Fragrance Sensitivity-Does Anyone Else Have This?

I apologize for the length in advance…

I have been sensitive to fragrances and/or chemicals for 20 years. It has not been a consistent issue for 15 years. I can get a headache and queasy stomach if there is a car on the road with a heavy diesel exhaust output or in Bath and Body Works, down the detergent aisle, etc. I can usually avoid situations and avert the physical symptoms. I have worked in my department off and on for 3 years and it just recently became an issue. I noticed it after Christmas and thought, oh someone got some perfume as a gift. Over time, it became a daily problem and then more than one person was wearing fragrance. I don’t have a problem with what I call a “normal” amount of fragrance, where only you and the people physically close to you can smell what you’re wearing. There are 3 people at work wearing so much fragrance that it fills up the room and there is no way to get away from it. After about 30 seconds, I get a headache that sometimes turns into a migraine, nausea, dizziness, light-headedness, sometimes burning eyes and an itchy nose. If the fragrance fades, the symptoms will start to ease after an hour or two. I told my manager, who said she spoke with my co-workers but nothing has changed. I don’t know what she said to them, but I don’t think they understand they are using too much. She gave me the paperwork to ask for a Reasonable Accommodation, which means I need to fill out paperwork and get my doctor to fill out paperwork. Since this hasn’t been an issue in a long time and when it was, I lived in a different city, I don’t really see a doctor for this anymore. When I did, it was a migraine specialist. The only doctor I can find in my area (Charlotte, NC) who treats the condition cannot see me until the first week in July. He is the doctor I would want to fill out the paperwork, so I made the appointment, which will be expensive and not covered by my insurance. This condition (which is called Multiple Chemical Sensitivity or Toxic-Induced Loss of Tolerance (TILT)) is not widely recognized by the medical community. I’m reading that many Gulf War veterans are coming home with this condition. I visited two allergists, one of whom misdiagnosed me with Vasomotor Rhinitis and prescribed two nasal sprays, which do nothing, even though I told him my primary symptoms are not respiratory. I have respirator masks, but they don’t work well with my glasses and they start to itch after 20 minutes and they seem to only delay the onset of symptoms. I’m not sure what my next step should be. In my experience, when the topic is broached generally, everyone assumes they are not the culprit. Or, they get very offended that someone doesn’t like their scent or is telling them they wear too much perfume. One person reapplies a scented hand lotion periodically throughout the day, so just when one headache starts to fade, it starts all over again. I’m beginning to resent my co-workers. Does anyone have any experience with this?

Calvin Klein fragrances give me a headache. So do huge walls of text.

I’ve had pretty bad sensitivity to many perfumes and a few other substances including, of all things, turkey smoke, for 30 years. I had some medium term chronic industrial exposures to toluene diisocyanate, a respiratory sensitizer.

I only skimmed the Wall O’ Words, but I have two scents that in the past few years have become migraine triggers for me.
One is a perfume. A lady that shops in my store must bathe in the stuff. I can tell when she’s in the store because I can smell her long before I see her*. I take some Tylenol as soon as I see/smell her and hope for the best. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. If a migraine comes on, I take Imitrex. Since I know there was a trigger, I know I have a real migraine coming on and not a headache so I can take the imitrex sooner rather than later, which is good.

The second one is these specific permanent markers. Those are headache inducing, regular sharpies are fine. We use those at work too…well, they do, I don’t, but I can always tell when other people have been.
*She doesn’t wear the perfume anymore so my WAG is that she wore it at work and either retired or was asked to stop wearing it.

Any artificial perfume or cologne will give me a headache and prolonged exposure will make me light headed. That period when everyone had Victoria secrets hand lotions was torture.

The great majority of artificial scents make my throat and sinuses burn, and smell like some kind of harsh cleaning chemical to me. If strong enough they make my nose run.

Scented candles are the only exception I’ve noticed.

I developed allergies to fragrant soaps and perfumes in my thirties. It first started with bounce dryer sheets. I’d put on a shirt and my eyes would water, nose burned. Year by year I got more sensitive. Gave up wearing cologne, after shave etc. Even scented hand sanitizer can trigger an attack. thank goodness for zyrtec.

Fabric softener is my worst enemy. We tried Downy fabric softener unscented a few years ago. But I still had a reaction. Not nearly as bad but enough that I couldn’t tolerate wearing clothes laundered with it.

I’m very sensitive now. I start coughing, hacking up phlegm if I come in contact with fragrant soaps and perfumes.

funny thing. Pollen rarely bothers me. Its the chemicals that trigger my allergies.

