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Correspondence page:

Allergy to Perfume in the Air

and similar illness due to perfume in the air we breathe

This correspondence page is just about illness or symptoms caused by exposure to PERFUMES IN THE AIR, e.g. perfume worn by others or in air fresheners and other fragranced products. It is NOT about the well-recognised skin rash from perfumed products which you put on your skin, since doctors are already well informed on that. However, if you have both problems, we do want to hear about that.

To contribute, send email with PERFUME in the subject line to e-mail. If you do not want your e-mail to be displayed on this page, please say so in your message.

The Guestbook has a check box for you to show whether you mind your email being included.

All email extracts published on this page will be anonymous. We may include your initials or first name, or we may not.

This is a 'moderated' correspondence page. In other words we decide what goes in, and in what form. Our aim is that the page should be as useful as possible to others. Views expressed may not be the same as our own.

PLEASE NOTE THAT EVERYTHING ON THESE WEB PAGES IS ONLY FOR YOUR GENERAL INFORMATION AND DOES NOT CONSTITUTE PERSONAL MEDICAL ADVICE. THE DOCTORS WHO SEE YOU WILL KNOW FAR MORE ABOUT YOU, AND THEIR ADVICE SHOULD BE FOLLOWED. WE CANNOT GUARANTEE THAT THERE ARE NO ERRORS IN THIS WEB PAGE OR WEBSITE. Your doctor's knowledge of the subject may also be better than ours. If you think that anything on this website may be relevant to you, the sensible thing is to ask your own doctor about it.

The subjects discussed on this page have not been well studied in a scientific sense. Medical scientists should note that there is not necessarily any scientific rigour about the way terms are used on this page, which has been started as a forum for people who report that they are made ill by perfumes. As with all self-diagnosis, the possibility of a psychological component in some patients needs to be considered along with other explanations. My own view is that there is a real set of physical problems here, which needs research.


Click here to send us e-mail on the topic of this page, putting the word 'PERFUME' in the subject line.

You can also do this via our GUESTBOOK, which also invites you to tell us a few other things about yourself.


Asthma triggered by perfumes.

Betty Bridges, RN (USA) writes:   (4 August 1998)

" I have respiratory sensitization to a common fragrance chemical. When trying to pinpoint the specific chemical I was sensitized to I became very interested in the effect fragrances have on health.

I have put the information I have gathered at a web site, the Fragranced Products Information Network . The URL is http://www.ameliaww.com/fpin/fpin.htm. I would be interested in hearing from others that have asthma triggered by perfumes. Email to: bcb56@ix.netcom.com "

This is a definite problem in substantial numbers of people. Unfortunately, people feel they have a 'perfect right' to use excessive perfume and to spray perfumes, particularly in shared workspace. Please support Betty Bridges in her effort to collect information which may help people who are made ill by inconsiderate use of fragrances. Her website is informative. Just click on the underlined text above.

Click here to submit your contribution on this topic; putting the word "PERFUME" in the subject line.



Anaphylaxis from perfume

D.B. (Canada) writes:   

" I am writing in response to the comment on asthma and perfume. I myself am very allergic to perfumes and scented personal products such as shampoos, hair sprays and fabric softeners. I can have reactions varying form headache to confusion, asthma to anaphylaxis. I urge all of the folks afffected by these toxic substances to be loud and vocal to write to our lung associations, health departments etc. At this point people feel they have the right to inflict theses chemicals on us. Well it was not so long ago that smokers felt this way as well. Look how far we have come educating the public on the health hazzatds of second hand smoke. I strive to make similar success with second hand wiffs of these toxins.

I for instance went into anaphylaxis in the waiting room of my physician from the exposure to the perfume of a patient who had left the office already. I have the right to go out of my home safely as do all of you. People need to be educated. "

I had not heard of anaphylaxis from perfumes, but your email made me look, and I found the following article in Spanish, with an English abstract:

Prevalencia de sensibilizaciones a cosmeticos en profesionales de la estetica. [Prevalence of cosmetic sensitivity among beauticians]. Sanchez-Palacios-A and others, Allergol-Immunopathol-Madr. 1995 Jul-Aug; 23(4): 148-52

I'll look out for this problem in my patients; thanks for drawing my attention to it.

I feel inclined to start a perfume correspondence page to promote further interest, but don't want to compete too much with Betty Bridges and her useful site. She, however, has emailed me to say that she does not mind another correspondence page.

Incidentally, I think your doctor should publish a case-report on you, so that the information is available in the world literature. If necessary (and if you haven't already got one) enlist the help of an allergy specialist. It would also be of great value to identify the ingredient(s) which cause your anaphylaxis. Manufacturers should then be informed.

Click here to submit your contribution on this topic; putting the word "PERFUME" in the subject line.



Be up front about perfume allergy. Lapel badges.

L.B. writes:   

" To the person who has problems when going to a job interview; I always tell people up front about my problems with perfume and strong fragrances. Most people will try to accomodate me and the ones that don't, would you want to have to work with them day after day?

I also have some "Breathe Free... Ban Perfume" and "Your Perfume... My poison" pins that I always wear.

But I think you should be up front about your allergies, that way there's no surprises for anyone. "

Click here to submit your contribution on this topic; putting the word "PERFUME" in the subject line.



Living with severe perfume allergy.

MJ (Finland) writes:   (16 November 1998)

" All my life I have had problems with cosmetics; there are only a few I can use.

I do not use any scented products, my family does not either, and I am happy to say that unscented products are today quite well available. But this is not enough. I get ill from scented products other people use. For many years I had to take antihistamines daily to be able to go to work. I was only well during weekends. I quit work in '94 and now I feel well.

A year ago I was on a training course with 15 other students for two and a half months (computer training). That course was a breaking point for me. The scents were too much; our group tried to avoid scented products, so that I could be with them, but there were other groups too and I had to travel by bus approx. 1 hour per day. In a bus one cannot avoid scented people.

Now I smell even tiny amounts of scent. I get asthma-like symptoms, start to tremble, feel sick, have vomited, have rhinitis and my eyes itch, but the worst are asthma-like symptoms. I do not have asthma otherwise. I do jogging, walking, biking and body building (at home) without breathing problems. Now when I can smell the scents, I have noticed that people do smell terribly scented and for me it is a very bad smell. Earlier some perfumes and aftershaves smelled good, now those same products do smell terribly bad. I cannot go to other people's homes, as most have such scented indoor air that I just cannot breathe there (I have vomited on leaving).

I just wonder, how babies and small children can breathe in those homes, schools etc. It does not help if one just avoids using perfumes and aftershaves. Laundry detergents and fabric softeners (if not non-scented) can spoil the indoor air totally. I have met parents whose children have pre-asthma symptoms and when I visited their home, I knew why, I had to go out, I could not breathe there. But they do not believe me if I advise them to avoid scented products. "

Click here to submit your contribution on this topic; putting the word "PERFUME" in the subject line.



Lapel badges.

Lisabeth Bryon (Canada) writes:   (19 Dec 1998)

" I forgot to say. I now have three buttons:

  • Your Perfume... My Poison

  • Breathe Free... Ban Perfume

  • Your Perfume Hurts My Lungs

If anyone would like these buttons they can email me (lisabethb@hotmail.com) their name and address and I will send them one of each.

This is free. I think the more obvious we are about this problem, the better chance we have in educating others. I also visit Betty Bridges pages (http://pw1.netcom.com/~bcb56/fpin.htm) and have found some marvellous information that I give out with the buttons. "

Anyone interested should email Lisabeth Bryon.

Click here to submit your contribution on this topic; putting the word "PERFUME" in the subject line.



Occupational Asthma from Perfume.

B.B. (UK) writes:   (21 Nov 1998)

" I am a sufferer from perfume induced asthma who after 14 years as a drug store manager has had to retire on medical grounds. I am in the process of trying to establish to a medical hearing that I am suffering from occupational asthma. "

If it is possible to prove a diagnosis of occupational asthma due to perfume, the aim should be to make it a 'prescribed industrial disease'. An expert in occupational asthma could be helpful.

Click here to submit your contribution on this topic; putting "PERFUME: occupational asthma" in the subject line.



Asthma and other symptoms from perfume.

N.B. (USA) writes:   (21 Nov 1998)

" I also have asthma-like reactions to perfumes. This began about 25 years ago and everyone, including the doctor, thought I was making it up. Thankfully now they are a little more understanding. I have almost immediate (under 1 min) asthma symptoms, itchy eyes, EARS, nose, palate, runny nose, and WHEEZING. Later my skin itches and turns blotchy. I have had several anaphylactic episodes but we have not pinned down the cause; perfumes probably are not involved in these but it is some other inhaled allergen.

