My fragrance sensitivity

unscented lotion

I buy unscented lotion and laundry detergent. I don’t wear perfume. I have to be careful with the hair products I buy and use and even the deodorant I buy.

As I am getting ready to travel my fear of being stuck next to someone on the plane who is wearing perfume, smelly lotion or hair products or cologne or aftershave I start to worry.

According to this Livestrong article, fragrance sensitivity, also called multiple chemical sensitivity or environmental illness, is not technically an allergic histamine reaction, but it can cause uncomfortable, painful or even debilitating symptoms. Common symptoms include headache, nausea and tightening of the throat.

When I encounter someone wearing perfume, smelly lotion or hair products or even fragrant laundry detergent or air freshener for an extended period of time I get a raging headache and feel nauseated.

When we moved into a new building at work the new carpet smell gave me a raging headache and nausea. Even after I left work the symptoms lasted for hours.

I have had to ask people at work who I have closely worked with to stop wearing a perfume or smelly lotion. One time someone said, but it is expensive perfume. Yea, that has nothing to do with it.

An article in Medical News Today says, until the 20th century, perfumes were made from natural ingredients derived directly from plants and animals, and as fragrances became cheaper and more widespread, they also became more synthetic. … The National Academy of Sciences reports that 95% of the chemicals used in fragrances today are synthetic compounds …

If I can, I move myself away from someone wearing a smell that bothers me. But I can’t always do that. Sometimes I am on a plane or the BART train. And then I worry about offending someone.

But should I worry about someone else or worry about me?

Because I also don’t want to feel terrible. My symptoms are not uncomfortable. They border between painful and debilitating.

Another Medical News Today article says, a migraine is a severe, painful headache that is often preceded or accompanied by sensory warning signs such as flashes of light, blind spots, tingling in the arms and legs, nausea, vomiting, and increased sensitivity to light and sound.

I refer to mine as mini migraines as my symptoms are only the raging headache and nausea.

As I was researching my high sensitivity to perfumes/lotions, etc. I didn’t realize it had a real name: fragrance sensitivity or multiple chemical sensitivity or environmental illness. I also read that this is considered a controversial disorder. And I can believe that. Most people just don’t get it.

Believe me, I wish I didn’t have this sensitivity. It causes angst and uncomfortable conversations.

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2 Comments

  1. I’m with you. Until recently there was someone in a cube near my office who wore something scented – drove me bonkers. I constantly had headaches and some dizziness. When I talked to her about it and tried to gently suggest using something unscented she insisted her products were unscented.

    Now she is retired & gone, along with the scent and side effects.

    It’s unfortunate and of course I feel badly about confronting people about this because it’s touchy… but so am I when I’m not feeling well because of environmental problems like strong scents.

    Hang in there!!

    • I was lucky I didn’t encounter anyone smelly on my flights.
      The work perfume/lotion wearer is always tough for me. But I can’t be sick because they want to smell “pretty,” which frankly, they don’t.

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