Saturday, November 01, 2014
Thursday, November 19, 2009 Teri Robert, Health Guide, asks

Q: Avoiding Migraines from Fragrance?

Has anyone found a way to avoid Migraines from being around people wearing perfume -- other than not being around those people in the first place? With the holidays coming up, it's going to be more difficult to avoid.

Answer This
Answers (17)
Teresa, Community Member
11/19/09 12:20pm

Hi Teri,

Unfortunately I don't think we can do anything to avoid this other than to avoid being around that person which is going to be a little difficult if you're out in public shopping, standing in line and the person in front of you is marinated in red door or some other migraine triggering perfume. I can appreciate a person who smells nice, but why do people insist on taking a bath in it?   

Word up-carry your migraine meds with you while out shopping. You're probably going to need it.

My Mom recently came in to visit me and stayed with us for a week. She wore perfume the entire week even when I nicely asked her not to wear so much of it because it gave me a headache which would trigger a migraine. Ever rode with a person in your vehicle in the cold months with the windows up and had to inhale their perfume fragrance? I think she got mad at me because she continued to wear it. I haven't invited her back yet either!!!! I guess people tend to get defensive when you tell them their perfume is making you sick. Oh well..... My house, my rules...If you're going to visit you're going to have to NOT wear the perfume that triggers my migraines.


trble57, Community Member
11/19/09 1:47pm

Yah I get where your coming from.  Womens perfume and mens cologne set of my migraines off and I'm allergic to them.  My older brother took a 2 hour drive with me to my relatives for Thanksgiving yeras ago. I couldn't stay too long, thought I was comimg done with the flu, it wasn't though, I was allergic to his cologne. Now I stay as far away I can from it. My family understands of my allergies and migraines so they keep it mild. I do enjoy going to family funtions, but I dred the stress and noise, which brings on my migraines.




Kathie, Community Member
11/19/09 12:40pm

I am very sensitive to fragrance and odors and change my seat on my commuter train regularly to avoid the person who bathed in perfume or after-shave.  I can never tell which one will trigger a migraine, but any strong smell can. The smells of fabric dyes in department stores, as well as the flickering fluorescents keep me an online shopper especially this time of year. I feel curmudgeonly and  overlypicky and odd. I wish there was a way to just turn it off and be able to enjoy all that is out there to smell...good and bad.

Lisa, Community Member
11/19/09 8:57pm

I hate Christmas time because of all the different agonizing things we who suffer from migraine have to endure.  Most people think I am a scrooge.  I avoid holiday parties and shops I know are off the chain with fragrances.  I stay away from stores which play loud music and the fluorescent lights are agony, too.

HJS, Community Member
11/19/09 2:41pm

The wonderful scent from real Christmas trees is a trigger for, I now use a pre-lit artificial tree.  There are scratching up my arms putting lights on.  I have tried a pine scented plug-in air freshener behind the tree to provide that scent that I love.  But, it was too strong and triggered my migraines.  So, I switched to one of those "tree" car air fresheners. By not taking it completely out of the plastic packaging (follow the directions on the package), I can control the amount of scent and avoid a migraine while still enjoying the "natural" scent of the tree.



roxanne f., Community Member
11/19/09 4:40pm

i'm glad i'm not the only one .....

i just hold my breath as much as i can when i'm around someone who took a bath in something strong.

cleaning products do the same thing.  i hold my breath while walking up the soap isle at the market.   it's tough, but we get thru it......

i buy everthing  'unscented' that i can, and i guess i expect everyone else to do the same, but that's life. 

best of luck to everyone in our great  'smelly'  world.....Kiss

Jane, Community Member
11/19/09 6:30pm

It hasn't worked very well to ask friends and family not to wear fragrance. They take offense, are insensitive, (my mother) or insist they're not wearing any fragrance. (so said a friend we really love but her habitual fragrance bothers both my husband and me)


What has helped? If we go on an outing together, we volunteer to take OUR car. That usually means my husband has to drive but that is extremely helpful to me. We can then have SOME control over what happens from there. If a passenger is wearing fragrance, we can crack the windows for fresh air. We can also use the inside, recycled air setting rather than breathing the outside air filled with exhaust, pollen, smoke, dust, and other triggers. (sometimes the outside air is a bigger trigger than the perfume.) Also, if we're in our own car and I start to feel bad, my husband will take the hint more readily and either drive us home early or stop some place for me to get out of the car (using some excuse like a bathroom break) so I can breathe for a while and maybe grab a hot, steamy drink or a coke which can help revive me.