Thanks for the information and opportunity to share. "

Click here to submit your contribution on this topic; putting the word "PERFUME" in the subject line.



Perfume causes symptoms, just as cigarette smoke does. Allergy, or irritancy?

N.S. writes:   (21 Nov 1998)

" I react to certain perfumes just like I do with cigarettes. My nose starts to clog and I become unable to breathe through my nose. My eyes water, also like with cigarettes. My allergist says I'm not allergic to them, but I don't know what else to say it is. "

Perfume allergy may not be the same kind of allergy which your allergist is used to, or it may be that your allergist is right and the effect is an irritant one rather than allergy. We really need more research to find out why people like you react the way you do. Cigarette smoke causes symptoms in allergic and asthmatic people, but the mechanism is not allergy, which may be why your allergist thought your perfume reactions were not due to allergy. Of course either way, if it makes you ill, your suffering is the same. But the implications for what you could do about it are different and the preventative implications are different.

Click here to submit your contribution on this topic; putting the word "PERFUME" in the subject line.



More asthma from perfume.

Anonymous:   (22 Nov 1998)

" I have asthma and certain perfumes are very strong triggers for me. My chest tightens immediately and my airways swell up and fill with mucus. I have been unable to determine which perfumes bother me the most so I don't wear any. I work in a large office and have to avoid certain people. Also, I have to avoid perfume, scented candle and potpourri departments or stores. Sometimes I can handle it, sometimes I can't. It always makes my chest tighten up though. "

Click here to submit your contribution on this topic; putting the word "PERFUME" in the subject line.



Betty Bridges: website update.

Betty Bridges writes:   (22 Nov 1998)

" The URL for my site on fragrances and health has changed. The old address still works but it is not being updated. It also has a link to the new address. The new URL is:


I am so glad to see this comment page up. The more people that are aware of this issue, the better. As the comments on this page show, this is an international issue."

I've updated the links in your earlier letter. You were one of the people who stimulated me to start this page, so thanks.

Click here to submit your contribution on this topic; putting the word "PERFUME" in the subject line.



Asthma and rhinitis. Kerosene (paraffin) fumes.

J.C (England) writes:   (22 Nov 1998)

" I want to comment on perfume allergy.

I have mild asthma.

I have noticed for some years that certain perfumes have an effect on my breathing and give me a runny nose/sneezing etc. I also get a headache and feel sick if the perfume is particularly strong.

I am affected by ALL carpet fresheners and ALL perfume oil burners (these are particularly bad!).

My skin is also sensitive to certain perfumes in washing powder/liquid.

I have recently moved house and our new home had an old kerosene boiler which we have had removed. When the kerosene fumes were at their height I was using my inhaler constantly. I have noticed that these sort of fumes as well as perfume, cause me real problems.

I'm okay with most essential oils but oil of Lavender brings on my asthma and makes me sneeze.

Oh, and most spray polishes affect me as well, but not non-spray ones."

Kerosene fumes upset many people with rhinitis. This is surely not allergy but irritancy. One of the important questions is whether there is a link between your skin sensitivity to perfumes and your respiratory sensitivity; this will need research on others like you. Your experience with essential oils is interesting.

Click here to submit your contribution on this topic; putting the word "PERFUME" in the subject line.



Anyone out there with useful experience of helpful arrangements with employers?

Jennifer (US) writes:   (22 Nov 1998)

" I have problems with perfume on other people as well. I am interested in contacting anyone who has successfully kept their job by getting "accommodation" from their employer with a "fragrance-free environment." I live in Ohio, so anyone with experience in this state would be extra helpful. Thank you. "

I'd also be interested in such experience anywhere, not just Ohio.

Click here to submit your contribution on this topic; putting the word "PERFUME" in the subject line.



Suffering asthma in silence.

W. writes:   (22Nov 1998)

" I have major asthma reactions to perfume and other scented products. I work in an office where most of my co-workers wear the stuff. If I'm feeling okay, I can handle it, but if I'm weak from something like an ozone action day, I'm in major torment, and I have to use my inhaler at least once. I gave up on complaining about it, 'cuz it just makes me look whiny. It's so unfair though. Wearing heavy perfume around an asthmatic is just as bad as smoking around them, but if we complain about it, we're seen as whiny brats. We're talking about a potentially fatal disease. I don't think that's whiny. "

As you see from this page, you are not alone. Click here to submit your contribution on this topic; putting the word "PERFUME" in the subject line.



Asthma, again. Public transport. Department stores and the 'perfume gauntlet'.

V.L. writes:   (22Nov 1998)

" I have had this problem for years, but it is not severe. The allergic reaction is chest wheezing, which would become asthma attacks if I hung around long enough! I never, never travel on the underground in the rush hour - the morning is absolutely the worst as everyone is drenched in every kind of perfumed cosmetic possible. Perfume itself, hairsprays, gels, aftershaves ..... I now only travel by bus, sitting by the door whenever possible. If a lot of perfume gets on I can get off.

I react more to some perfumes than others, especially aftershaves and some hairsprays. My other allergies are to detergents with perfume added, in fact any domestic chemical cocktails that include perfumes, and paint smells can cause nausea and bad headache, especially the weatherproof glosses. I am also allergic to some pollens. Plant oils give me a skin reaction, as do clothes washed in perfumed or 'bio' detergents.

I have met several people with asthma who react to perfume fumes. Most would vote for a ban on wearing perfume in public places, and admit to occasional feelings of intense hatred for perfumed people! Department stores have a horrible habit of making us run the gauntlet of the perfumed ground floor in order to reach other departments, but they are learning that the perfume promotions staff should not be allowed to spray at people without asking.

My reactions to perfumes are not strong enough to do more than slightly complicate my life - I hate shops and the underground anyway! For people with severe asthma who live in cities, or have to travel on public transport to offices etc, life must be very difficult indeed. Perfume is just everywhere you go.

One other problem is that of convincing dentists etc that there is a serious problem. For various reasons I have to be given intravenous sedation for any dental treatment, but am reluctant to risk having this if the dentist is wearing perfume. I have never yet met one willing to be unperfumed for a short period (this is the men!). I wonder if other medical staff are made aware of the dangers of wearing perfumes?"

A very helpful letter. Doctors are generally unaware of the problem. There is very little published on it.

Click here to submit your contribution on this topic; putting the word "PERFUME" in the subject line.



Insidious onset of perfume allergy.

M.J. (Finland) writes:   (23 Nov 1998)

" First of all, I would like to thank you for this page. I really was surprised that in such a short time so many people have written here.

I would like to comment the subject: 'Whether there is link between skin sensitivity and respiratory sensitivity to scented products'.

I have never doubted it. I had first skin sensitivity symptoms, at the age of 19 with itching from laundry detergents and paint fumes. I am atopic and have learned to live with this.

So I do not use products that irritate me, and they are many. In -78 I got eczema from a certain perfume. I was skin tested in -91 and found to be allergic to perfumes. I stopped using all scented products, including household detergents. I went on going to work (used bus) and went on having symptoms, respiratory, urticaria, sore and red eyes etc. At home and during the holidays I was feeling well. I quit in -94 and was happy. But then I went to a training course for 2 to 3 months and that was too much for me. Now I am hypersensitive.

Sensitivity to scented products can worsen so slowly that one does not understand, somehow gets used to it and then some day you notice that you are hypersensitive. Then it is too late. What should we do to get doctors and health professionals to understand? "

Click here to submit your contribution on this topic; putting the word "PERFUME" in the subject line.



Nose blocked, wheezing. Ban on perfumes at conference.

Joanne writes:   (23 Nov 1998)

" Yes I'm allergic to perfumes, colognes and other strong fragrances. For me the reaction is immediate, the nose starts to get plugged and I begin wheezing. Often I need to take an inhaler to get back to normal breathing. It's very frustrating when you tell friends that it bothers you and they still insist on wearing it.

I just saw a flyer today for a medical conference where they asked participants to refrain from wearing these fragrances because of the effect on others. We're making progress. "

Click here to submit your contribution on this topic; putting the word "PERFUME" in the subject line.



Affected by lots of things.

P.D. (USA) writes:   (23 Nov 1998)

" Perfume is the bane of my existence.

I have had airborne and contact allergies since early childhood. For more than 20 years I have told doctors, friends and family that breathing perfume worn by others makes me sick. It has uplifted and empowered me to learn that many others suffer from similar sensitivities, some to an even greater degree. I take no joy from their suffering, but feel solidarity and a much needed validation of my own complaints. Like others, I am adversely affected by many substances, including combustion fumes, prescription drugs and food additives. Having learned that petrochemicals are a major part of today's fragrances, I find it hard to believe that any informed person could continue using these unnecessary products. Harder still to believe that our government hasn't taken a strong stand to protect us from our own ignorance. "

Click here to submit your contribution on this topic; putting the word "PERFUME" in the subject line.



