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Allergies Health Center

Fragrance Allergies: A Sensory Assault

The use of fragrance in products is on the rise -- and so is the number of people affected by them. WebMD offers ways to protect yourself if you're sensitive to scents.
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Fragrance Allergies: Nailing Down the Culprits continued...

So what's someone who suspects a fragrance allergy to do when it comes to finding a product that won't cause a reaction? Ultimately, experts say, it's all about trial and error.

Slankard advises trying an unscented product first. If you don't have a reaction, then the scent most likely is the culprit. If you do have a reaction, then it is probably a chemical reaction, not a true fragrance reaction. At that point, it becomes like any other chemical reaction: You have to try to nail down the exact cause with the help of an allergist, but at least you know it's chemical in nature.

Single-note fragrances, like a rose scent or freesia scent, may be less likely to cause problems than a multicomponent scent -- unless, of course, it's the single note you are reacting to, she says.

Fragrance Sensitivities: What You Can Do

Regardless of what is behind your fragrance allergy, experts agree that reducing exposure is key.

"The most important thing you can do in that respect is to remove yourself from the offending fragrance." Avoidance is really the most effective treatment, Slankard tells WebMD.

But what if you can't? Experts say there are still ways to get control.

"One important thing you can do is get other people to recognize that it's a problem, not only for you, but for everyone who is exposed. And if you do it in a courteous way, you can sometimes get good results," says Saab.

This means simply asking the person whose fragrance is overbearing to tone it down -- or asking your employer to educate workers about fragrance allergies, including what each person can do on an individual level to help reduce the "fragrance overload" in a work or learning environment.

"If they bring it up as an awareness issue, without singling out one person, people will be better informed and hopefully will be more selective about what they wear in the work environment, Saab says.

Here are six more solutions offered by Saab and the Job Accommodation Network.

  1. Change workstation location. Either move away from the person whose fragrance you find offensive, or move away from a common area where people congregate, such as a foyer, break room, or restroom. Being in contact with fewer people will mean less exposure to fragrances overall, and that can help. 
  2. Telecommute at least a few days a week. The more time you can spend outside of the environment, the less potent your symptoms may be when you do have to be there.
  3. Modify your work schedule. Going in to work at 6 a.m., for example, usually means you will have less contact with co-workers. And leaving earlier in the day reduces the amount of time you will be exposed to the offending fragrances, which will give your body a better chance at recouping after exposures.
  4. Try an air purifier. But be aware that air cleaners and air purification units work less efficiently in a cubicle situation than in a private office where you can shut the door. Also be certain to choose a unit with an appropriate filter, such as gas or carbon. Simply using a system with dust filtration won't help alleviate odors.
  5. Use a portable fan. A small fan can blow stagnant air away and keep odors from lingering in your personal space.
  6. Develop alternate methods of communication. Work via email, phone, or fax as much as possible to limit contact with those whose fragrances you find offensive.

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