Sensitivity to Scents | Dr. Ali GhaharyCertain fragrances are something that are part of our everyday lives – whether it’s things like perfumes, air fresheners and other scented products (i.e., cosmetics, detergents), flowers, or different air pollutants and chemicals (i.e., cleaning products, pesticides, etcetera.) These are all things that we live with day to day, and for many people they will not be bothersome. However, for some individuals, they can wreak havoc and become disruptive to the point where their health may be affected.

The most common reactions that someone will have as a result of fragrance sensitivity are often respiratory or skin-related in nature.

Respiratory-related reactions may include:
• Nasal congestion
• Runny nose
• Sneezing
• Breathing difficulty (including wheezing or triggering of asthma.)

Skin-related reactions may include:
• Contact dermatitis (redness, itching, or burning of the skin.)

Other symptoms that can also occur include itchy, watery, or burning eyes, nausea, headaches, or migraines. Remember, not all fragrances will affect every individual the same way, therefore the recurrency as well as the severity of reactions will differ from person to person. It can also sometimes be difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of what’s causing the irritation; therefore, you may need to reduce or all together avoid certain products, then slowly re-introduce them one by one to get a definitive answer as to what the offending substance is and why your body is reacting to it.

Nowadays, many offices and other public places have fragrance-free policies as allergies and sensitivities to these types of substances are quite common. If you are going to be attending a place where you know other people may be, you should try to avoid wearing things like heavy perfumes or colognes. If you are someone who is sensitive to scents, you should try to avoid exposure as much as possible. Where it is not possible to avoid exposure to fragrances (i.e., in certain workplaces – particularly those where the general public may be coming in and out of), different options may be able to be explored – such as moving your workspace to a different area of the office where fragrances may be less prevalent.

If you find yourself experiencing allergic-like responses to different scents more often than not, then you may need to take a regular antihistamine to keep symptoms like sneezing, nasal congestion, and itchy, watery eyes at bay. If you experience severe discomfort or illness related to different smells/odours – even those that are mild – then you may have what’s known as hyperosmia. Hyperosmia is a condition that changes the way in which you perceive different scents, and is linked to a variety of different medical conditions including autoimmune diseases, Lyme disease, migraines, neurological conditions (including Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, MS, and epilepsy), and even pregnancy.