Smoke and perfume upset even good asthma control in someone who teaches asthma control.

Pam (USA) writes:   (28 Nov 1998)

" I have found perfumes and perfumed products to be a big problem in many parts of my life. From "running the gauntlet in the department store" to standing in an elevator with a perfume-soaked person. (men and women.) I have told some people that I am allergic to perfume in as nice a way as possible, but they are almost always offended. In fact, in the healthcare facility I work, there is an individual who works near the pulmonary rehab department and wears tons of perfume, despite being told by the therapists that it bothers the patients. This is an issue that totally baffles me. Frankly, I don't understand why people wear so much perfume. I thought perfume was supposed to be understated. Even though I am in good control with my asthma - and I teach asthma control- I carry my inhaler because I get nailed by two things - smoke- and perfume. "

Comment: "Perfume Abuse".
It baffles me too. Speculatively;
  • Because they believe it is indispensible to sexual attractiveness.
  • Because it is a way of drawing attention to themselves from others in a world in which we are increasingly likely to be overlooked as individuals.
  • People like a sensation and use more and more of it. Their 'pleasure' takes priority over your need (and that of the many others like you).
  • Because of the role of purchased pleasures in a world deficient in non-purchased ones.
  • People find it quicker to use a deodorant than to wash or shower.
  • People believe that they have an unpleasant body odour despite washing.
  • Because it's there, because users crave the image which perfume promotion presents, because they have plenty of money for luxuries and because they are accustomed to having what they want. In other words, because of the success of marketing, given a susceptible population.
  • Because of the predominant emphasis on the freedom to do what we like, i.e. self-determined 'rights'.
  • Possibly, for every person affected badly by excessive perfumes there are several others who love being exposed to it, especially if it draws attention to someone of the desired sex. All those men stupefied by an erotic haze will be a powerful incentive to excessively perfumed women. But an English sage (Northcote Parkinson, of Parkinson's Law) wrote that the ideal advertisement is not one which attracts the maximum number of applicants, but just one applicant, that one being the right person for the job.

I'm not painting a very positive picture of excessive users of perfume (perfume abusers?), but speculate that the reasons have more to do with fears and with some less than altruistic motives than with an optimal state of mind. However, experience seems to teach me that people with some behaviour we dislike are nearly always normal people whose circumstances are different from our own. How do you know you would not be a perfume abuser if you did not suffer symptoms from perfume and if your life had been like their life? As the story of smoking shows, people don't respond readily to pleas to stop on the grounds that a few others might be harmed. Compare the situation with speeding, which is known to be associated with deaths. Even if there is some truth in my speculations, perfume abusers need sympathy too, on the whole. In addition they need to know the facts.

As a male, I experience perfume abuse as a form of attempted manipulativeness or intrusiveness, and react negatively to it, whether the abuser is a woman or a man, and even if it is someone I like or love. However, it is possible that for a proportion of perfume users the objective is to get attention rather than necessarily approval. To this extent it is successful, and that would reinforce the behaviour.

I guess my views and speculation will please victims and annoy perfume abusers. However, as the correspondence and the stories in my clinic make clear, perfume abuse is not a harmless self-indulgence, but an imposition on many others.

Click here to submit your contribution on this topic; putting the word "PERFUME" in the subject line.


The 'right to wear perfume'.
Labelling the harm from perfume as a 'disability'.

L. (USA) writes:   (10 Jan 1999)

" My employer says that they cannot ban perfume in the workplace because people have a right to wear it. They claim they are working out a plan to accommodate MY DISABILITY. Apparently their right to stink matters more than my right to breathe. I've been waiting three weeks now and nothing has been done. Any suggestions would be appreciated. "

The clue may lie in the fact that you are far from alone. Anyone out there have helpful suggestions?

Click here to submit your contribution on this topic; putting the word "PERFUME" in the subject line.


Sacked for perfume sensitivity.

N.B. (UK) writes:   (10 Jan 1999)

" I suddenly found that I was allergic to a particular perfume worn by a colleague. It gave me problems breathing, it made me feel nauseous and shaky. I told the person concerned but am now told this was rude. The person refused to change to a different perfume. They say I am making it up.

I got very upset about it and in the end was given the sack.

Is it possible suddenly to get adverse reaction to a perfume even though you have been exposed to it before without problem?

Is it reasonable to expect someone to change to a different perfume if someone else near finds it unpleasant or makes them ill? "

Provided you were courteous in making your point or at any rate not sufficiently rude to justify dismissal (and it would surely take repeated or severe rudeness to justify dismissal) I would find out if you have grounds for claiming unfair dismissal.

Yes, it is possible to get adverse reactions to something when it has previously been harmless to you. In fact this is characteristic of allergy. You need to be exposed to become allergic, so only after a period of exposure do you get symptoms.

Yes, it is reasonable to expect someone to change their perfume if it makes you ill, in the same way as it would be reasonable to expect them to accommodate you about any other habit which might cause you a real health problem. For example if you were allergic to a type of plant you would be reasonable in expecting the plant to be removed from an office environment. Remember that the particular brand (and quantity) of perfume is not a requirement for the other person's health or ability to work. At least in a respectable job!

It also seems to me that it is unreasonable for someone else to insist on wearing a perfume if you just find it unpleasant. Surely a decent and courteous person would take care not to make another person's life unpleasant in this way.

It is arrogant of another person to say you are making it up. How can they possibly know? Have you been in the habit of making things up? Many illnesses cause symptoms without causing anything another person can see; for example headache. I think that it is my duty to believe my patients unless I have specific evidence that they are not telling the truth. There are a few people who make things up, but they are hugely outnumbered by people who are telling the truth, and it is an injustice assume deviousness without adequate evidence.

One problems is that perfume reactions of this kind have not been studied and recognised properly by doctors. There is sometimes a tendency to think that what is not in the textbooks does not exist. So you might have difficulty getting a doctor to support you.

Another problem is that you may now find that at least some alternative perfumes cause the same symptoms. This is because many products have ingredients in common.

As a long shot you might ask for a referral to a skin specialist to have patch tests with perfume ingredients. If the results are negative this definitely does not prove you wrong, but if they are positive they may give a much better idea of what you need to avoid, and provide objective evidence that you are sensitised. The reason why negative results don't prove you wrong is that there are several types of allergy, and that patch tests show only one kind.

There is an urgent need to study this problem properly. I think the reason it has not been studied well is partly that perfume use has increased enormously in recent years, and that the smaller problems years ago were not serious enough to cause doctors to devote much time to them.

My own feeling is that I hear these stories from too many people, who seem no more neurotic or prone to fantasy than the average person, for this to be a figment of the imagination. Anyway, if it were, I would expect people like you to have lots of other figments of the imagination and this does not seem to be the case. I am convinced that these people have a genuine illness caused by perfume.

If your account tells the story fairly, then I think you have been wronged.

Click here to submit your contribution on this topic; putting the word "PERFUME" in the subject line.


Fresh perfume is worst. Furniture polish.
Poor sense of smell and over-use of perfume.

J.S.C. (UK) writes:   (24 Jan 1999)

"I was diagnosed with asthma 6 years ago, when it flared up badly and I had 4 months off work before a suitable treatment regime was sorted out.

For years before that I had known that I felt bad when I went into a particular local prestige department store which had its perfume counters right by the main entrance. I tried to keep my mouth shut and avoid breathing in when going through there. Since my asthma became bad I have found I have found that I have had typical asthma reactions to perfume both on entering a smallish office where the lady occupant had recently applied perfume, and in Church when sitting behind ladies wearing a lot of perfume.

For what its worth, my observations are:

1. The effect is more likely if the perfume has recently been applied, particularly if it has been applied in the same location (e.g. demonstrated to a customer in a store) This leads me to suspect perfume solvents or more volatile components, or indeed a residual fine aerosol of droplets.

2. Perfumed spray polishes for woodwork or desktop surfaces can also be a problem immediately after use. One incident was going into a shop in a poorly-ventilated modern shopping mall soon after opening, when an assistant was busy polishing the counters. Another was in a doctors' waiting room late at the end of evening surgery when the cleaner came in and started spraying the reception desk ready to polish it. Since I was there about my asthma this was a little ironic!"

Thanks for your helpful observations.


Click here to submit your contribution on this topic; putting the word "PERFUME" in the subject line.


Hassle over perfume at work (again).

