skin reactions may also occur. [3, 4]
Fragrances can cause reactions that range from mild to severe. If you have a fragrance sensitivity medical ID can be an important choice to wear in case someone’s scent triggers your health condition and you are unable to speak for yourself.
A personal look: i started to have headaches triggered by fragrances when I was in high school, before I was diagnosed with asthma—I remember one in particular that would classify as the worst headache I have ever had. Now that I have asthma, it makes fragrances doubly difficult for me to deal with, especially as I have no control over knowing when I will encounter them. Fortunately my reactions are not terribly severe, but the unpredictability of being fragrance sensitive (which is not a strong enough term!) is not easy. If you wear fragrances, consider those around you: it can be hard for us to speak up, and we do not want to offend people, but our health is at risk. One of my high school teachers had a rule that if he could smell your fragrance more than an inch away from you, you were wearing too much because nobody wants to smell you unless they are within an inch of you! I think this is a good rule, and a reasonable compromise for many of us. It is most important to remember, if you wear fragrance, that you do become acclimated to the smell after time—just because you may not notice it does not mean it is not there! Think, for instance, about what your house smells like—now think about going to a parent or sibling or friend’s home—yes, their house has a distinct scent and so does yours, but you do not notice your own because you are acclimated. It is the same with fragrances. Use a little, and it goes a long way.

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