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The smell of a fireplace: please don’t let this be a new trigger!

In August, Jim and I moved to a new house here in Athens.  Ten years to the day after my buddies helped me move into the house I affectionately call “the Purple Pagoda,” another set of friends helped us move out and into a cute little rental home about two miles away.

You know what I hate?  MOVING.  It’s so stressful, what with all the packing and organizing and setting up new utility accounts and renting moving trucks and having to ask able-bodied friends to pitch in. Let’s not even mention the petty squabbles and tension that arise when two people are packing up everything they own during a month filled with work for the entrepreneur and homework/studying for the student. It was insane.  It’s costly, too, which is something I had forgotten in the last decade, spoiled as I was with not having to move every year as many of my friends do.

Thankfully, Jim and I have an amazing network of friends and family, many of whom were willing and able to help us move in the middle of summer.  (Miraculously, the weekend we moved the temperatures were in the low 80s, which is pretty much unheard of in August in Georgia!)

Once we moved in, things got much easier.  One night in mid-August after unpacking most of my office, I lay on the living room couch and put my feet up.  I swear that the moment I thought of how happy I was to relax was the exact moment I felt a little twinge in my head by way of my left nostril.

The working fireplace in our house is adorable and well-maintained. The mantle itself is freshly painted and is a great place to display some of our local artwork.  But there may be a problem:  the fire smell, which is so charming and sweet when I’m outside by a bonfire in the fall with friends, seems to bug my migraine brain sometimes.

As soon as I smelled the fire smell (d*mn my super-sensitive nose!) and felt that discomfort in my head, I thought, “Oh crap.  What if the smell of a fireplace, even one that’s not lit, is a migraine trigger for me and I never had the occasion to realize this before?”  I immediately took to Twitter:  “To #migraine sufferers: is the smell of a fireplace or campfire (even days after a fire) ever a trigger for you?” A handful of folks wrote back. Some people list “fire smell” as a trigger, others say it’s safe for them, and others said it was one of those sneaky sometimes-triggers (environmental factors that trigger a migraine one day but are totally fine the next).

In the last few weeks, I have had a few migraine attacks, and at times sitting in my living room during those attacks is not possible due my sensitive nose’s ability to smell the fireplace.  At other times it’s not a bother at all.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

How about y’all?  Is the smell of a fire a trigger for you?  Is it a scent that only bothers you if you already are in the midst of a migraine? If this smell is a problem for you, how do you handle situations where you are near a fire and can’t immediately leave?  Any tips would be appreciated! 

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


  • Harriette
    5 years ago

    Pellets and fireplaces (which I love). Especially if it’s cheap wood. And kerosene. Oh geesh. Took me forever to convince my husband of that one. It has no smell he says.

  • BethBlue
    5 years ago

    We don’t have a wood-burning fireplace, but our neighbors (across the street and next-door) do. When the wind shifts (like it did the past two days), we get bombarded by both. I walk through my kitchen and the smell is so strong, it’s as if the fire is in my own home. And yes, it is a very strong trigger for me, mostly because it’s not a “clean” smell. I suspect that neither party has cleaned their chimney and that there has been an incredible creosote buildup.

  • Lisa Robin Benson moderator
    5 years ago

    Actually the smell isn’t so much a trigger for me but the flickering flame and heat can be.

    I hope you get this sorted out. Also–I agree that when you’re living with migraines, moving is not so fun.


  • debbiejones
    5 years ago

    Fireplace odor is a big trigger for me. Could never buy a house with a fireplace. Also, outside campfires same reaction. My neighbors always have one going during the nice weather. My windows are ever hardly open

  • deanna
    5 years ago

    I get a phantom smell of something burning before a migraine hits sometimes, it’s very disturbing! I don’t even have a fire place.

    Maybe the wood burning isn’t so much a trigger, it could be that before a migraine attack your sense of smell is so much more sensitive so you just smell it more.

  • Beth
    5 years ago

    I, too, heat with wood. I’m usually fine with it. BUT…outside, it depends on what is burning. There have been times where a smell will get me. My mom can’t burn in her fireplace because it’s a trigger for her.

  • Luna
    5 years ago

    I heat with a wood stove and use it from November to April. That smell doesn’t bother me too much but occasionally upon opening the door smoke escapes into the room. I just turn up the circulating fan and open a window or two for a little while and that takes care of it. But during the hot summer months when the sun gets the chimney warmed up that dirty (even after cleaning) chimney smell comes into the house and I open windows, turn on fan &/or avoid the area as much as possible. Too long of an exposure and my head starts swimming. Fortunately the smell stays in a small area.

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