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Migraine-Triggering Fragrances & The Workplace

Exposure to fragrances from product likes perfume, air fresheners and cleaning products are difficult for Migraine patients in that they can not only trigger Migraine attacks, but be intolerable during an attack. One way of dealing with this when you’re at work is to ask your employer for an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The Americans with Disabilities Act protects people with health issues by requiring employers to provide “reasonable accommodations” in the workplace if an employee has a mental or physical medical condition that substantially limits a major life activity. The ADA does not explicitly describe which conditions are covered by the law. Instead, certain criteria are considered in making the decision.

Based on 2008 changes to the ADA, the determination of whether an employee is disabled and therefore protected has changed. The employer must now consider whether the medical condition substantially limits a major life activity when the condition is active. Before Congress passed the 2008 amendments, courts had said a condition was not covered by the ADA if medication or other treatments could mitigate the effects of the illness.

This change make it much easier to make a case to your employer that Migraine is a covered disability under the ADA.

You will want to make a request, preferably in writing, asking human resources for a reasonable accommodation related to fragrances due to Migraine disease. Ask your doctor to write a letter to your employer confirming your diagnosis and explaining the ways in which fragrances negatively impact your condition. This is not required by law, but doing so may encourage a reluctant employer to make the necessary changes.

In making a request for reasonable accommodations it is important to know how much your employer can to do to help you. Your employer can ask all employees not to wear or use fragrances, change cleaning products and put up signs requesting a fragrance-free environment. But if your work place is open to the public it may not be possible to ban all fragrances. If use of a fragrance is not within your employer’s control there may not be much they can do to prevent you from being exposed to it.

Do you have questions about requesting a reasonable accommodation under the ADA? Please share them in the comments.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • AmyBabee
    6 years ago

    I can sure relate. Rather than trigger migraines, these chemicals, perfumes, fragrances and cleaning agents trigger my allergies. I use non-perfumed products at home so its is always a shock when it hits me outside. In the train, I feel nauseous. At work, thank God my ‘cube mates’ are men and I hardly perceive any scents coming from them, so I feel fortunate in that respect but can imagine what these scents do to my fellow migraineurs and the accommodations we require to be able to function outside our homes. I am also grateful that my boss and others tried their best to get me some heat for my cold fingers & toes.

  • ClintandDosh Acuff
    6 years ago

    I so can relate to this! I work in a medical office and the smell of perfume, urine, and smoke that patients often wear in are horrific for me. I try to hold my breath or wipe lotion or lavender oil on my nose. But this doesn’t always work…and then the migraine. Even using Lysol spray to clean after patients leave the room cause me to be light-headed and trigger the migraine. My co-workers don’t really understand how I can be so bothered by scents, but it really is big problem for me. And what makes me feel even worse is that my eight year old son is the same way. My husband understands our sensitivity to smells, and he tries to make light of the subject by saying “you guys smell things most humans don’t.” I so wish we weren’t so sensitive to smells, it would definitely make everyday activities and responsibilities much easier.

  • Denise
    6 years ago

    Vicks vapor rub too. My daughter and I are very smell sensitive.

  • Diana-Lee author
    6 years ago

    One tip that seems to help me when I encounter a nasty, triggering scent is to place a vial of peppermint essential oil smelling salts right under my nose. Works like a charm!

    Full disclosure, this is something Teri Robert has recommended to me & others. I know it helps her, too.

    Of course, not everyone can tolerate peppermint. But it’s worth a try!

  • lara
    6 years ago

    One of the blessings of working in a predominately male field (software/web development) is that it is not swimming with perfume. In addition the men who work in my field generally don’t wear after shave or cologne… and while some are young enough to wear Axe? Thankfully, they don’t.

    I used to have a serious problem when I worked in traditional photography back in the day because there were times when certain chemicals could trigger a migraine. It got so bad, I had to quit my job. I would walk in the lab and want to die. Digital photography gave me back my hobby.

