Scents Send Me Into Rapid Descent

I am so tired of being vulnerable to anyone who feels the need to convey his or her personality by spraying cologne or dabbing perfume or using Axe deodorant. No longer is one’s choice of scent private, to be discovered when a level of intimacy is reached where a neck is nuzzled or a hug is given; no, now it is shouted to the world, discernable half a block away.

I know I have what we called in law school “an eggshell skull”—that is, I am someone who is unusually susceptible—for me, it’s exposure to fragrances found in perfume, colognes, lotions, and a seemingly-limitless number of personal hygiene products. But being unusually susceptible doesn’t change the experience I have. Every month, I suffer from a migraine more than half the days. This past week, I was exposed to perfume at work on Thursday, giving me a migraine bad enough to send me home and keep me at home on Friday. It kept me in bed on Saturday until about 3:00, when I finally got some relief, but it came back full power on Sunday. I woke up on Monday migraine free until I was exposed to a perfume bomb while eating lunch outdoors, as far from the restaurant door as possible. Eggshell skull or not, I am in pain much of my waking life and I am truly sick of it.

Unless I am eating, I wear a mask when I am not at home, in my car, or in my office. (I am now beginning to wear it when leaving my personal office to go to the general printer, the restroom or the office kitchen, after the exposure last Thursday.) When will it become as frowned upon to pollute the air with neurotoxins like perfume for one’s personal enjoyment as it is to smoke in public?

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Comments

View Comments (8)
  • n8smith
    12 months ago

    I made a comment on https://migraine.com/blog/osmophobia/comment-page-1/#comment-71728 about this but thought it’d be relevant here too:

    How do you get over your fear of smells?

    I saw a biofeedback specialist (Erik Peper) who said that I hyperventilate way too often which I now admit is true, and told me to note when I gasp. It seems my main reason for gasping is a fear of smells even in my own home where there’s no smell I still do it and I also gasp due to my congestion where it feels somewhat blocked to take full breaths (I’ve seen multiple ENTs who say it’s just migraine symptoms).

    I assume one should push through and keep remembering to breathe from your stomach until that becomes a habit.

    And when one goes out and doesn’t want to risk being triggered, then maybe rub vicks (though I’ve read it can be addictive and the concern for it and essential oils is that you don’t want them getting in your mouth in case you lick your lips). It seems toothpaste is the best thing to rub as then it’s not toxic if you like your lips accidentally. I’ve read someone wears mask when they leave their personal office (even in the walk to the printer), car or home but that seems like one will get dependent on a mask and never adjust to smells. Though I guess you’ll still smell things through one of the doctor’s mask and it can allow you to ease into smells.

    Curious if anyone has any thoughts!

  • n8smith
    12 months ago

    How do you get over your fear of smells?

    I saw a biofeedback specialist (Erik Peper) who said that I hyperventilate way too often which I now admit is true, and told me to note when I gasp. It seems my main reason for gasping is a fear of smells even in my own home where there’s no smell I still do it and I also gasp due to my congestion where it feels somewhat blocked to take full breaths (I’ve seen multiple ENTs who say it’s just migraine symptoms).

    I assume one should push through and keep remembering to breathe from your stomach until that becomes a habit.

    And when one goes out and doesn’t want to risk being triggered, then maybe rub vicks (though I’ve read it can be addictive and the concern for it and essential oils is that you don’t want them getting in your mouth in case you lick your lips). It seems toothpaste is the best thing to rub as then it’s not toxic if you like your lips accidentally. I’ve read someone wears mask when they leave their personal office (even in the walk to the printer), car or home but that seems like one will get dependent on a mask and never adjust to smells. Though I guess you’ll still smell things through one of the doctor’s mask and it can allow you to ease into smells.

    Curious if anyone has any thoughts!

  • Msmmain
    2 years ago

    Try talking to your HR person about it. I’ve worked at a couple jobs. Both times I talked to the HR manager about it being a bad trigger and both times they considered it as something that falls under “reasonable accommodation for a medical condition”. Them the companies sent out office-wide emails asking that all employees limit/stop the use of fragrances on weekdays “in consideration of those around you”. They both kept it totally anonymous so there was no drama and it helped with the issue right away.

    Scents are a huge trigger for me as well, especially perfume-type-fragrances. The more chemically* created – the faster start / worse pain! Even if I plug my nose sometimes I swear I can taste the smell, especially at the very back of my tongue…

    I read once that perfume/cologne/aftershave should only be strong enough for someone to detect if they are within your personal space/bubble – and even then – it should be “mild enough to just barely tease the senses and draw your partner in…”. It stuck with me and comes to mind any time someone in the same zip code as I am makes my eyes water from the strenth of their eau de yuck. It should be part of everyone’s education when you learn about when to start putting on deodorant or how to shave. Unfortionatelt for me mint/menthol is also a horrible scent trigger and so even the people who don’t wear/go overboard on the personal fragrances are still hazardous to my migraine status because of their toothpaste/gum/mouth wash/topical pain releiver/after meal candies. It’s miserable.

    Do you ever have people tell you things like “you should just avoid your triggers and you wouldn’t have any of these” or something along those lines? Those comments drive me crazy the most and always make me want to take a paddle to their heads so they would understand our pain.

  • DonnaFA moderator
    2 years ago

    Hi, Msmmain! Thanks for sharing your story. It’s wonderful that your HR managers were so helpful. “Reasonable accommodation” puts things in a much more favorable light when you consider asking for help in the workplace. -AllBest, Donna (Migraine.com team)

  • SilverPhoenix13
    2 years ago

    Scents are a big trigger for me. Strong perfume and colognes, if a woman comes through my line wearing makeup so thick I can smell it, most air fresheners, chemical smells, fresh paint, and any other number of strong smells. And it’s constantly changing, scents that never used to bother me can trigger a migraine, now. Such as marijuana. I have family that smokes it and I never had any trouble with it, but in the last 6 months, if I smell it, I get a migraine.

    It sucks majorly. However, I don’t think forcing others not to use something they enjoy to accommodate me is fair.

  • onehsancare author
    2 years ago

    SilverPhoenix13–your employer has a statutory duty to accommodate you, though, if your sensitivity to scents is significant enough to qualify as a disability. The Americans With Disabilities Act requires an employer to reasonably accommodate you; how that would play out in your employment is unknown.

  • DonnaFA moderator
    2 years ago

    Hi, SilverPhoenix13! It’s appropriate to discuss your triggers with friends and family, but when in public things become trickier. I did however find a great tip for you in Tammy’s article Migraine management confidence boosters. Check the section marked “Scent Blockers”. I hope this helps!

    Thanks for being part of the community, and sharing your thoughts and feelings with us! -All Best, Donna (Migraine.com team)

  • Luna
    2 years ago

    Some places actually are perfume free but that does nothing for the laundry soap, dryer sheets, body soap, deodorant, lotion, shampoo, etc smells that bother me. And my sensitivity is not limited to perfumey stuff, it is just about everything with much of an odor, doesn’t have to be a strong odor either. Fortunately herbs don’t seem to bother me but many spices and vanilla do. I can use limited amounts of vanilla and cinnamon in baking but don’t keep them in the house so that smell won’t permeate the kitchen. There is always a price to be paid for running the vacuum or the lawn mower and going shopping or to church or any Dr appointment and many other things. But am usually functioning to some degree. God is reliable.

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