This must be a pretty common problem. A lot of fragrance free products have come out in the past 15 years. We switched from “All” to “fragrance free All” right after it became available. But in fairness “All” never had a strong fragrance like other laundry soaps. Tide and Gain bothered my allergies a lot more.

I have chosen to forgo a store I was interested in because of the fragrance (usually incense, which is appropriately named). But that Tide, I swear, some folks use so much of it that their clothes smell, to me, as though an infant had just barfed all over them (which, I think, is the unscented Tide). I guess it must be a pervasive smell around home for them, because I have a hard time understanding how they would want to walk around smelling like that.

Fair enough. Could you please put your argument into paragraphs? Thanks so much!

Thank you so much for your responses, and again, my apologies on the length of the post.

imho these are acquired allergies. Like any 60’s and 70’s kid I grew up in a home where fabric softener was used in every load of laundry. Commercials reminded us all that we had to have that fresh clean scent. No one knows how many chemicals were dumped into our laundry just to achieve softness and that scent.

I did the same thing as a young adult. Used Snuggles in the rinse cycle. Then we switched to dryer sheets and within a couple years the fragrance allergies developed.

I believe mine is from a job I had years ago, where part of my duties were to develop large photo negatives that printers used to make printing plates. The darkroom was very small and the chemicals in the developing processor were very strong, so I was exposed for several years. the sensitivity started a while after I was away from that job.

I switched years ago to unscented products when I could get them, and that helped a lot.

When I have my period, I’m extra-sensitive. Any strong chemical can set me off, from the smells of a print shop, to strong perfume, to the smells that cling to a smoker. Other times of the month, I can occasionally get overwhelmed, but it’s nothing like when I have my period.

Some smells trigger migraines, and some trigger histamine reactions, but the “can’t stand it” feeling I get when I have my period, “have to get away from this smell” is almost as desperate as the feeling of having to get away from the CS gas when we did pro mask drills in the military. I don’t have to throw up, and I’m not getting a headache, I simply must, *must *get away from the smell.

That’ my first reaction, too. To get away from it. Unfortunately at work, there is really nowhere to go to get away from it. I could go out in the hall, but I’d be putting off the inevitable, since the fragrance will linger sometimes for hours.

I do appreciate knowing that I’m not alone.

As an HR manager, I hear both sides of this story on a fairly regular basis. I don’t have scientific backing for this hypothesis, but I personally believe that with the removal of cigarette smoke from the workplace, other scents that might have been masked by the pall of cigarette smoke are being noticed more and being blamed for reactions and/or symptoms that were once ascribed to cigarette smoke.

More and more employees have come to me in the last 5 years complaining that scented products cause them various levels of distress. Some I’m sure are legitimate, others I’d tend to attribute more to the office tyrant persona of some of the complainers.

When an employee comes to me with medical evidence (doctor slips, prescriptions, etc.) of allergic reactions, I am very sympathetic. We have a few out-of-the-way work stations/offices which people with light sensitivity or allergies can ask to use. Right now we have four occupants - one with lupus (light sensitivity), one with severe migraines (also light), one with an allergy to copier fluid and powdered ink (documented), and one with anxiety issues that needs peace and quiet.

On the other hand, we have two chronic complainers who refuse to provide any medical backup who insist that perfumes, after shave, scented lotions, scented shampoo, scented cleaning products, etc. be banned. I’ve drawn the line there. Without some medical evidence of this need, I’m not going to discommode 90% of the employee base by requiring them to purchase all new unscented personal care products. Our cleaning service was able to replace all synthetically-scented cleaning products with naturally-scented ones that should not cause anyone distress.

In any case, my advice would be that if you wish to make a case for a fragrance-free workplace to your employee, you go through the allergy tests and get the medical documentation. You will have a much easier path.

I know one thing: scented candles should be banned from the workplace. My co-worker is currently burning one of those nauseating Yankee candles, and the whole office smells like a vanilla butterscotch cookie. It is suffocating me.

Those should be banned due to fire codes. Call your fire marshal. Save yourself from death by cookie. :slight_smile:

Thank you for your insight. I know getting the documentation will make it easier. I’m concerned about the time between now and the doctor’s appointment in July.

Mrs. Fairway, even though you have yet to see the doctor with whom you have an appointment in July, I’m wondering if you could call his office, tell them you are struggling, and see if they have any suggestions on what you might do to alleviate your issues in the short term. I hate to see you suffering until July if there is something that can be done in the interim.

Are you aware of any products you do not have a reaction to? Maybe if you could offer your co-workers an alternative and tell them how badly you are struggling and that you are working toward addressing the issues but can’t yet get in to the doctor, perhaps they’d be willing to work with your on a short-term basis.

I truly do wish you good luck and hope for a resolution.