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Trigger Tips

Practical Strategies to Avoid Scent Triggers

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.

Scent blocking

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.

Odor elimination

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.

Workplace accommodations

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.

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.


  • Littlemakc
    8 months ago

    The biggest problem I have with making people understand the scent triggered migraine is that the smell doesn’t have to be unpleasant to me to trigger a migraine.
    Also, for me the scent triggers are the worst as it’s an immediate horrible migraine that usually doesn’t respond to meds. Unfortunately essential oils can be the worst for me, Patchouli specifically…feels like a knife stabs me in the head…I go down fast. Now it seems like everyone is wear essential oils, so I’ve had to leave restaurants and shops before. Once I had to leave a luncheon with a group of friends, I went to my car and just cried, I was so upset it was controlling my life like that.
    I have to explain to people that anything that smells and comes into my house has to be “approved” by me. My family will open the item (including deodorant), then slowly approach me until I can tell if I am going to react to it.
    It is an incredible inconvenience, but better than a migraine.

  • Katiemcguire68
    8 months ago

    I wear a scarf everywhere so when I encounter a troublesome scent, I cover my mouth and nose with it. Not ideal, but it has saved me countless times over the years. Scents and lights are my biggest triggers and amplifiers.

  • Shawn Dunham
    2 years ago

    Perfume, flowers and some cleaners are triggers for me. I wasn’t sure what the commonality was until I read an article about the oracle of Delphi which talked about the oracles breathing in ethylene gas having visions and then having raging headaches. When I looked up more information about ethylene, I found that it is the major component in synthetic perfume, is excreted by flowers when they give off scent and is a major chemical in cleaners (Polyethylene). So scent masking would not be helpful for someone like me. I have made it my mission to avoid when possible.

  • HeatherTrautman
    2 years ago

    This is something I’m going to be talking about soon with my office manager. We are basically in startup-mode right now, with just a few people here at the office every week. I’m going to make a request that we make the office fragrance-free, especially since it’s open and we will only have cubicles separating us. My past boss – no matter how many times I very politely explained it to her – would spray her migraine-triggering perfume and light candles at the office all the time, and I finally told her one day that because she was causing my migraine attacks despite my telling and asking her politely, I expected not to see any of my time from those attacks taken out of my sick pay. I think she eventually got the point, and I never was penalized. It’s unfortunate that it took so many times and I had to suffer like that just because of her ignorance.

  • KGriz
    3 years ago

    My doctor suggested 150mg of L-Glutathione 3 times a day when exposed. Helps me deal with perfume laden people at work or in the stores. Another item in the migraine arsenal. Every little bit helps!

  • VickiG
    3 years ago

    I love Better Breathers! I keep them at home and handy in my purse. I use the type with the little charcoal filters. They don’t eliminate all smells but they do a great job at reducing them to a tolerable level.

  • Katiemcguire68
    8 months ago

    Hi Vicki. What are Better Breathers?
    Thanks in advance.

  • onehsancare
    3 years ago

    Perfume is such a potent trigger for me that I have worn a mask in public for the last several years–first, just on airplanes, then also in stores, and now whenever I’m not at work, in my car, or at home. It protects me from almost every fragrance, including awful flowers like daphne! I’m using the Respro Allergy Mask with the chemical filter now, which is much less scary looking than the black Techno which I wore for years! (I can’t tell you how many “Darth Vader” and “Bane” comments I received when wearing it!)

    I can’t recommend these masks highly enough. I get mine at

  • Luna
    3 years ago

    The skunk picture reminded me of 3 different nights during the summer that a skunk sprayed not far from the house. All the windows were open to catch the cool night air. Went out doors and found a clear spot out of the prevailing breeze until the air cleared. Took longer to get the smell out of the house so I slept on the porch furniture. After that I closed up the house after 11pm and opened it after 5am.

    Today is the 1st fire of the season in the wood stove. No matter how well I clean what is reachable there is a lot of dust or whatever to burn off so windows and doors are open with the fans full speed. During the worst part I went for a walk. Learning how to live with my limitations. Courage.

  • DonnaFA moderator
    3 years ago

    Hi Luna!Thanks for joining the conversation. Gosh, skunk scent is hard to deal with on a good day!It’s wonderful that you’ve found a rhythm, thanks for sharing it, and for being here. -All Best, Donna ( team)

  • Tamara
    3 years ago

    A wrinkle in everything though – situation from a migraine self management seminar.

    Another girl came wearing peppermint oil (which also greatly helps me during a migraine attack), but it ended up in another lady having to leave because it triggered a migraine in her ……

    So no right or wrong way. I feel bad anytime I go to church or any public place after using essential oils but I may over my allotted meds and those scents are the only way I’m able to be off the couch. Something to remember.

  • Chrissy
    3 years ago

    I have a diffuser on a bracelet (found on Amazon for less than $10). When I need the scent I have it. If it starts to bother me (or someone else) I can stick it in my pocket.

  • Brooke H moderator
    3 years ago

    Hi Tamara,

    Thank you for taking the time to comment! It’s so kind of you to consider how what helps you may impact others in the migraine community. It’s true that there is no perfect way to treat migraine as one person’s treatment may not work for another. I’m glad to hear you’ve found essential oils to be a complement to your overall treatment plan. I thought this article may be of interest to you: (if you haven’t seen it already). Please come here anytime for support.

    Brooke ( team)

  • Nancy Harris Bonk moderator
    3 years ago

    Thank you Tammy, great tips!

    I’m looking for some sort of statement I can make to a fragrance offender when in small area such as an elevator or even standing in line. They have no idea the impact their horrible fragrance has on people with migraine. Any ideas?

  • Tammy Rome author
    3 years ago

    On a few occasions I have politely explained that their fragrance has triggered a migraine attack (list ALL my symptoms) and the exact cost of the treatments I must use to stop it along with all the activities affected by the resulting migraine attack. I’m brief and nice about it, but I do make them understand that their choices caused a great deal of unnecessary suffering — not just an inconvenience or “headache”. Only once did I get a trollish response. Most are apologetic.

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