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When a Scent is Okay One Day, Terrible the Next

Okay, pet owners. This one’s for you.

My husband and I have had our cat, Satchel, for a little over five years now. He’s a constant source of entertainment and cuddles, and we just adore him. This past summer, we brought home a little kitty-brother named Cubbie for him. To our happiness, they get along swimmingly, and they have become famous in our personal social media circles for the various cuddling photos I’ve posted of them.

Cats are my favorite animal, and I have wanted my own since I was a little kid. My mom is terribly allergic, though, so it wasn’t ever an option until I became an adult and had a place where the landlord allowed pets. I promised my husband, who also has a cat allergy, that I would do the heavy lifting and take on the majority of cat care: cleaning the litter box, tidying up, buying and doling out food, etc. Though I had heard about people’s issues with their pets going to the bathroom in inappropriate places, I figured we were safe since Satchel had never peed outside of the litter box since we adopted him.

Oh, was I wrong

Satchel, like many male cats, got a UTI a few years ago and started peeing outside of the litter box in his discomfort. Now he still occasionally does it, and the vet posits that it’s just as likely it’s behavioral as it is due to health condition. Cats are famous for doing their own thing, and interruptions in their routine can throw them off quickly, resulting in behavioral issues that really can get on their humans’ nerves.

So that’s the background.

Scent-free cleaner

The one thing you can do to clean up cat pee is to use an enzymatic cleaner. I’ll let Google tell you why that is, but just trust me on this one. Too bad the only enzymatic cleaners I could find locally were heavily scented! I looked up information online and found that a lot of people complained about the perfumed cleaning fluid, wishing the main company that creates this product would bring back a scentless version. I asked my vet if they had access to any commercial-strength cleaner that was scent-free (or at least scent-light). No dice.

Thankfully, the smell doesn’t always bother me. The problem is it lingers for awhile, so even if I clean up the occasional stain with the cleaner on a migraine-free day and can handle the aroma, the smell may trigger or worsen a migraine attack the next day or even two days later when my migraine threshold is lower.

Fragrances and triggers

Something similar has happened with perfume/cologne before. Once, a customer of mine who wears a signature perfume left her scarf at the bookshop. I kept it in the office with me, knowing she was coming by later in the week to fetch it. The first day of its being in the same room as I wasn’t bad. I caught a whiff occasionally and it didn’t bother me in the least. However, when I came in the next afternoon to catch up on work after a migrainey morning, the smell of the fragrant scarf was too much to take, and the migraine that was finally going away seemed to have been re-triggered by the scent.

Have you ever had the experience of a scent being tolerable one day but migraine-triggering the next? Share your stories below! 

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

  • sahndie
    2 years ago

    Scents are awful! I work in a lab where people seem to think bleach is the best thing on earth and spray it around everywhere. Something that helps: a HEPA air purifier. The one we have for the lab and the ones I now have at home all cost less than $100 and have a carbon pre-filter to remove smells and a HEPA filter to remove particles. They can remove volatile organic chemicals (VOCs), aka the stuff in cleaning products. They can be a bit noisy, but it’s like a white noise machine.

  • The Migraine Girl moderator author
    2 years ago

    For at least a year, I slept with a HEPA air purifier in the bedroom to help with my sensitivity to dust and my husband’s cat allergy. It didn’t occur to me to use it to help with strong scents. Thank you for that tip!

    -Janet G.

  • marycr8on
    2 years ago

    I was making something that I had to cook a pound of bacon for. That put me right into a level 9 migraine, on one occasion. Thankfully, it was summer and I could have the windows open and quickly had the house aired out. It’s never happened again with food but it has with cologne. We used to rent out the apartment over our garage to a man who obviously had no sense of smell. He used so much cologne, you could sometimes smell it in the garage. That mixed with the odor from gasoline and other car odors could turn my stomach one day and not bother me another. You just don’t know when it’s going to affect you that makes it so hard to deal with.

  • The Migraine Girl moderator author
    2 years ago

    Oh, lordy, even your description of that heavily-cologned tenant made me feel dizzy! I bet that smell lingered long after he moved out.

    I agree: it’s so hard to control for, because you never know when it’ll affect you and when it won’t. (And I worry about looking inconsistent or crazy to my friends and loved ones when a small is intolerable one day but fine the next.)

    -Janet

  • Luna
    2 years ago

    “tolerable one day but migraine-triggering the next? ”
    Yes, I find that some days I am just more sensitive than others. It’s all about what stage of the migraine one is in. Or another thing I have noticed is that a light scent takes longer to send me down the tubes. The scarf was in the room for hours and filled the room/air whereas being in the room just a little while the previous day it had not permeated the room yet. It could also make a difference in how big a room is before a light scent is noticeable.

  • The Migraine Girl moderator author
    2 years ago

    Luna, that’s an excellent observation–I didn’t think much about the time it would take for a scent to permeate the room or the size of the room itself.

    -Janet

  • Tamara
    2 years ago

    I get this too …. sometimes just the smell of fast food turns my stomach and other days I enjoy all the scents from those cream and body wash stores.

    For the cleaner – I find natures miracle smells the least. And the just for cats oxy formula is amazing and less scent.

    I have a UTI prone boy too – phermone plug ins, rescue remedy, cranberry extract (if actually infections and not crystals), filtered water only (too many minerals from the super hard water here), slippery elm drops on bad weeks, and VERY clean 3 boxes around the house. Food seems to be the trigger for my monkey and home cooking is the best for him.

    Currently have an outbreak with my boy too – moved and I haven’t had time to cook for a few months from trying to sell the house and I’ve had many bad migraines days where I don’t care if he gets into the other cats food. Paying the price now … 2 houses and lots of extra Laundry …

    Good luck and you aren’t alone in struggle

  • The Migraine Girl moderator author
    2 years ago

    This was me last week to a T, not stopping Satchel from accessing the kitten kibble for a day because I was just too migrainey to deal with it: “I’ve had many bad migraines days where I don’t care if he gets into the other cats food.”

    Happily, he hasn’t had a UTI in awhile, though he will periodically pee right outside the box if things aren’ just so. These little guys are so cute and so infuriating! 🙂

    Nature’s Miracle is the kind I have now, and its smell is fine sometimes and god-awful the next. Our brains can be hard to deal with, huh? 🙂

    -Janet G.

    P.S. Good luck getting your house sold!

  • bionic08
    2 years ago

    A perfume with gardenia will trigger a migraine and I have noticed that when I am working up to a head banging migraine ( we all know we have different levels of migraines to I can work even if in pain to the lights off, don’t move my head is exploding level). Before I get the severe migraine several days before I smell a burning smell that is almost nauseating. I am learning to start to premed before it hits. Sure hope it helps!

  • The Migraine Girl moderator author
    2 years ago

    Gardenia scents *kill* me! I remember walking with a friend a few years ago and holding my nose as we passed a gardenia plant. “I hate those so much!” I said, and my friend thought I was making a bad joke, because who doesn’t love gardenias and the beautiful natural scents of flowers? Ha!

    Good for you, noticing your migraine’s patterns and trying to head them off at the pass when you have a “head banging migraine” on its way. I haven’t ever had the not-actually-present burning smell before, but lots of our community members have talked about that. I’ve mentioned that ghost-scent phenomenon to people when I’m trying to explain how migraine is a neurological event and not “just a headache.”

    -Janet G.

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