Fragrance sensitivity is, in fact, a real issue, not one I made up one day as I was recently accused of doing, and it is on the rise. Perhaps a better name for this phenomenon would be Chemical sensitivity. I know many people who “react” to “heavily scented ares, environments and individuals,” some of these people react just as strongly as I. I do not have asthma, however I find it exceptionally difficult to breathe and concentrate when I am negatively affected by chemical fumes and airborne particles. I also experience an immediate headache, increased “brain fog” or the inability to concentrate and articulate my thoughts, hives and severe itching, swelling, difficulty breathing, and on several occasions I have lost consciousness.
I wanted to share a few articles and studies from around the web for you all to peruse.
Abstract: Prevalence of fragrance sensitivity in the American population.
This study determined the percentages of individuals who report adverse effects from exposure to fragranced products in the U.S. population and in subpopulations of those with asthma or chemical sensitivity. Data were collected through telephone interviews from two geographically weighted, random samples of the continental U.S. in two surveys during 2002-2003 and 2005-2006 (1,057 and 1,058 cases, respectively). Respondents were asked if they find being next to someone wearing a scented product irritating or appealing; if they have headaches, breathing difficulties, or other problems when exposed to air fresheners or deodorizers; and if they are irritated by the scent from laundry products, fabric softeners, or dryer sheets that are vented outside. Results aggregated from both surveys found that 30.5% of the general population reported scented products on others irritating, 19% reported adverse health effects from air fresheners, and 10.9% reported irritation by scented laundry products vented outside. This study reveals that a considerable percentage of the U.S. population reports adverse health effects or irritation from fragranced products, with higher percentages among those with asthma and chemical sensitivity.
Study: Prevalence of Fragrance Sensitivity in the American Population
Article on Fragrance Sensitivity. This article states that:
…an allergen is a protein that caused IgE-mediated reactions.
…a true allergen causes a person’s immune system to release chemicals to fight the invader. On the way to the battle, inflammation could result
Symptoms of fragrance sensitivity can include:
- Difficulty breathing
- A tight feeling in the chest
- Worsening asthma symptoms
- Runny and stuffy nose
- A skin allergy like contact dermatitis — an itchy, red rash that appears on the skin
As many as 30 percent of people surveyed report that they find scented products irritating, according to a study from the University of West Georgia. Those with asthma or chemical sensitivities may find strong scents particularly problematic due to the allergy-like symptoms they cause.
Now, I realize this articles states that one cannot be truly allergic to fragrances because fragrances are only irritants, not proteins, however I’m not sure if my body knows the difference. I italicize the word fragrance, because I am aware of the chemicals used to give scented products their odor. In reality, I know that I am reacting to the chemicals in the product, including the chemicals used to make the fragrance. The lingering fragrance is usually what alerts me to the unsafe environment or individual.
Along with the above symptom list, I experience swelling of the lips, tongue, eyes, and throat, dizziness, occasional fainting, not to mention the delayed swelling and pain in my ankles, shoulders and abdomen. I do want more research to go into understanding why this “sensitivity” is increasing in individuals, however I desperately hope more doctors are willing to think outside the box on what constitutes an allergen. My plea is that the doctors are willing to address non-protein allergens that exists in cases that may not be strictly textbook.
1. a substance, protein or nonprotein, capable of inducing allergy or specific hypersensitivity.
Almost any substance in the environment can be an allergen. The list of known allergens includes plant pollens, spores of mold, animal dander, house dust, foods, feathers, dyes, soaps, detergents, cosmetics, plastics, and drugs. Allergens can enter the body by being inhaled, swallowed, touched, or injected. Once the allergen comes in contact with body cells it sets off a series of immune responses
that can range from localized inflammation to a fatal systemic anaphylaxis
Miller-Keane Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health, Seventh Edition. © 2003 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc. All rights reserved.
I compare the fragrance sensitivity list of symptoms and the additional symptoms that I experience to the symptoms associated with Anaphylaxis and I become ill at ease.
Be on the alert for these anaphylaxis symptoms:
- Difficulty breathing or noisy breathing
- Swelling of the throat, face, lips, or tongue
- Tightness in the lungs
- Pale or flushed skin
- Weak, rapid pulse
- Low blood pressure
- Dizziness, fainting
- Nausea, vomiting
- Abdominal pain
On the one hand, I’m told that I cannot be allergic to fragrances because there are supposedly no proteins to which I am actually reacting and on the other hand…I experience difficulty breathing, severe facial swelling, and severe dizziness and sometimes loss of consciousness. Which is it? I think I need a real-live House; only without the psychotic ranting and obvious issues. Or I would settle for someone similar to the doctor from the WebMD article below, minus the need to over medicate the symptoms. I do not want more medication thrown at me.
Fragrance Sensitivity from WebMD
For most people, fragrance allergy symptoms abate once the scent is out of range. But this isn’t always the case. For some, repeated exposures cause an increase in symptoms that occur more often and last longer. According to the American Academy of Allergy and Immunology, a small but growing segment is affected by a little understood and even somewhat controversial condition known as multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS).
For people with MCS, Dalton says sensitivity to one fragrance or odor can snowball into a crippling multiple chemical sensitivity that leaves its victims defenseless in the face of an ever-widening number of chemical odors and fragrances.
To further complicate matters, doctors can’t quite agree on what’s behind any fragrance reaction, and whether it’s even a true allergy or simply a response to an irritant.
“Sensitivity is a general term under which you can have a true allergic reaction, but you can also have irritant reactions, meaning the problem with fragrance could be that it’s an irritant. With others, it could be an allergic reaction. It’s just not well known what actually is occurring when these reactions develop,” says dermatologist Marjorie Slankard, MD, clinical professor of medicine at Columbia Eastside, a division of Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City.
Some experts aren’t even sure if it’s the fragrance itself that is the real culprit, or just one part of a mix of chemicals — as many as 200 or more — that are used to create both fragrances we smell and the masking agents used in unscented products.
“Because the ‘fragrance’ is what we smell when we have an onset of symptoms, we blame the fragrance. But, in fact, it’s possible that the reaction we are getting may instead be the result of the many chemicals used in the formulation of the fragrance,” Dalton tells WebMD. This, she says, includes both products we can smell and those labeled as “unscented,” which frequently rely on a whole host of chemicals to dampen the scent.
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.
Avoidance…this is why we stay home. I have not been successful in encouraging my friends and family to avoid using scented, fragranced, or unscented products. I am not sure how to accomplish this, I’ve been adamantly trying for almost two years.