You catch a whiff of a co-worker's new fragrance, and within minutes, you
have a whopper of a headache.
You pop open that new bottle of dish-washing liquid, and by the time you've
washed the pots and pans, your hands and arms are covered in hives.
You walk into a friend's home and smell freshly baked pumpkin pie. Only
after you start sneezing uncontrollably and feeling dizzy, weak, and sick to
your stomach do you learn she hasn't been baking -- she's been burning a
Your favorite fashion magazine arrives, and as soon as it's out of the
mailbox your eyes are watering and you're sneezing nonstop. The culprit:
scented fragrance advertising inserts.
If this sounds like you, you may be one of a growing number of people with
fragrance allergies or sensitivities that can have mild to severe
Q: Atlanta is beautiful in the spring, but my allergies are so bad!
Will moving to the desert make them go away?
A: Ragweed and grass pollens are triggers that are difficult to avoid
almost everywhere in the continental United States during the spring and
Although much of Arizona and New Mexico is arid, most people in the cities,
suburbs, and small towns grow grass for lawns. Plus, the land has been
disturbed by construction and landscaping, so weeds are widespread. Las Vegas,
"Scent sells. So not only are there definitely more fragranced products
in the world, the fragrances themselves are also more complex. And for many
people, repeated exposures can bring about a constellation of symptoms," says Tracie DeFreitas Saab, MS, a human
factors consultant with the Job Accommodation Network at West Virginia
University. DeFreitas frequently works with employers and employees on work
Those symptoms, she tells WebMD, can range from classic "allergic"
reactions, such as sneezing, runny nose, and watery eyes; to headaches,
inability to concentrate, and dizziness; to respiratory issues, such as breathing
difficulties and wheezing; to skin reactions, such as itching, hives, and other
According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), fragrances are
considered the leading cause of cosmetic contact dermatitis. As a health
problem, this sensitivity alone affects more than 2 million people, and studies
suggest that sensitivity is on the rise.
Experts theorize that one reason fragrance allergies appear to be increasing
is that fragrances themselves have become such a prominent part of our world.
According to the AAD, some 5,000 different fragrances -- and countless other
fragrance combinations -- are used in products today. And they can be a
powerful, toxic brew.
"From hair shampoos to carpet shampoos, from laundry detergent to shower
gels, from home sprays to hair sprays to moisturizers, cosmetic, and personal
care items, the scent industry has literally exploded. And for many people,
it's a real sensory overload," says Pamela Dalton, PhD, MPH, an olfactory
researcher at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia.
We do have some control over what we allow into our homes and other personal
spaces -- we can toss that magazine with the inserts or switch shampoo -- but
it can really become an issue when our senses are assaulted in common areas,
such as the workplace or a college classroom, places where we have to be.