In restaurants, the wait staff's perfume and cologne is a constant problem for us. I've started writing emails to the restaurant managers to complain. Hopefully that kind of feedback might help improve conditions in the restaurants we frequent.


If I'm nervous about potential bad air quality, I'll often use the Neti Pot before going out. That usually helps my sinuses not stop up as quickly and I find I'm less likely to get a migraine. Or after having my sinuses filled with perfume or smoke, I'll flush them with the Neti Pot. I carry it with me in my migraine kit.


In church, we've frequently had to move to a different pew because of fragrances and hair sprays. It's embarrassing. I carry a bottle of water to sip which helps clear my sinuses and keeps me from choking.


I empathize with other migraineurs. Because so many migraine triggers--for me--are in the air I breathe, I tend to avoid leaving the house, which often leaves me feeling very isolated.

pooh2you, Community Member
11/19/09 7:29pm

My mother likes to bathe in perfume, luckily she is the only person at this time that I have an issue with as far as this goes.  Most everyone else is very understanding of my problem with strong smells/scents being a migraine trigger.  I have been very upfront about it.  I have continually asking my mother to PLEASE stop wearing perfume around me, she claims to have "decreased" the amounts that she is wearing when I am going to be with her, but it still a big problem.  I have taken to actually putting the collar of my shirt up and over my nose/mouth when it is really bothersome!  This works doubley well with her as it is a per peeve of hers!  LOL  This year at the Holidays I may take to wearing a surgical mask, as I can say I am also protecting from the flu!  (As you can see I am a bit of a smarta$$)


Seriously though, I find it best to honest with people.  I tell them plainly that these scents are a trigger for my migraines and that I am hoping we can all have a good time and that if someone is wearing a strong perfume/cologne I WILL get a migraine and have to leave early.  The majority of my friends and family are very understanding, and I figure if they are not, I don't need to be spending the Holidays with them (except my Mother of course, I'm kind of stuck with her!)

musibeth, Community Member
11/19/09 8:10pm

Fragrance triggers can be sooo hard to avoid.  I've had a little bit of luck with a handkerchief sprayed with a mild scent that doesn't bother me, I carry it and hold it to my face when I need it (the handkerchief filters out some of others perfumes and the scent that I like relaxes me which helps).

I'm glad that my family is really good about mom no longer wears perfume (she has one body spray that is a scent I can tolerate, and that's it), and my dad is also really good about it (tho he accidentally tried to kill me today with a cologne that he didn't realize had cedar oil in it - triggered a huge asthma attack, and the stress from that and meds for it triggered a migraine -- ARG!!!Yell).  My sister, however, is not so good about it....she says, 'its not fair to me to not be able to wear what I want!', tho I think its not fair to me when she does something she knows will make me sick!

I've had a little bit of success with friends, just telling them, 'while your perfume smells really wonderful, I can be really sensitive to it, and would really appreciate if you could wear less.'  Some people don't respond well, but others take the hint and will stop wearing it all together.......I've also been known to tell my very close friends, when they come to my house to see me, 'I love you, but whatever fragrance you're wearing makes it impossible for me to breathe.  The bathroom is just around the corner and there are clean washcloths in the cabinet, help yourself.'  (I'm not much for subtlety.....;p)  If they can't accommodate that, then we just can't spend much time together.

Overall, the people around me have been very good about accommodating the small things that I need to be as healthy as possible Laughing.

eliz, Community Member
11/22/09 10:49am

Hi. As I was reading your post with regard to your sister, I was reminded of a discussion I had with one of my kids recently regarding one of his brothers wearing cologne. I was saying that I understood the son's right to wear fragrance, and my first son was very clear in saying that an individual's right to protect their health (that would be US) outweighs an individual's right to self expression (wearing fragrance, whatever it may be). That helped me gain the strength to be more proactive, assertive, and set the boundaries I need to try to stay "healthy"; I have a right to protect my health and my head. Period. Good luck.