K.P. writes:   (25 Jan 1999)

" Thank you so much for this web site. It is amazing how many people suffer from perfume allergies and how sad it is that we are made to feel foolish. My symptoms include instant headaches, severe agitation and heart palpitations. I have to admit that I wondered if it was my imagination.

I had a problem with a co-worker in the past who wears strong perfume and asked her as humbly as I could not to wear it to work. I explained to her about my symptoms. She seemed understanding at the time and accommodated me. However, a few weeks ago she came to work with very strong perfume on. I made a comment about it and she basically told me to "get used to it because she's wearing it". It was a gift she got for Christmas. Needless to say I was upset at her selfishness. I told her that I would complain to our employer if she continued to wear it. I was told to "grow up and stop acting like a baby" and that I was rude. I did complain to my employer and he made her stop wearing it to work. However, I have to tell you that it is a hollow victory when you have to argue with someone and go to a higher authority and not resolve it on your own. It's also very embarrassing as I know it seems trivial to someone who does not suffer from this problem. Thank you to all who have written in to this page and shared your problems. It helps to know that you are not alone. "


Although a number of my patients have reported palpitations, it is difficult to know what to make of this. Palpitations are easily caused by psychological upset, although I hasten to add that this is just my comment based on what I know of disease mechanisms and of course no doctor knows everything. Headaches are more likely to be caused by inflammation in the nose and sinuses, which might be aggravated or caused by perfume constituents.

However, I'm on your side. If you find the perfume unpleasant you have a right to say so, and a considerate person would behave in a way which made you feel comfortable if they could reasonably do so. The reason why you find it unpleasant is really not so important. But when there is a health effect, this is really an injury, and no-one has the right to injure you.

We all owe a duty of reasonable courtesy to each other. For example there are limits to the kind of clothing which we can wear to work without upsetting others. Few dispute this, and the rest know how to deal with them. Perfume put on to please the wearer also alters the environment of others. You have a right to an environment which does not needlessly make you unwell, or even uncomfortable. The correspondence on this page (which has surprised me by its sheer quantity in such a short time) shows that you are not alone. From my own experience in the clinic I can confirm that your concern is not rare. Your employer did the right thing, but it is clearly time for some education of perfume wearers.

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Office war and peace.

J.C. (USA) writes:   (26 Jan 1999)

"A tactic I have used in our main office is to remark on entering the room "Blimey, who's been using fly-spray in here". Things are a little less scented days later. But not everyone would have the nerve to do that. "


I agree with your last comment. It is liable to lead to retaliation. Better might be "That's a lovely scent. What a terrible pity it gives me (such an awful headache, asthma etc.)".


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Tell the FDA.

Date: Sat, 30 Jan 1999

Dear Dr. Stern, I have just got the following e-mail, which might interest you.

Best regards,
Marjo Jarvinen, Espoo, Finland

Subject: A group of us are planning a media blitz for 14 February.

Betty Bridges is a RN who was adversely affected by a chemical and started researching and has put everything on her website. A group of us are planning a media blitz for 14 February. We are putting together as much information on fragrance and chemicals that we can find and putting it on Betty's site so people can pick the information they need and send it to the FDA or their local newspaper or TV station, wherever they think it will get heard. Even to their church bulletin! Her site is at the end of this missive. Betty also attended an FDA meeting in Washington and presented our concerns there. The FDA has given us to 19 February '99 for the rest of us to voice our concerns. If you know of anyone who would like to join in, please forward this. The more people we have responding the louder our voice and maybe we can affect a change. Thank you for any help you can give to this cause.

Betty Bridges writes:

The FDA recently had a meeting to plan priorities and strategies for its cosmetics program. Perfumes and fragranced personal care products come under cosmetics. I attended the meeting to voice my concerns on the lack of testing for respiratory and neurological effects of fragrances. It is important that the FDA is aware that fragrances negatively impact a large number of people including those with breathing problems and migraine headaches. A comment period is open until February 19 to voice opinions and concerns. This is an opportunity to let the FDA and the fragrance industry know that perfumes and fragranced products are a real health concern and further safety testing is needed before products are marketed. You can submit your comments to:

Charles Haynes
200 C Street, S.W.
Washington, DC 20204.

phone: 202-205-4061
fax: 202-205-5098

Nothing complicated is required, just a simple letter explaining how fragrances and chemicals effect you and the impact on your health will do just great. Do mention in your letter, your comments are to be attached to the "Stakeholder's" meeting. This will ensure they are put in the proper file.

Thank you,
Betty Bridges
Perfume/Chemical Information Site:


I suggest your comments to the FDA should be factual, reporting your direct observations, avoiding needless interpretation. For example, tell them if you get a headache, or difficulty in breathing or whatever other symptom (abnormal sensation), and give an indication of what circumstances lead to your symptoms, how much exposure you need, how soon symptoms come on (seconds, minutes, hours etc.), how long they last, and how severe or disabling they are (do they interfere with or prevent work, sleep, social activity?).

Avoiding needless interpretation means that you should avoid conclusions such as multiple chemical sensitivity, allergy, or whether you think substances in perfumes are classed as petrochemicals, waste products or pollutants. Sure, your symptom may be due to allergy, and by all means say you wonder whether this is so. But unless you really do have proof or an allergic mechanism, there is also the possibility that the perfume is acting as an irritant. This might even be because of some abnormality in you, such as pre-existing allergic rhinitis. Try not to get bogged down in such speculation; stick to your direct observations.

If perfumes make you ill, then that fact is enough, together with the simple straightforward facts describing the illness. It is a pity not to be believed on that, just because you have put in your theory about the way perfumes do this to you, a theory which may or may not make a lot of sense to a scientist.

It would be relevant to report whether you always get the symptoms on exposure or only sometimes. It would also be relevant whether you get similar symptoms at other times when you are not exposed to perfume, and whether you have other medical conditions which might affect the way you react to perfume. If you are completely well in all other respects, or suffer from long-term nose or chest trouble or other allergies, say so. It could also be worth listing any medicines you take regularly and any medicines you have taken for your trouble from perfumes, and how much the latter medicines helped.

If your doctor is willing to write a brief submission for you, this will probably have added credibility to an expert committee. Your doctor is used to reporting clinical observations factually; he or she" knows the lingo".


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"Multiple chemical sensitivity".

S.V. writes:   (29 Jan 1999)

" Up until now, I thought I was alone, and did not realize how many people are adversely affected by fragrances. I have reactions to perfumes, men's colognes, deodorizing sprays that rental car companies use, etc. My reactions range from a headache (usually sinus) to asthma-type symptoms.

I have found that EEOC recognizes a diagnosis of multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS). However, it is very difficult to get such a diagnosis and a lot of medical doctors have not even heard of it. I found a clinic that specializes in it, and there are other clinics throughout the country that may be of assistance.

I have also found that these responses are not necessarily unusual because some of the ingredients in fragrances these days are listed on the hazardous waste listing, and commonly cause these types of reactions. Also, a lot of the ingredients in fragrances are petroleum based and are actually poisoning us and the people who wear them. "


Multiple chemical sensitivity is not the same as perfume hypersensitivity. My patients with perfume hypersensitivity are not hypersensitive to an unusually large range of substances, nor is it clear that the sensitivity is to 'chemicals' rather than natural ingredients. It is important not to get the two things confused, because that would hold back appropriate action on perfume hypersensitivity, the concern of this web page. It sounds as if your symptoms are not vague and global, but quite specific (headache and asthma), and that the causes are limited to those characteristic of perfume hypersensitivity.

The term "multiple chemical sensitivity" has been used by alternative practitioners whose ideas have not been supported by evidence acceptable to mainstream doctors, including myself. Patients who receive this label have often seemed to suffer from psychologically induced illness.

It would be a pity if discussion of perfume hypersensitivity became confused by introducing concepts which don't seem appropriate for most majority suffers.

Although some petrochemicals can cause illness in some circumstances, the same petrochemicals may be used with great benefit and no health hazard elsewhere.Similarly, what is called 'hazardous waste' in one context may be a perfectly normal ingredient or material in another context. Whether it is waste just depends on whether we still want to use it. Before blaming the effect of perfumes on petroleum based ingredients we would need evidence. So far, the evidence seems to be that it is not primarily these ingredients which cause most of the trouble.

What we need is careful research done in an unprejudiced way. Because this is hard work and takes time, there is a temptation to accept explanations offered with a convincing air of authority but without the hard work needed to check whether those explanations are correct. Two dangers of this are that:

  1. Your conerns may be ignored because you link them to ideas which may well be unconvincing to others.
  2. Much-needed research is delayed, confused or misdirected.

