May 29, 2019
Have you ever walked into a candle or bath product store, only to start feeling ill a few minutes later?
One person’s delightful array of scents can be another’s gateway to sneezing, nausea, headache, wheezing, hives, or nearly any other allergy symptom out there.
Experts agree that exposure to fragrances can cause a host of health issues, but there is no consensus on exactly how and why these reactions occur. Whether they are true fragrance allergies or are primarily sensitivities (which don’t provoke the specific immune response that an allergen does), they cause mild to severe respiratory symptoms just the same.
Skin symptoms such as rashes and eczema are not subject to the allergy vs. sensitivity debate. These are true allergies. After coming into contact with the fragrance, the immune system responds with a rash, redness, or eczema. If you believe you may have a contact allergy to a fragrance, an allergist can conduct a patch test that involves a set of likely allergens being placed on the skin for two days, followed by an examination to see what caused skin reactions.
Hundreds of chemicals are used to create fragrances and even to mask fragrances in products labeled “unscented.” These chemicals can be in everything from air fresheners to makeup and magazine inserts, and the chemicals – not the actual scent – may be the irritants that cause unpleasant reactions.
While trial and error can help eliminate the offending products from your body and home, things get a little trickier at work, in classrooms, and in other public spaces. For many people, walking away from the scent will solve the problem. Not a big deal at the mall, but this isn’t as simple somewhere that people must coexist for many hours of the day.
An allergist can recommend a non-drowsy medication to help keep symptoms under control. If this doesn’t do the trick and you battle debilitating symptoms, you may have to let your school or workplace know about the situation. Switching to a different desk or office could put enough distance between you and the problem fragrances. Working from home may be an appealing choice if that’s a possibility.
Raising awareness about fragrance sensitivities and allergies can feel like an uphill battle. Some people might balk at being asked to stop using perfume or their favorite air freshener. Hopefully, with a little education, they will gladly make some simple changes to help others live comfortably and work productively.
In extreme cases, a diagnosis of multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) may entitle a person to reasonable workplace accommodations such as a fragrance-free environment under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). A controversial condition, MCS causes people who may initially have just one sensitivity to face debilitating reactions to a host of chemicals or fragrances when exposed to even tiny amounts.
As society continues to churn out endless fragrance products, sensitivities are on the rise as well. If you are one of the many on scent overload, efforts to remove offending products from your life ought to help. And if you find yourself struggling due to scents around you, work on raising awareness and understanding. Your quality of life is well worth the effort!