Lisa, Community Member
11/19/09 8:49pm

I can't get on a Metrobus or MetroSubway train without running into someone who is wearing the worst smelling cologne or perfume or reeking of cigarette smoke.  I immediately start sneezing and after a few minutes my head is throbbing.  Most of the time I have to revert to getting off the bus and waiting to catch the next one or changing cars on the subway train.  Then I run into someone else who is wearing a worse reactive fragrance.Cry


Is there some way to get other people to consider those of us who do not want to smell them coming or smell their presence for a half hour after they have left.



MontanaDawg, Community Member
11/20/09 7:14pm

I have found that carrying a saline nasal spray helps.  If you get caught by a smell, excuse yourself and immediately rinse your nose.

eliz, Community Member
11/22/09 10:41am

Hi Teri. First of all, thank you for bringing this topic up. I often feel so alone in being sensitive to fragrances; it was incredibly supportive just to read the others' posts and see that I am not the only one!


Since I have chronic daily migraine, and fragrance is my number 1 trigger, I have spent a lot of energy on this issue. One suggestion I once read, and which I sometimes use, is to make a "smelling salt" solution out of sea salt and peppermint oil. As soon as I am assaulted by fragrances I start sniffing at my salts. I may look weird, but it does sometimes help a bit. I also can dab a bit of the peppermint in each nostril to cover the other smell. Other oils might work better for other people: cloves, licorice, etc. One can just experiment.


I am hosting Thanksgiving. I have asked each guest (all family) not to wear fragrance. I have texted my boys multiple times reminding them, and reminding them that means certain deodorants, body sprays, after shave, and cologne. I think sometimes they don't really understand which things have scents. I specifically told my brother-in-law that I do not want to get a migraine on Thanksgiving if I can help it, and to please not wear his after shave and cologne. I know he doesn't get it, but too bad. I will ask him to wash his face and neck with my fragrance free soap if he shows up wearing it.


My migraine doctor at a headache center wears cologne. He has given me migraines on three separate occassions, including once in the hospital. I plan to email him 2 days before my next appt reminding him not to wear cologne on the day of my appt. We'll see what happens. I am learning to be proactive so that I can function in society a little bit more easily. Although most people don't get it, I am finding that saying, "Your perfume smells beautiful, but unfortunately I am very allergic to fragrances and get migraines. Can I ask you not to wear it next time we are together?" isn't so hard, and that people are generally caring.


My previous workplace became fragrance free under the ADA for me. While it wasn't perfect, it was very helpful. And it it was sure better for them than me having to frequently leave with a migraine!


Again, thank you for bringing up this little discussed topic. Anf for all that you do for us migraineurs! Elizabeth

Lori, Community Member
1/13/10 11:18pm

How were you able to get your work place to go fragrance free?  I have ended up having to leave jobs and go on steriods to help the swelling in my brain to go down.  I am haveing a hard time finding a job where I do not get sick at.  If anyone has any advice I would love to hear it.


Thanks Lori

Kim, Community Member
5/24/11 7:29pm

Hi Elizabeth,


Regarding your statement "My previous workplace became fragrance free under the ADA for me;" how did you accomplish this? I am afraid to bring it up because you can't "see" my headaches, and I am not falling on the ground convulsing. However, I do suffer daily headaches at work.



eliz, Community Member
5/24/11 11:20pm

Hi Kim. When you filled out your employment paperwork they probably asked if you has any disabilities that require accomodations.You can ask to revise it,


If you have medical verification that you have migraines, you can go to your HR person and tell him/her that you have a disabling condition that requires accomodation under the Americans with Disability Act. You can say that you get headaches which severely impact your ability to be productive at work, and that you require a fagrance free environment to help prevent these migraines. You can also be provided with the accomodation of a quiet dark room to help you semi0recover at work, no fluorescent lights, or whatever else you know triggers you. They really have to do it under the lw. Also, you could start recording every time you get a migraine at work, as well as the trigger if it is identifiable.