I would plead with you to accept that:

  1. There are plenty of experts, including those in the FDA, who really do want to take your concerns seriously if you report health effects of a group of substances on yourself.
  2. Doctors and other experts are best helped by sticking to simple facts which you can observe directly for yourself with your own senses.
  3. You can come up with theories, but doctors and researchers will rightly be interested in evidence. Doctors and reseachers have plenty of exerience of theories which sound convincing but are wrong. They are rightly trained to demand more rigorous evidence that a lay person would imagine to be necessary. Trust me; this is based on their bitter experience, and protects you from a great deal of nonsense.

In short, keep it simple. That way you are more likely to get attention and appropriate action.

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Perfume Sensitivity and a New Job.

S.C. (California, USA) writes:   (26 Jan 1999)

"I too seem to have been becoming more sensitive to certain perfumes and after shaves over the last few months.
The current problem is with a coworker on a new job. We are in training for 5 weeks, starting last week. He seems to bathe in his cologne every morning, and it permeates the closed conference room in which most of the training takes place.
The first day, I asked him what he was wearing, and told him I am allergic to some perfumes. Twice last week he sat next to me and I had to move across the room at break. Today was the worst. The moment I walked into the room, my eyes and nose felt the contact with the chemicals. Within a half-hour my eyes were itching and burning, my nose began to burn slightly, I developed a headache, and I had to use my rescue inhaler even though my asthma is very-well controlled. These symptoms, despite my being on Zyrtec, Singulair, and several other related meds.
I feel it is time to say something to our training supervisor or to the offending coworker again. We are all new at this agency, and I don't want to be a nuisance, but today I felt more ill than usual, as a direct result of walking in to air pollluted by this strong perfume.
I am very thankful to find this bulletin board and to see what company I am in. I plan to immediately inform the allergy discussion group about this site. It is good to see I am not alone, and that it appears a grass-roots effort is forming to find solutions to our suffering. "


I think you are not being a nuisance if you tell the truth.

It would be useful to hear of approaches which have worked successfully for others in your situation without creating needless ill-feeling.

It is possible to learn lessons in handling confrontation from political discussions on television. The best and most successful operators always keep utterly calm, studiously avoiding terms of abuse or claims which can immediately be demolished, whilst relentlessly but politely putting forward their point and their facts. One can be friendly whilst making a point which the other side does not wish to hear. If the other person is abusive, don't allow this to knock you off your positive and polite 'perch'. Difficult.

My own view is that our decision to agree with someone else depends rather more on whether we respect and like them than on the factual content of what they say. Since vehemence against us antagonises us, it decreases rather than increases the chances of an opinion being accepted. If you present yourself as an enemy, the inevitable result is that your argument will be treated as that of an enemy.

Of course the perfume-wearer is far from being the only person whose mind needs to be on your side. It is vital to retain the respect and regard of others who form the climate of opinion, and of those who make the rules. So even if your friendly approach fails with the culprit, he may be persuaded because majority opinion supports you or a person with power supports you.

The support you get will also depend on the respect you earn in other ways by giving good value in your work and by being a good fellow human being towards others at work.

I can't imagine that a young man who wishes to appear attractive (else why the cologne) really wants to make a nice girl like you (else why your concern about making a nuisance of yourself) suffer. Surely, once he understands the problem he should be on your side. And by the way, if he does show consideration, show respect for his sacrifice made for your benefit, difficult if you have pilloried him or exaggerated or distorted his actions.

Of course there will be situations in which your reasonable approaches fail. At the end of the day an appeal to someone in authority may be the only way you can continue your work. But if you have to resort to that when others have seen how reasonable you have been, it should not be you who suffers from the fallout.

As human beings we all fail in these respects, and often. Do your best. Be ready to apologise if you have wronged someone. Be factual. Keep going. Healthy air is a reasonable request.

In summary:

  1. The truth, stated with consideration of others, is not a nuisance.
  2. Needless vehemence damages a cause.
  3. Study good politicians on TV. Be calm, polite, factual, but relentless despite provocation.
  4. Earn the respect of the person you confront if possible.
  5. Earn respect in the group, by your handling of the argument and by your other conduct.
  6. Your opponents may be on your side once they appreciate the facts.
  7. If your opponent becomes your supporter by giving way to your need, show respect in return.
  8. If you have to appeal to authority, an earned reputation as a considerate person protects you from fallout.
  9. Apologise if you become aware you have been wrong.
  10. Healthy air is a reasonable request.

Do you agree? Disagree? Comments? Click here to contribute; putting the word "PERFUME" in the subject line.


Severe reaction.

D.R. (USA) writes:   (14 Feb 1999)

"I just read your response to the person from Canada who suffered anaphylaxis in the doctor's office. I was surprised to hear that you had not known of perfumes causing anaphylaxis. I suffered a severe attack in 1991. I went to work one day and within 30 minutes my lips and eyes began to swell. Being about a block from the hospital, I drove myself. They gave me a tranquilizer and sent me on my way. Over the next few days I continued to worsen, developing hives. My Dr. put me on steroids, shots daily and pills, but was still unable to control my symptoms. He then referred me to an ENT/Allergy specialist. Luckily he was a wonderful Dr. He ended up putting me on an extremely high dose of steroids, while we searched for the answer. I tested negative to all biological causes, mold plants, mites and such. I was sleeping in an upright position barely able to breathe at night. One night my throat came so close to closing entirely that I could not speak to wake up my husband. At this point I was pretty much going to my doctorÕs office daily. He insisted I should go into hospital or obtain an Epipen. I am glad I chose not to go in the hospital, because in that environment it is very difficult for me to breathe. Even nurses have the nerve to bathe in perfumes. How many people have reactions to this while trapped in a hospital? Probably no one would ever guess. One day while searching my bedroom for any answers, I came upon an unopened pull up type air freshener. It immediately took my breath away. My doctor did not seem surprised. He has been treating me now since 1991. I still have a lot of trouble, but am able to work. I cannot go to church or to the movies. It seems to be only some perfumes and any air freshener that do this to me. I control my breathing space at home and wherever I can, enabling me to tolerate a little in the rest of the world. I accept the fact that at any point I could be exposed to too large a dose of whatever chemical it is and not live through it. Apparently it is impossible to narrow the chemical down, since the fragrance companies are so secretive about their ingredients.

Apparently what originally put me over the top was going to work that day where the girl I worked with bathed in perfume and sprayed air freshener right before I had come in. "


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Severe reactions to perfume.

Anonymous:   (25 Feb 1999)

" I accidentally came upon your page today. I was delighted. As a long time sufferer of asthma, I have fought this battle so many times you wouldn't believe it. I am so allergic that within a few seconds I usually have a reaction. I have the same reaction to the magazines that insist on putting those samples in their pages. I work in Surgery and also have the problem with fellow workers. I react much more quickly to perfumes than to cigarettes smoke. I especially avoid those dept stores that insist on spraying me without my asking. For years most people thought I was just a baby, until they saw first hand my reaction, for most people that is enough, but some just don't know that I could end up in the ER or die if help wasn't available. One day one of the staff sprayed foot spray before I could leave the room, my reaction was so immediate that it scared her to death, she never used it again. It's too bad that most people don't realize that their scents are making some of very ill.

I do not use any products that have a strong scent and I avoid as much as possible scents. I make my teenagers put their perfume's on outside and they can't ride in my car if they insist on wearing it, their friends know the rules too. Thanks for letting me vent and especially for providing this forum. "


I normally omit compliments in editing emails for these pages, but I've left yours in, as they are very typical and tell us something about how people in your situation feel. The rest of your story speaks for itself.

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Family, friends and hospital.

S.P. writes:   (28 Feb 1999)

" I had to retire 3 years ago because of my asthma and trying to work in a public area where so many people wear that "stinky" stuff.

It took almost 2 years to get my social security. They, like so many other people, don't understand. I worked at a discount store and worked in 11 different jobs and areas of the store trying to find a place I could work without getting so sick, but ended up retiring anyway.

My biggest complaint is my daughter-in-law, who insist on wearing that "stinky" stuff no matter what I ask or say to her.

My son's husband also has asthma, as well as their 4 yr old daughter. They have had several pretty good fights about it but she still wears it. I went from really loving this girl to almost hating her over this. Does anyone have any suggestion on what to do with her? She knows she is bothering us, but seems to think her right to wear perfume is more important than our right to breathe.

Many medical personnel are terrible about wearing it. At the hospital a lot of the staff know they can't come in my room to take care of me because of this, but the next day they are back with it on. I write the hospital about this every time I come home and it has done no good. I do not go to the hospital sometimes when I know I should because of this; it is so hard to convince them. I had to ask the ER doctor to leave the room once and she then treated me like I was stupid and was very rude to me after that.

