Many of you have shared that scents are a difficult trigger to avoid, particularly when shopping or in the workplace. We do our best to avoid perfume counters and keep our own homes free of triggering scents. Yet those irritating smells persist in areas where we simply cannot avoid them. While there aren’t many effective strategies to protect from scent triggers, there are a few you can try.
My favorite strategy is to use a scent I can tolerate to neutralize the ones that are triggers. I learned this trick while working as a home-based family therapist. Because I was going into client homes, I couldn’t really enforce a scent-free work environment. One home might have a Scentsy, then next had potpourri, another burned incense, and some were downright stinky. Any one (or all) of them might be a migraine trigger. However, I knew that I could tolerate the smell of menthol. So I made it a habit to apply a dab of Vicks under my nose before I entered any home. This would block, or at least, dull any triggering smells. It allowed me to do my job without being distracted by concerns about migraine triggers.
Another useful strategy for those with office jobs is to invest in an ionizing air purifier. This particular type of air purifier is excellent for neutralizing odors. While you may not be able to control the air quality throughout the building, you can take steps to protect the air within your workspace. You can also try products containing activated charcoal to absorb and block odors.
There are other products that help filter the air you breathe even while on the go. You might consider a personal ionizer that you wear like a pendant. There are also products you can wear on your nose that filter the air you breathe, like Better Breathers. While I have not personally tried them, I have heard from other migraineurs that they are effective at blocking scent triggers. In some severe cases, you may need a face mask with a charcoal filter.
You might try approaching your boss about making a workplace accommodation. Some companies require documentation from a doctor, so be prepared. However, the Americans with Disabilities Act does require employers to make reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities. Many employers now have “scent-free” policies. Some specify that only common areas (conference rooms, break rooms, etc.) are scent-free while others ban the use of fragrances and perfumes company-wide.
You don’t have to be a victim.
There are ways to minimize the impact of scent-related triggers, but not without some effort on your part. All of these ideas require you to take proactive measures, and not all will be successful. There will likely be a period of trial and error until you find just the right mix of accommodations. Remember to keep your expectations realistic. Not all triggers can be eliminated. Some can only be minimized or worked around. The good news is that you can do something about the problem.