I am fragrance intolerant. I am an asthmatic, and those two things often go hand in hand. My mother was fragrance intolerant, and so was my sister. It is probably a genetic intolerance, as seen in my family and in others. About 30.5 % of the population is estimated to suffer from this condition, according to research at University of West Georgia. The overly-fragranced modern world we live in is very difficult for people with fragrance intolerance. Here is a description, some information about it, and what you can do to help alleviate this problem.
Fragrance intolerance can manifest itself in multiple ways. Vicki and Joe Aguinaga of Portage, MI, report having headaches and feeling sick to their stomach because of most products with artificial fragrances. Both are retired, so fragrance issues in the workplace are no longer a problem, but they avoid bath and body shops, the laundry aisle in stores, the perfume section of department stores, and crowded movie theatres.
As for me, as an asthmatic, artificial fragrances immediately give me headaches, a feeling of nausea, and breathing problems. I have to keep my rescue inhaler handy when in public places. I go to matinees at the movies because the theater is less crowded. I want to make a distinction between artificially made, chemical based fragrances and those that are natural. Flowers, fruit, and other natural scents are NOT a problem. It’s the cornucopia of chemicals that induce these problems for me and for others. When I was still a professor, I put my fragrance intolerance problem in my syllabus, and asked students to step away or move away from me, if they were creating a breathing problem for me. I frequently had students approach me to tell me they also had this problem.
Other symptoms of fragrance or chemical intolerance: I became unable to wear a particular brand of eye shadow because my eyelids puffed up, reddened, and finally peeled because of chemical burns. I was also unable to wear any deodorant with fragrance, and finally, not able to wear deodorant at all, until I tried a fragrance free, less harsh chemical blend of a particular door-to-door cosmetic sales product. When I used brands available in stores, my underarms got hot, red, blistered and peeled. In other words, I had chemical burn reactions.
The ADA act covers people with fragrance sensitivity, or fragrance intolerance. If you experience symptoms because of someone at work or what someone does at work, such as keeping or burning scented candles, you may be able to legally demand an accommodation for that or have the offending fragrances or objects banned from the workplace. If this is a problem for you, you may need to bring this to the attention of workers who are the offending parties, ask to be moved to a different location, if possible, in the workplace. Document what and who you have talked to, and if need be, dates and what was done for you, if anything. If you need to take legal action, you will have this documentation to show that you tried to work out the problem with coworkers and employers.
If you are in a closed location, such as a car, plane, train, or office workplace, and you have a sick headache or begin wheezing, pay attention to what is around you. When you leave this location, your symptoms clear, you may be experiencing fragrance intolerance or sensitivity.
Try to make your controllable environment less cluttered with scents that may bother you. One mother I saw in the laundry aisle with her 20 year old son was looking for a particular brand of unscented laundry soap for her son. They told me his whole body suffers chemical burns if they use anything else. Test your products to see which ones are the least troublesome for you. I can use just one brand of fabric softener, for example. The others make me sick. Some people get hives from products, and must do an elimination test to see which products are causing problems.
For you people who are not fragrance intolerant: Before you go to work, consider the people around you for whom you may be causing problems when you spray yourself with perfume, lather with scented lotions, or take that scented candle to work. You may like these things, but they can be making other people’s lives miserable. Joe and Vicki Aguinaga say they were not affected by these things when they were younger, but as they aged, they became fragrance intolerant. This could be you someday. Be sensitive to others’ needs now, before Karma catches up with you.
One thing is sure, and that is we live in a world where we are bombarded with chemical compounds at every turn. Someday this is going to become a problem so large that the FDA is going to have to make laws about which chemicals are intolerable for people, and force alternatives, such as working with natural components. We need cleaner air, water, and products, so that we can not only survive but also be comfortable while doing it.