Probably 70% of my friends are very nice about this I must say, but the other 30% could end up killing me. "


No comment needed.


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Limonene, a perfume ingredient.

Dr. C.A. (USA) writes:   (5 May 1999)

" I have found that not all perfume is a problem for me. I happened to be wearing a monitor badge in the lab and sprayed on Liz Claiborne "Realities" by mistake. The badge came back as showing a high "alcohol" reading. Generally I can tolerate an alcohol based perfume. I have upper airway reactivity "RUDS" and go into laryngospasm with perfumes that use LIMONENE, a citrus terpene solvent, as the "extender" which helps to hold the scent on your skin longer. My husband visited a French perfume factory and found out that they import orange peels from the USA for this use. I wonder if many others have figured out that it is the orange solvent which is their problem? This product is used in many of the citrus smelling cleaning products, air fresheners and fabric softeners also. Hope this info is helpful! So far antihistimines like Claritin and steroids have not been able to prevent this reaction in me. "

Your comments are potentially very helpful. Alcohol cannot be the cause of perfume reactions, or people would notice trouble from alcoholic drinks, something I have not encountered. It would be interesting to see if others can contribute on this topic. The failure of Claritin, an antihistamine, to work suggests your reaction is not caused by IgE antibodies. You don't say whether the steroids were topical or systemic, but I would be surprised if either prevented a reaction such as laryngospasm. Nevertheless, if the basis of your reactions were underlying inflammation in the mucosa, then steroids in some form should be able to help. A mystery.


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B.B. (USA) writes:   (10 May 1999)

" When limonene oxidizes in the air it forms substances that are very irritating to the respiratory system and are known to cause respiratory sensitization. Once sensitization occurs even tiny amounts can cause symptoms.

In most cases of respiratory sensitization to chemicals, the exact mechanism is not known. But it is known avoidance is critical to prevent worsing symptoms and damage to the lungs. It is not recommended that steroids and other medications are used to allow the person continued exposure as the underlying sensitivity continues to increase.

My website: Fragranced Products Information Network . The URL is http://www.ameliaww.com/fpin/fpin.htm, also mentioned earlier on this web page. "


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Abnormally high sensitivity to stimuli in general?

L.M. writes:   (6 May 1999)

" My problem is not as severe as those of other people who have written in, but I have become more and more sensitive to perfume, including most incense, over the past few years, and I do have a physical reaction: moderate feelings of nausea, pricking sensation in the nose (as experienced with hay fever), pain in the frontal sinuses. I usually do not experience this if I put on a little perfume myself, possibly because I do not use that much and choose scents that might not have the offending ingredients. I am not sensitive to most other scents -- for example, I actually like certain chemical smells, such as gasoline.

I'm sure that there are all different levels and gradations of perfume sensitivity, but I must also point out that I am hypersensitive to other sensory stimuli. Flashing lights make me upset and disoriented; noises bother me; as a child I hated to be touched. I realize this is beyond the stated purpose of your page, but do you have any information on whether there is a recognized syndrome of general hypersensitivity that has a physical cause? My only alternative would be to believe that this is all my fault or that I am, in fact, being "babyish," as some of your other correspondents have apparently been accused of being. In that case, perhaps there is some "desensitizing" training which I could undergo.

Thanks for any information you or your readers might provide. "

I am not aware of a general increased sensitivity to various sensory stimuli. Distinguishing between this and true allergy is going to be a matter for an expert locally.


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Tearful Teacher.

A teacher writes:   (6 May 1999)

" I was just given my yearly evaluation today. I was given an exceelent evaluation on my teaching. The only negative comment I received was a complaint that I had told [actually I asked] my students and other teachers who were in my room for any amount of time NOT to wear perfume. I was told the they had received complaints about this and that I needed to be more flexible.

Then the principle toled me I should go find out which colognes I am allergic to and write the names down. Then just ask people what they are allergic to. I for one am not willing to voluntarily sniff perfumes till I find the ones that send me in to an instant asthma attack. Secondly shouldn't my right to breathe be a legal right? Are there any legal grounds if I am harrassd for this in the future?

I was so upset I left his office in tears-- I feel like I am being torn down over something I can't control by people who can control what they wear. "

You are right. Your spelling is not.

You and others with this problem need to interact to swap tips about what works and what does not in modifying the behaviour of the offending perfume wearers. There is obviously a need for research to document the condition in terms that will enable the medical profession to understand what is going on, and for education, so that others in general will realise that you are not a uniqe freak, but that you are experiencing something which is not so rare and which is disabling.

By the way, I am not immune to spelling msitakes (goak), but am allergic to teachers who can't spell (another goak). Please show the necessary consideration.


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B.H. writes:   (14 May 1999)

" I have a perfume allergy. I live in southern Ontario and am having great difficulties locating an allergist who could help me with my problem. Due to my reaction to my coworkers' perfume I am unable to work and my workplace will not let me return unless I find a specialist who will collaborate with my family doctor stating that I have an allergy to perfume.

Could anyone help me with this problem?

Preferably a doctor located between Toronto and Fort Erie. "

Try contacting the Canadian site (http://www.cadvision.com/allergy) with a link in the AAIR website.


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C.W. (USA) writes:   (14 May 1999)

" I am 38 years old and have been sensitive to perfumes for 22 years, with my reactions becoming more quick and sustained after each of three pregnancies. At this point I refer to my "perfume allergy" explanation as the dumb version. Trying to explain to anyone that almost every household and personal product that lists "fragrance" has ill effects on me is like talking to the moon. I've tried a host of medicines but handle it best with Benadryl, Naproxyn and acupuncture pressure points. Nasonex on an as needed basis helps me hold on long enough to exit gracefully. I usually experience nasal and sinus pain and swelling, followed by facial numbness, if exposure is prolonged I become unable to concentrate, speak and eventually faint. If I allow myself to get to the point of numbness I can look forward to a migraine.

Even in my local community I hear more and more people complain of problems with perfume "allergies" that I consider mild, but people on the whole refuse to understand.

My biggest fear is how much I'll miss at my children's school events, graduations, weddings, etc. Each day they bring home every teacher and aids' perfumes, plus the school's nauseating soap and cleaning oils on their hair, clothes and papers. Has anyone had success wearing a particulate mask to block out these offending chemicals? "

Although your reference to acupuncture is not your main point, this site does not endorse acupuncture. Though its proponents are passionate, their evidence comes nowhere near to the quality now routinely insisted on before conventional medical treatments get approval.

Nasonex, a steroid nasal spray, will surely work better if you use it regularly.

Benadryl contains diphenhydramine, an old and sedative antihistamine; you should ask for a low-sedating modern antihistamine as the older drugs cause unsafe driving, due to their alcohol-like effect.

Naproxen (Naprosyn ®), usually used against joint inflammation and pain, is not a treatment I normally use for this kind of problem, so I am interested to find that you benefit from it.

Masks: I'd be surprised if they worked well, but why don't you try them? They are cheap and readily available; the ones in hardware stores include versions which are good filters, effective against allergens such as house dust and animal allergens. They'll not make you glamorous, but putting one on should be quite a way of making your point! I do NOT recommend them as a definitive treatment; the correct management of environmental allergies is to eliminate the cause, and experience in occupational respiratory allergy shows that masks are an inferior way of managing the problem, quite apart from the cosmetic and social effects.


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Perfume In Schools.

P.W (Canada) writes:   (22 May 1999)

" At the school my 12-year- old daughter attends, the boys and girls think wearing loads of fragrance is *kewl*. Monday, a boy sitting behind her in class suddenly sprayed her back with cologne, drenching her skin. He thought it was funny, and even seemed to think it was a way to get her attention. in 15 minutes, my daughter's skin started itching severely, and she had to ask the teacher to be excused to go to the washroom to try to wash the cologne off. The teacher asked him why he did such a thing, but didn't discipline him or confiscate the cologne bottle. The next morning, the same boy sprayed the cologne in the air, and on kids all over the class. Within 2 days, my daughter's asthma, which had been dormant since she was in kindergarten, flared up with a vengeance. Now she has to bring a bronchodilator to school and before gym or any exertion. What I want to do is send the prescription bills to this idiot boy's parents. But what I will do is educate the principal, teachers and students about fragrance sensitivity. They don't let kids bring peanut butter to school lunches because of possible allergic reactions. Why should perfume and cologne spray bottles be any different? "

Your letter speaks for itself. An interesting point is the evidence of a link between skin and lung sensitivity to perfume.


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Bullying at work by exploiting perfume sensitivity.

