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Fragrance Allergies Pose Real Threat to Some Allergy Sufferers

Sweet aromas often serve as trigger for asthma and contact dermatitis

DAYTON, Ohio (March 13, 2015) – Ragweed, mold and dust mites may be a huge trigger for most Americans with allergies, but for a growing number of individuals the cause of their symptoms comes in a much sweeter smelling package.

Fragrance or perfume allergies are a very real threat to many individuals. Scientists estimate that one in 10 individuals have some type of allergic reaction to fragrances. Research cited in the American Journal of Clinical Dermatology said that there are more than 2,800 known fragrance ingredients of which 100 are known allergens. In fact, fragrance was a past winner of the American Contact Dermatitis Society’s allergen of the year. 

“A fragrance allergy is exactly what it sounds like: It’s an allergy to a chemical used to produce a smell,” said Joseph Allen, MD, of Family Medicine of Vandalia. “It’s much like if you have an allergy to poison ivy. If you touch it, you’re going to break out in hives or a rash. However, the chemicals used for fragrance can produce a reaction through touch or by breathing chemicals in the air.” 

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America said perfumes and fragrances are among the top known triggers for individuals suffering from asthma. These substances can be composed of hundreds of different allergenic ingredients that lead to coughing, wheezing, tightening of the chest, and other symptoms of allergic asthma, the foundation said.

“We don’t often think of a chemical compound floating through the air, but if you are able to smell something then that is likely what is happening,” said Dr. Allen. “Instead of the substance coming in contact with the skin, it comes in contact with the trachea or bronchia triggering an allergic reaction in a person’s respiratory system.” 

Fragrances and perfumes are known to cause contact dermatitis, a reaction caused by a substance that comes into contact with one’s skin and often produces redness, itching or swelling. About 80 percent of skin reactions are caused by direct contact with irritating, harsh or dangerous chemicals, AAFA said. Chemicals used to give scent to household items such as dish soap, cosmetics, tissues and even toilet paper can contribute to this allergic reaction.

Diagnosing a fragrance allergy can be difficult, Dr. Allen said. Often an allergic reaction may happen when several possible causes are present. A good starting point is for one to eliminate things they are exposed to and see if it makes a difference. An individual can also keep a diary of their surrounding symptoms and activities. Lifestyles should be adjusted once a pattern of symptoms and causes is determined; however, the ability to do this isn’t always simple.

According to Dr. Allen, fragrance allergies can be a difficult thing for individuals and can greatly impact their daily life. Controlling exposure in one’s home may be manageable, however, once that individual enters a public area it can be quite difficult. The workplace has become a growing concern for individuals with a fragrance allergy since they may be surrounded by a kaleidoscope of scents including perfume and aftershave worn by co-workers.

 Dr. Allen suggests the following steps for those who suspect a fragrance allergy:

Eliminate the source – Use only unscented products. Be aware that some products that are labeled unscented can still contain chemicals that are used to mask natural aromas. These chemicals, while not scented, can also be a source of an allergic reaction.

Share your struggle – It may be difficult at first, but take time to tell loved ones and friends about your allergy. Education will help them understand the importance of staying fragrance free when they are spending time with you.

Initiate change – Approach your employer if fragrances are becoming a problem in your workplace. Ask to be moved to an area that is somewhat removed from a lot of workers. Ask for accommodations to be made during meetings where a number of employees are contained in a small room. Explore the option of working from home either part- or full-time.

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