Let me know if this helps or if you have more questions. Good luck, Elizabeth

Kim, Community Member
5/25/11 7:37am

Hi Elizabeth,


Thanks for the info. I do not have any medical verification as I do not believe in conventional medicine except for emergencies only. Besides, no doctor can "see" a migraine either. They would have to take my word for it just like any one else would. It seems like this would cause more friction than it is worth. I already get rolled eyes and negative facial expressions when I state that frangrances give me headaches. No one cares, again, because headaches cannot be "seen." I am not willing to live on over-the-counter pain meds every day either because that will just negatively effect my liver and kidneys. Can't win. I am going to buy a mask with a filter on it and start wearing that to work.



petuniap, Community Member
7/ 8/11 8:35am

I'm hoping that someone can give some info about brain surgery that apparently stops migraines.  Will this also work for scent-triggered migraines?


In the meantime, here is something that works for me--a bit.  It can be very embarrassing sometimes, and also, now that I live in a snowy climate, I am worried about breaking capillaries on my nose.  But, I need to live.  I need to get out of the house and go to classrooms where too many people where scents, and really spray them on.  My secret?  I have a swimmer's nose plug.  Yes, it looks terrible, but what can I do?  If there aren't too many people about, I just breathe out when I walk by a person, but if there are too many people about, or I am in a classroom, I keep it on.  It's not exactly comfortable, but it beats getting a migraine.


That said, today my nose was still running from perfume, even though I couldn't smell it, because this classroom was so small that I couldn't move seats, and a fragrant person sat right in front of me.  I had an open window to lean my head outside to try to clear it, but her scent was so strong, it carried outside, and I kept getting exposed to it everytime I tried to breathe away the snot in my nose.   It didn't work.  I had to go home.  So, that is why I am here today wondering about migraines and brain surgery.  Apparently they can cauterise an area of your brain so you don't get migraines.  I do not want to snip my olfactory nerve because I do delight in the smells of NATURE.  I just cannot enjoy smelling the chemical brews that people put on their skin.  


Hope the swimmer's nose plug helps those who can deal with the stares.  For me, I can...It makes me not look people in the eye, and I know that people probably think I am crazy, but I get this one life, and I need to live it rather than stay home!!

Kim, Community Member
7/ 8/11 12:41pm

Hi PetuniaP,


I'm not sure how a swimmer's nose plug could help with migraines. One still has to breath, and even if breathing through the mouth instead of through the nose, the fragrance is still going to enter the body - hence the cause of the migraine. But, if it works for you, that's great! Actually the fragrance enters the body through all of it's openings, including and especially the skin. The skin "breaths" too, it is not a closed barrier.


I tried a face mask with a charcoal filter, but it did not work for me. That was a waste of $32.00 because they will not take them back as they are considered a personal item. Oh well.


Best of luck.



petuniap, Community Member
7/ 8/11 8:52am

I also wanted to add that even when I don't always go to migraine stage. (Today, I left my course and covered my eyes and lay in bed.  I didn't get the debilitating pain, but I am very tired, and I feel like someone boxed my head around a bit.  I just feel beat up.)  Other symptoms that tell me I need to run away so that I don't get the full on migraine  are that I get a little sharp when I talk to people.  And then it affects my comprehension.  I get tired in class, start to yawn a lot, and then the sentences get hard to interpret. 


My problem is that I cannot wear the nose plug permanently.  My nose hurts, and I am afraid I will stop circulation.  Then, I just simply want to breathe without my heart working so hard to breathe through my mouth.  Or I just want to enjoy breathing air like a normal person.  I will breathe out when I see someone coming, or when I have "profiled" a person as a perfume wearer from the way they dress or some other factor...but sometimes I miss one, and I get "bombed" by some perfume.  Sometimes, the perfume is so noxious that I instantly feel like someone is sticking a pencil in my head.  Other times, it's just one too many fragrance hit after another--and cumulatively I am done in. 


I hope someone is doing some research to block whatever part of my brain that overreacts.  I am tired of chronically profiling people, missing out on education, and not being able to work in many environments because it is so "natural" for people to cover themselves in manmade chemicals.  I know I am not alone, but I wonder how many of us there are? 


petuniap, Community Member
7/ 9/11 3:33am

Replying to Kim because I am encountering errors trying to respond directly.

Hi Kim, This method does work for me, which is why I wanted to share it with others, in case it works for them.

That said, yesterday, I was so near a perfume-wearer who was wearing a fragrance so toxic to me, that my nose was running, even though I didn't have any conscious awareness of the scent. When I took the noseplug off to wipe my nose, then I got the full on olfactory experience, which led to the headache.