Ricardo writes:   (17 Jun 1999)

" This is a nightmare! I suffer from an intense allergy to scented products, which has prompted my officemate to escalate her perfume use in the hopes, I guess, of driving me out of our shared office. Having your own office is a prestigious accomplishment at this university. My employers are dragging their feet on finding an answer to this via accommodations, and even tho disability management has been alerted to this problem, I am still being subjected to these noxious odors daily.

My union rep has backed down from advising me on what to do. I usually develop a severe migraine and have to go home, where I have to take Imitrex to relieve the symptoms, which shoots my BP thru the roof (210/130 this morning). And I had a heart attack in 1995. My MD has provided me with a note excusing me from work indefinitely until this issue is resolved, but I feel that if I turn this note in, it will negatively impact my record, and will take my department 'off the hook' from doing their job in providing me with reasonable accommodations. And part of my reason for sticking around is because I like my job and do not want to lose it. I am weary of the constant hostility I am subjected to on a daily basis, and do not know what else to do. I also continue this 'fight' because there may be, in the future, another employee with a perfume allergy, and I want a precedence to be established in case that they need to be accommodated for. Any ideas or support greatly appreciated. "

Aggression by taking advantage of a fellow worker's medical condition is reminiscent of a variety of school bullying, in which the bullies threaten a nut-allergic child with nuts. You are right in saying that if you succumb, others will face the same problem in future.

Aggression occurs wherever humans interact (unless there is a bunch of saints I haven't heard about somewhere in the real world) and it sounds as if your colleague is merely taking advantage of your problem for aggression she would have shown in another way if you were not sensitive to perfumes. Perhaps it should be a sobering thought for others that if your colleague succeeds in getting her prestige objective of a solo office in this way, she'll be encouraged to use illegitimate methods to score victories over others in future. The best interests of the department will suffer by being placed second to the manipulative self-interest of one of its members.

As correspondence on this page shows, coping with perfume allergy in the workplace demands people skills which many sufferers do not have. By people skills I mean good and straightforward communication, the ability to demonstrate genuine concern and sympathy for others, and sufficient skill in assertiveness and the willingness to use it. Of course I do mean assertiveness, not aggressiveness. These are difficult areas in which most people are deficient when it comes to unusually stressful situations, and in which some of us are woefully deficient, perhaps through no fault of our own. I do honestly believe that we can all learn the necessary skills to a greater extent than we have done in the past, and the best way to do so may be to seek advice from a wise friend or someone else you respect and trust.

Assuming you have not given legitimate cause for offence, this should be treated as the nasty underhand form of aggression it is, and you have a legitimate complaint, which you should pursue with sufficient vigour. If, in your stressed state, you have succumbed to the temptation to give offence, apologise and make amends unequivocally for your own lapse, and then get on with the real agenda, as in the first sentence of this paragraph.


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Groups to help action toward banning of perfumes in the workplace

Karen M. writes:   (29 Sep 1999)

" Today at work I had a reaction to perfume worn by a co-worker. I have had similar, though not so severe reactions in the past. I have informed those that I work closely with about my sensitivity to perfumes, especially strong perfumes, and they have been considerate not to wear perfume to work. However, a new employee, even though she had been told about my sensitivity and the sensitivity of another employee, came drenched in a perfume called Angel. Within a minute or less I felt pain in my head above the eyes, had some difficulty breathing, nasal congestion, burning eyes and the worst symptom was mental confusion making it impossible to continue with my work. I had to take lunch early to get away from it and out into the fresh air. I would like information about groups that can help me take action toward the banning of perfumes in the workplace. I do not want to have to be sick at work any more. I work for a government entity. Any info will be greatly appreciated. "

Banning may be beyond what is possible. Banning over-use may at least decrease the problem. But let's hear it for groups; any of you keen to start one? Or know of one?


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Policy document for fragrances in the workplace

Anne S. (UK) writes:   (29 Sep 1999)

" Do you know where we might find a sample fragrance free workplace policy? "

Does anyone reading this have a policy which has worked? Here is a related story and question:

Deborah D writes:   (27 Oct 1999)

" My 13 year old daughter, asthmatic since sixth grade, has been experiencing asthma attacks brought on by the other students' use of spray colognes, breathsprays, deodorants, etc. It's worst in the locker room and restrooms of course, but not a week goes by that she isn't affected in the halls or even her own classrooms. Twice, she was sprayed directly in the face by classmates who thought she just HAD to smell their wonderful new cologne. Yesterday, I wrote letters to her teachers, coaches, school principal and to the superintendant of the county school board in an effort to ban possession and use of spray toiletries on school grounds. School policy prohibits benign annoyances such as chewing gum, sleeveless shirts, Pokemon cards, rude messages on t-shirts, but I'm not optimistic that they'll see reason about perfumes without argument. I've found some factual data, but am coming up short on supportive legal precedents. Any sources? "


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Is it allergy? From the workplace point of view, does it matter?

M.L. USA (Oregon) writes:   (2 Nov 1999)

" What can I do about a co-worker who wears a scent that makes me miserable when I am around her. My body reacts badly to this scent. She is stubborn about her right to wear it. I have no choice. I don't want to lose my job, and don't know what to do. My allergist says that perfume is NOT an allergy and that I have rhinitis... not allergy. Whatever the name is, I remain miserable and without choices. Can you help? "

It sounds as if you are absolutely right. Your dilemma is tremendously common among the people who suffer from these perfume reactions. You could show your boss a print-out of this page to prove you are not alone, and can quote my experience from my clinic that this problem is not uncommon.

My opinion is that your allergist is wrong. It is perfectly true that allergic mechanisms have not been demonstrated, but the opinion that this is not an allergy is an assumption, not a fact, until research provides the answer one way or another. From a practical point of view it makes no difference to the issue of whether your co-worker should feel free to wear perfume to a degree which makes you ill. Non-allergic rhinitis is common, and may be irritated by a number of things, though we have no proof this is the mechanism in you. But if this is the reason, what's the difference as far as your symptoms are concerned? Would you leave obstacles lying around on the floor if you had a blind co-worker? After all, blindness is not an allergy either.

From your employer's point of view, the practical issue is not so much whether you are miserable (though a caring employer would, well, care), but that severe nasal symptoms are known to affect work performance. "How can I concentrate and work at my best, if my nose is giving me hell because someone insists on wearing perfume which makes me ill?" might be a question your boss could understand.


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Perfume in Church

L.L. (USA) writes:   (2 Nov 1999)

" Perfume keeps me from attending my church. Think there should be some way to make a church perfume free. After all no one smokes in church. "

Your problem is surely harder than that in the workplace. I have visions of you joining a religion which does not approve of perfume! All I can suggest is energetic treatment of your nose, perhaps with steroid sprays, to minimise your reaction, and avoiding proximity to the worst offenders. Perhaps you can gradually convince the majority to wear less perfume for your sake, but I'm not optimistic. It might be helpful if you could discover that you are not alone in your church; if someone else has the same problem, your chances could improve. Your problem highlights the need for public education, always a long struggle.


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Your legal right in the workplace to end perfume use

A.K. (USA) writes:   (25 Nov 1999)

" Though you are adverse to being labeled as one with a disability, all of us are actually protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1992. "Breathing is a 'major life activity' as defined by the ADA. Fragrance bans meet the 'reasonable accomodation' clause of the ADA, since elimination and substitution are not expensive." This quote is from the website: http://members.tripod.com/~Enviroknow/Perfume.html.

You have the legal right to ask your employer to require that your co-worker stop wearing scent entirely. Your employer has the legal duty to do so. Your coworker does not have the right to wear perfume if it harms your health, any more than s/he has the right to smoke in the workplace. In a nice and firm manner, inform your employer that your right to breathe supersedes your coworker's cosmetic pleasure (i.e. slavery to advertising), legally and morally. "


This is in answer to:

Jennifer (US) (22 Nov 1998)
Anyone out there with useful experience of helpful arrangements with employers?
" I have problems with perfume on other people as well. I am interested in contacting anyone who has successfully kept their job by getting 'accommodation' from their employer with a 'fragrance-free environment.' I live in Ohio... "
This sounds like a landmark contribution. Comments welcome.