  • 100dollarheadache
    6 years ago

    Fragrance is definitely an issue when it comes to migraines triggers for me. Perfumes, cleaning product and car products have definitely brought out a migraine in me. I can not even put cologne on, i use body spray and i have to find something that is very mild.I have to ask my son and daughter to take it easy with the fragrances.the head aches come on and it is bad. i have also encountered some house hold products that have triggered a migraine. Anything with bleach in it causes a reaction from me. Solvents are also very bad, they give off very strong fumes as well as gasoline, heating oil or diesel. A common household product WD40 which is a lubricant has made me very sick with migraine. There are some air fresheners that have also affected me, lilac, other strong flower bouquets also . Even some strong shampoos and body soaps have had this effect on me. when it comes to fragrance, it has to be very mild and some not at all. I was driving my truck at work one day and the mechanics had lubricated all the doors, arms and tracks in my work vehicle. The fumes were so strong i was sick 25 minutes after starting my day. I had a severe migraine which led me to vomiting and unable to function period. I found out they used WD40 throughout the vehicle and i have avoided it ever since. Fragrance is definitely a trigger for me. One of many. I also have issues with stress, over exertion,bright sun, bright lights, headlights from oncoming cars,watching tv or using a computer in a dark room. artificial sugars, diet soda,grape juice and foods containing nitrates. I also have issues with lack of sleep and missing meals. learning triggers has helped me some what. I was getting 10 to 12 migraines a month. Since keeping a journal for a 6 month period, i have been getting 5 to 8 a month. Migraine still affects me 10 to 15 days a month. Depending on how fast i administer my triptan needle usually relates how long i am very sick. It can make the difference between being sick for 6 hours or 2 to 3 days. i have other pain issues that i have a hard time with but migraine is the worst. I can not function at all. I am incapacitated. Mike

  • Diana-Lee author
    6 years ago

    We absolutely know that the faster you get your triptan in your system, the better it works. So you’re right on track with trying to administer it as soon as possible. Familiarizing yourself with the early symptoms of an impending attack can help greatly with this: http://migraine.com/blog/migraine-attack-prediction-premonitory-symptoms/.

  • Editorial Team moderator
    6 years ago

    Hi Mike. So sorry to hear about your pain. You may want to check out this page http://migraine.com/migraine-basics/chronic-migraine-overview/ and talk to your physician about chronic migraines. Hope this helps.

    The Migraine Team

  • RhodaOwl
    6 years ago

    I have been dealing with this at work (approx 20 employees). We relocated from a large office space where I had my own office and everyone was spread out, to a MUCH smaller space where I am now in a cube near everybody. After requesting the accommodation, the office manager, after much reluctance and multiple requests by me, asked the support staff to stop wearing fragrances. I naively thought this would not be a big deal for anyone. However, while some of the support staff were sympathetic and had no problem with the request, others went completely balistic when asked (seriously, they had screaming fits over not being able to wear their perfume and lotions!). I’ve even been completely ostrasized by a couple of those women. It’s been an ongoing process for compliance with the request, even among those sympathetic. Some do not understand that not only spray perfume is the problem, but also perfumed lotions, hairspray, Febreeze, etc. Oddly, the employees and company owners that are “above” the support staff in the office hierarchy, have not been asked to not wear fragrances by the office manager. I find this to be a very uncomfortable and hurtful situation and as I mentioned it has damaged the relationship with some of my co-workers. Why would anyone not do what they could to help someone avoid a migraine or not worsen their symptoms? I still don’t understand, especially since I explained to many of them what I go through when I have a migraine. However, I am thankful for even this partial accommodation which has saved me from having to go home a couple of times when I’ve had a migraine (since scents amplify the symptoms). Ideally a full fragrance-free workplace policy would be put in place, but I feel my hands are tied after having to fight so hard for even this much.

  • Diana-Lee author
    6 years ago

    Ugh. Ya know, people can be incredibly childish and surprisingly selfish sometimes. It makes me think of parents who complain about the most common allergy foods being banned from lunchrooms. It’s mind boggling to me.

    I honestly had no idea how selfish some people could be until my Chronic Migraines grew so incredibly debilitating while I was still trying to work. Someone I considered a friend and work closely with turned on me, and it was incredibly hurtful.

    Try to keep your chin up. Perhaps those coworkers will eventually get over themselves. 🙂

  • lara
    6 years ago

    There will always be people who just don’t understand the severity of migraine and can only see how your illness inconveniences them. If you can? Ignore them and just let them continue to make idiots out of themselves as they throw selfish temper tantrums over the “things” you are denying them.

    If you have a smart set of HR managers? Those folks will be gone soon because they are toxic.

    The office manager won’t ask upper management either. It probably never occurred to them because I’m guessing you are not in their immediate area? Besides, upper management usually has a sense of “entitlement” and “apartness” and so they feel edicts and crackdowns don’t apply to them.

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