In recent years the number of consumer products containing fragrances has skyrocketed. Thousands of fragrances have invaded our air space and become a part of our daily routine. But some people with respiratory problems might say that their homes and work places have turned into virtual gas chambers.
Fragrances are not limited to perfumes and colognes. Where else can they be found?
- Hair spray, bar soap, body and facial lotion, shampoo, cosmetics, deodorant and aftershave often contain fragrance.
- Clothing and linen are frequently washed in fragrances that have been added to soap powder or liquid.
- Fabric softener and dryer sheets (that reduce static cling) may contain fragrance. The makers of some brands of chlorine bleach have recently added fragrance.
- Floor soaps, wood cleansers, carpet cleaners, window cleaners, tile cleaners, dish washing liquids, bathroom cleaners and aerosols for dusting often contain fragrance.
- Air fresheners, aerosols, potpourri, scented candles and incense.
At work, there are plenty of places to encounter fragrances too.
Work place exposure to fragrance is very frustrating for millions of rhinitis and asthma patients. Some businesses have established fragrance free policies. This is not enough for jobs that serve the public or have clients who wear fragrance. Fragrances may trigger symptoms that mimic allergy, including runny nose, nasal congestion, sneezing, post-nasal drip, cough, headache and watery burning or itchy eyes.
Asthma control may worsen after inhaling certain fragrances, leading to more cough, wheezing, and shortness of breath. The most common skin reaction to fragrance is a rash caused by direct contact (contact dermatitis). Severe reactions to fragrance can be life-threatening and may encompass all of the above symptoms.
Fragrances Rarely Cause Allergic Reactions
While people often assume they are allergic to fragrance, they are usually mistaken. Allergic reactions are typically triggered by organic substances - pollen, food, mold spores, dust mites, animal and cockroach dander, feathers -- capable of inducing white blood cells to make IgE antibody. That is what makes them allergic trigger factors.
Fragrances, in contrast, usually are synthetic chemicals that, generally, do not stimulate IgE antibody production. Thus, they are not allergens, but irritants.
Irritants (which also include smoke, odors, fumes and other chemicals) irritate the inner surface of the nose, eyes, throat, or lung. They will not cause anaphylaxis. There are no allergy skin prick tests available for fragrances.
There are exceptions. There are a few chemicals involved with plastics and paints that may cause allergic sensitivity (TDI and TMA, specifically). Contact dermatitis (often erroneously called "contact allergy") is a delayed immune reaction that DOES NOT involve IgE.
Confused? No need to be, just remember that nasal or chest symptoms caused by smelling a fragrance, fume or odor are not an allergic reaction.