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PRESS RELEASE: Office Ban on Perfume Proposed in Canada

M.J. (Finland) writes:   (25 Nov 1999)

" This short press release is from the just released issue of http://www.happi.com/about.htm, HAPPI (Household And Personal Products Industry) Magazine. Unfortunately, since it's not one of their feature items for this issue it's not available on-line; however, if you do get the printed copy (free of charge) the release is the 2nd item on page 22 of the "International Report" in the November issue. http://www.happi.com/current/toc.htm, HAPPI Magazine Table of Contents: November 1999

The text is:

'Office Ban on Perfume Proposed
CANADA: A public employees' union is supporting a proposed ban on the use of perfume and after shave products in government offices. The ban, which now covers tobacco smoke, would prohibit the use of personal scents as well as the use of scented cleaning products. Mike Butler, president of the Union of Public Sector Employees, the organization that co-sponsored the ban, said the government and union want to foster a healthier work environment by considering the needs of employees who are sensitive to certain scents.' "


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"Aromatic Elixir" by Clinique

Email received:   (8 Feb 2000)

" The perfume Aromatic Elixir by Clinique causes me to have tightening in my chest, a rapid heart rate, a strong pounding of my heart, nausea, light-headedness, and a feeling of losing consciousness. I don't wear it, but I get the symptoms when others do. When I phoned Clinique's laboratory, the representative told me that this was not their problem but mine. Clinique was very insensitive about the adverse reactions I experience and wasn't concerned about how it is affecting my life. I would appreciate information about other people experiencing problems with perfumes.

Also, I would like to know of organizations that are fighting for a fragrance-free work place and schools. "


It sounds unwise for an organisation to behave the way you write they did. I wonder if the FDA would be interested. If we are all entitled to know which substances we eat or drink in products or take as medications, surely we should all be entitled to information on products we inhale involuntarily, or with which we are liable to have skin contact involuntarily.


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Modern ingredients in perfumes

Jean (South Africa) writes:   (10 Feb 2000)

" I seems that the modern ingredients in perfumes are the problem. I believe that Khaki weed essence is one of them. I never used to have a problem until around the 1960's. Bottles of the older types of perfume, which I still have - like the original Eau de Cologne No. 4711, Evening in Paris, Norman Hartnell's 'In Love', are all still fine for me to smell, but the modern ones drive me up the wall! Including all aerosols. It was so bad that I lost my sense of taste and smell for five years. Two polyp ops did not help and it was only when I found an understanding surgeon who did a successful sinus and polyp op that I could smell and taste again. I now used Rhinocort spray (not aerosol) daily. "


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My wife suffers from callous perfume users

JH (USA) writes:   (August 7, 2000)

" To see the callous, cold behavior of others concerning the issue of health risk and perfumes is tragic! As a cigarette smoker, I'm used to accommodating others' requests to not smoke. To see the rudeness in others about a funky-a-- perfume. You would think that you asked someone to amputate their left arm. My wife suffers from asthma that is triggered by perfumes and other scents, and I have witnessed the lack of care in others concerning her severe reactions to scents. I WANT TO SHOUT AT THE WORLD "THAT YOUR FUNKY TOILET WATERS ARE HARMING MY WIFE." but no one listens. There is another way to make her life better at the workplace. I thank you for any and all information concerning "Air Quality in the Workplace." I'm disgusted with perfumes. "


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Smelly magazine ads

ES (USA):   (August 16, 2000)

" There was an article in this month's Vanity fair about Dimaggio that I wanted to read, but when I opened the magazine I was immediately repelled by the nauseating perfume that they push on an unsuspecting public. Is there no way to stop this practice of attacking innocent people via these smelly ads? "


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Email Jessie MacLeod at jmac1970@aol.com about limonene

Jessie MacLeod (USA) at jmac1970@aol.com (Nov 16, 2000) wrote:
" I just read the two comments about Limonene. I was made very ill by limonene when it was over applied as a pesticide in my home. I now have respiratory problems and asthma because of it. I would like to personally contact the people who have been affected by limonene, as I am involved in a lawsuit now because of this. Can I get in touch with these individuals, or can you please refer them to me at my e-mail address. I need to make contact as soon as possible. "


Email to Jessie MacLeod, and not to this website, please.


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Fragrance Free Health Club?

Jeanine (USA) (Nov 23, 2000) wrote:
" I live in New York City and wonder if anyone, anywhere, has ever heard of a fragrance-free health club. I once found a reference to fragrance free clubs in an article in the New York Times Magazine. I wrote to the author to ask for the name of such a club and my letter was ignored. This didn't surprise me, as the article was little more than a glorified ad for perfumes, as in, "don't want to wear heavy perfume to the gym? Well then, try one of these lighter scents." Better still, how about trying soap and water and deodorant and no scents?

Any information on this topic would be appreciated. I'd also be interested in hearing from others who would be interested in such a health club. You can write to me at jeaninehere@hotmail.com. "


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Incense incense.

Anon writes:   (13 Feb '01)

" I am having trouble breathing when the lady in the apartment above me lights her incense. It filters through my heating system, and I am on inhalers and medication.

I also bought 2 air purifiers for my apartment. They are going all of the time. I have talked to the lady upstairs about this, and it doesn't phase her. She is a nurse.

My landlady is concerned, but can't get it through to the lady upstairs that I am having migraines, vomiting and having to go outside to breathe. I am having an allergic reaction to the incense. I am feeling rundown daily from this.

What is this allergy type? "


Anyone else with problems from incense.?


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Perfume misused as a weapon: Anaphylaxis

Marjo Jarvinen (marjoj@sci.fi) writes:   (6 May '01)

" A female medical assistant with no history of asthma or reactions to fragrances was assaulted by a patient, who pumped three sprays of a perfume into her face. The employee experienced an acute anaphylactic reaction with shortness of breath, a suffocating sensation, wheezes, and generalized urticaria, and required aggressive medical treatment, a long period of oral bronchodilator therapy, and, finally, weaning from the medications. "

The full abstract and reference details are:

J Am Board Fam Pract 2001 Mar-Apr;14(2):137-40

Occupational acute anaphylactic reaction to assault by perfume spray in the face.

Lessenger JE.

BACKGROUND: Perfumes have been associated with rashes in employees exposed to scented soaps or with allergic conditions, such as rhinitis or asthma, in employees exposed to perfumes or fragrances in the air. METHODS: Reported here is a case of an anaphylactic reaction and respiratory distress as a result of a deliberate assault with a perfume spray. The medical literature was searched using the key words "fragrances," "respiratory distress," "assault," and "health care workers." RESULTS: A female medical assistant with no history of asthma or reactions to fragrances was assaulted by a patient, who pumped three sprays of a perfume into her face. The employee experienced an acute anaphylactic reaction with shortness of breath, a suffocating sensation, wheezes, and generalized urticaria, and required aggressive medical treatment, a long period of oral bronchodilator therapy, and, finally, weaning from the medications. CONCLUSIONS: Perfumes are complex mixtures of more than 4,000 vegetable and animal extracts and organic and nonorganic compounds. Fragrances have been found to cause exacerbations of symptoms and airway obstruction in asthmatic patients, including chest tightening and wheezing, and are a common cause of cosmetic allergic contact dermatitis. In many work settings the use of fragrances is limited. Assault is becoming more common among workers in the health care setting. Workers should be prepared to take immediate steps should an employee go into anaphylactic shock.

PMID: 11314921 [PubMed - in process]

This reference can be viewed at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&list_ui ds=11314921&dopt=Abstract


I have not looked at the full original publication, but according to the abstract this is a medically authenticated case of anaphylaxis from sprayed perfume.


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There are helpful people too

R.R. (Canada) writes:   (17 Dec '02)

" I also suffer from scent-induced asthma. It could be as simple as a scented hand cream or the more obvious pot-pourris that many stores think are nice. I work in a place where I mentioned my problem to the Board of Directors (several of whom were wearing perfume at the time). The next meeting, nobody had any perfume on. Since the meetings are conducted in a small office (mine!), it seems even worse if someone comes in with scents. I find that MOST people are quite good about avoiding causing me grief. Difficulties I experience when exposed to scents?? - my voice drops about an octave, my nose stuffs up, and my breathing becomes difficult. "


It is good to have some positive news about working colleagues who are helpful. This should encourage many people.


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Excess perfume

Rosalie writes:   (21 Feb 2003)

" My son just stormed out of the house because I told him that people don't like to smell his cologne on their cars after he has handled the steering wheel (he is a valet parking attendant) and he thinks I am just a nagging mother who is making all this up in her mind. I took some plastic shopping bags that were in our closet for over 4 days, and they still reeked from perfume that was worn by the bagger of the groceries. I have also had to throw away sandwiches that smell like the preparer's perfume. Why can't people be made to realize that others are very sensitive to perfumes and don't want to suffer the consequences of other's behaviors all day long. "


Excessive use of perfume not only makes some people ill, but is disliked by many who do not get symptoms of illness from it.


Click here to submit your contribution on this topic; putting the word "PERFUME" in the subject line.



Click here to submit your contribution on this topic; putting the word "PERFUME" in the subject line.



Click here to submit your contribution on this topic; putting the word "PERFUME" in the subject line.



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