Although it didn't quite go to migraine, the ability to concentrate in class was seriously disrupted, and it took about 7 hours in order to feel mostly good. I'm sharing all this info, so people who don't know a lot about perfume sensitivity can perhaps realize what we deal with. Their perfume (deodorants, hairsprays, male colognes, etc.) do make us ill. And we might seem "suddenly" annoyed by it because the breeze changed, or when they got up, then the motion caused their scent to drift...

Luckily, and I touch wood, I seem to only react to scent stimuli coming through my nose. I'd say try the nose plug--it won't cost you more than $5.OO at most, so it won't be as costly as the charcoal mask you tried, that didn't work. Good luck back at ya! ;-)


BECKYSUE, Community Member
10/10/11 9:36pm

all reading, every time you are in a situation where the fragrances are impacting you let the management know. Write letters, emails etc.


Mostly you will not get an immediate response or a pat one like they are talking to a whacko, but my theory is this will  be like smoking- over time if enough people complain the concensous of opinion will lean more towards the fragrance free environments at work and other businesses, (maybe not restaurants. bars as they are considered recreation for the customers) and changes in the formulas of scented products so they are not so toxic if persons feel compelled to use them.


I am seeing more and more companies described as fragrance free in want ads.


Example: I just went to a vet to get a shot for my cat. The vet tech was nice and efficient but they had reeking plug in air floral air fresheners, my cats fur still smells like it 3 hours later after being there for 10 minutes. I wrote a review about them on "Yelp" said they were very nice  but I would not be back because of the air fresheners and I told them the vet tech the plug in fresheners were giving me a migraine when I was there.


Also WRITE TO COMPANIES SUCH AS HSN, QVC,PROCTOR AND GAMBLE,  VICTORIAS SECRET AND BARRAGE them with letters about fragranced products, we can't stop breathing when people are doing laundry next door or sitting in the cubicle next to us and masking scents in products used to be mild and easily disappated, the new "long lasting" ones are the killers and companies need to change the formulas not just offer a line of fragrance free, I do use fragrance free but does me no good when three or four neighbors are doing laundry from four directions...


Keep writing to the makers of the products not just to these sites.


good luck!!!

Kim, Community Member
11/ 6/13 6:58pm

I tried the route of letting HR know at work several times. They even put together a "committee" regarding fragrance in our workplace. I supplied tons of articles and studies and they just looked at me like I was nuts. After about 3 meetings the committe disbanned and all we got out of it were some small 4x6 framed typed statments asking to be conscious of others and please "consider" wearing lighter frangrance. That's not the point, it needs to be a fragrance-free workplace! But they were not willing to go that route stating they cannot tell people what to not wear for personal products. That's nonsense. They eventully told people they could not smoke at work anymore because 2nd hand smoke is dangerous. When will they finally figure out that 2nd hand fragrance is just as dangerous, if not more! The trouble is, again, when the disorder cannot be "seen" with the eye, they just think you are a complaining nut job and talk poorly about you behind your back, and even sometimes right to your face. Unfortunately we live in a "don't care" society and it will be a very long road back, if we can ever even get there!

liza, Community Member
6/ 9/12 10:07pm

It's very hard to "teach" someone what perfumes are.  Someone won't wear their daily scent near you, but still has their highly fragranced hair gel for instance which is just as bad..and you have to explain to them that the hair products still have perfumes in them.  The worst one for me is laundry soaps, you simply cannot expect someone to change their laundry soap for you.  Forget staying in a hotel, the bedding is saturated.       

smellpain, Community Member
9/18/12 12:48pm

The Home Hospital teachers coming to the house didn't learn either.  I bought and gave them unscented shampoo, deodorant, soap, lotion and asked to please not wear anything with fragrance( including laundry detergent and cleaners and all personal care products) as those smells triggered my childs migraine.  There were days when I could not let them stay.  Entered hospital for treatment to terminate 4months long migraine.  There seems to be no treatment for fragrance induced migraines and no preventatives other than avoidance. Also have allergies to preservatives in these products.Would appreciate any suggestions for education for smell induced teens as being on campus will not work with teens an teachers using strong deodorants and fragrances. 

jacallahanjr, Community Member
6/ 9/12 11:42pm

I have found a way and it has NEVER failed me. when I know I am heading out into stinky people ville where a migraine is sure to be had. I place small pieces of cotton in my nose that have been covered in Vicks!! I tolerate the odor and it lets nothing by, we used it when I was working and we had a dead body or something nasty. The cotton pieces dont have to be plugging up your nostrils. you will figure out how to make it work, I did. Hope this helps.


smellpain, Community Member
9/18/12 1:00pm

Have not found a way to avoid migraines from fragrances, only avoidance.

