Going Gluten-FreeJanuary 22, 2014

Are You Scent Sensitive?

My husband and I were having a rare night out for dinner – just the two of us - when a couple sat down behind us in the restaurant. Within seconds, the blinding pain of a migraine struck, sending me rushing to the bathroom with nausea. The culprit? Perfume.

It’s estimated that 20 percent of us have some sort of sensitivity to fragrance. If you have allergies or asthma, your chances are higher than most of developing a reaction to certain scents. For me, perfumes are irritants that make me sick - but I’m one of the lucky ones. My sister is so sensitive that a simple change in hairspray can land her in the emergency room.

The world of artificial aromas has grown to encompass much more than just perfumes and colognes. Just about every product we use today contains some sort of fragrance. From laundry detergents, dryer sheets and cleaning supplies to shampoos, cosmetics, tissues and magazine inserts, we are bombarded with items sporting their own smell. Ironically, the so-called air fresheners–fragranced aerosols, scented candles, incense, plug-ins–may be among the worst offenders for sensitive sniffers.

Over 3,000 different chemicals create fragrance and it can take combinations of over 200 of these to make favorites. Purported “clean” scents--those with names like sea breeze, morning rain or fresh air--are, of course, chemically derived. The FDA does not require companies to list these ingredients; they’re collectively termed “fragrance” on product labels.

Classic signs of fragrance sensitivity are sneezing, runny nose and watery eyes, as well as skin reactions like rash, hives and itching. Other reactions include headaches (migraines), nausea, dizziness, fatigue and decreased concentration (brain fog). For some, symptoms can be severe--breathing difficulties (wheezing), asthma, seizures and even anaphylaxis.

What can be done to reduce the risk? Since the restaurant episode, my husband and I look for eateries that offer outdoor seating. Here are other suggestions to help manage a sensitive nose.

Choose safer brands. Avoidance is key. Use scent-free soap, deodorant, laundry detergent, cleaning items and cosmetics.

Consult your doctor. A health care expert may prescribe medication to control symptoms. Natural practitioners may suggest a nasal saline rinse and vitamin supplements to boost your immune system and reduce sensitivity.

Purify the air. HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filters capture airborne particles for cleaner air. HEGA (High Efficiency Gas Absorption) filters are geared toward odor control to reduce fragrances, smoke and other indoor pollutants.

Freshen naturally. Proper ventilation, such as an open window, can help clear your personal space and keep irritants from wafting your way. Use baking soda and oranges or lemons to help neutralize bothersome scents.

Bathe at bedtime. Take a shower before you sleep to keep smells that may have accumulated on your hair or skin during the day from troubling you during the night.

Speak up. Talk with repeat perfume offenders in a courteous way and ask for cooperation. Consider instituting a fragrance-free work zone under the Americans with Disabilities Act. For information, visit ada.gov.

Comments (2)

I had the same experience. My husband and I had gone out to dinner. It was soon after the restaurant had opened for the dinner hour so the restaurant was fairly empty when we were seated. Shortly after we were seated another couple was seated next to us. The woman must have bathed in perfume. I absolutely could not breathe and I felt dizzy. I had to find the waitress and ask to be moved to another table. Fortunately she was able to accommodate us.

Posted by: Carolyn2725 | January 24, 2014 1:18 PM    Report this comment

Good Advice However, I have severe allergies to grass, trees, weeds, etc. I love an open window, especially in the Spring, but my allergies do not. Take into account the seasons and the seasonal allergy triggers that are around before letting your windows open. It may do you more harm than good. (a little tip from my allergist)

Posted by: jsj7375 | January 23, 2014 9:50 AM    Report this comment

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