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
Wondering if your nagging cold is actually an allergy? Or what about your
new skin cream that made your hands break out? Distinguishing an allergy from a
non-allergic condition is not always a clear-cut task. But knowing the
difference can sometimes help you solve what's ailing you, which in turn could
mean faster relief.
Mary Fields knows just how difficult pinpointing an allergy can be. The
64-year-old Bronx resident tells WebMD she was convinced her frequent hives
were caused by something...
"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.