We are only able to control our home.  Once we step outside there are smells everywhere.  Still get migraines when breathing through our mouths.  Understand that there is a procedure where  the smell center in our brain can be 'blocked' but could cause other complications, not able to smell smoke or gas leakage, and food would not taste the same.   Unfortunately, there are no FDA rules/controls for the toxic fragrances.

Kim, Community Member
11/ 6/13 6:35pm

Unfortunately I am not safe inside the walls of my condo either as I can smell my neighbors cigarette smoke through the wall in my bedroom. So I have to try to go to sleep nearly every night trying not to have an anxiety attack while I am trying to relax and fall asleep. The neighbor is an oddball so I am not comfortable approaching him to ask if he would kindly not smoke in his bedroom.

Likes clean air, Community Member
11/ 6/13 6:10pm

I have a strong reaction  (migraine) to most industrial scenting chemicals.  This means all cologne, perfume, fabric softener and the like.  With the migraine I experience there is also blurred vision, muscle rigidity, and sometimes nausea, vomiting, nosebleed, and flu-like symptoms.


After 55 years of this hell, here is my take:


Friends and close family: some will be genuinely kind and even understand the problem.  Try to frame it like a peanut or milk allergy.  Ask if they can understand that what it would be like with this allergy and being force-fed peanut or milk without being able to resist.


Workplace: Be wary about requesting that stencher’s stand-down.  Some co-workers will deliberately increase the amount and frequency of the chemical warfare agent attacks if you do this.  The cruelty is in both males and females.  I have heard accounts of notified females “inadvertently” spraying hairspray in the direction of the sufferer directly into their workspace.


Also, the more emotionally immature the stencher, the more likely they will wear or use  the spew, and the more likely they have a pathological attachment to the stuff.   Have pity on these persons.  They are enslaved to the big marketing efforts about the value of a personal care product with this smell.  They cannot change because they are convinced by the marketing effort that the need to have this on them.   


In all cases:  Again, try to be kind and understand that the stencher may not actually have actually knowingly physically applied the stench that is harming you.  Some personal care products like incontinence pads are very heavily treated with a mask-stench that activates “on-contact”  Some older persons do not have an acute sense of smell, or any working sense of smell in some cases . 


For all others, many laundry products and cleaning products may not really smell that much when the wearer is first putting them on and become overwhelming strong when exposed to air and moisture in our shared environment.  You may ask if they used perfume, or what they are wearing and their reaction is entirely appropriate in being annoyed with the question.


Also for laundry detergent, fabric softener, personal care sprays  the wearer has a permanently damaged olfactory sense from the constant exposure to seriously toxic chemical scents.  They cannot discern how strongly and badly they actually smell from their use of these products.   


It is a personal fear of mine that these industrial scent chemicals affect all stages of human life.  I notice real and serious harm is done to certain persons that are otherwise healthy and unaffected by odorous emissions from nature.  How horrible if there is damage to the wearer’s health, or those that are often exposed to the toxic spew. 


Share how concerning it is for the workers in and near the perfume sales area at large department stores.  If this was my chemistry lab, these persons would have full self contained breathing equipment and chemical hoods to contain the danger.

Answer This

We hope you find this general health information helpful. Please note however, that this Q&A is meant to support not replace the professional medical advice you receive from your doctor. No information in the Answers above is intended to diagnose or treat any condition. The views expressed in the Answers above belong to the individuals who posted them and do not necessarily reflect the views of Remedy Health Media. Remedy Health Media does not review or edit content posted by our community members, but reserves the right to remove any material it deems inappropriate.

By Teri Robert, Health Guide— Last Modified: 11/06/13, First Published: 11/19/09