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My All-Too-Sensitive Nose

migraine_stories1107By far, the biggest (and one of the least controllable) triggers for my migraines is fragrance. Lotion, deodorant, hair products, soap, perfume, air freshener, laundry products, cosmetics, essential oils, pet products, incense, scented candles, household cleaners…you name it. And it’s not just what my family and I use…it’s what other people use.

This fact severely limits my travel (no hotels), my ability to go to restaurants, gyms, classes, social activities, stores I can shop in, public transportation…it’s easy to use your imagination. It even affects me when hiking…I have to go on lesser-used trails because people passing by me generally have some sort of fragrance on their person and/or animal companion. I hold my breath, and then breathe shallowly until I am past their scented “wake.”

All of these situations are olfactory bombs exploding in my migraine brain.

So I’m wondering…has anyone had any luck lessening their sense of smell? I always carry face masks with me, but especially if I’m trying to eat or drink (as well as be heard and understood when talking), these are problematic. I’d especially like to know if any wholistic/naturopathic approaches have worked.

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.


  • elialden12
    6 years ago

    I also am REALLY sensitive to perfumes/scents! Laundry soap, lotions – especially Bath and Body works….candles/incense… and I’m Catholic! Can’t go to Mass if they have incense! I had a massage therapist once suggest that I get some peppermint oil and sniff it when I got a scent-related migraine….so I got a little bottle at my local health food store and it does help, usually. Sometimes I have to breathe in the peppermint for literally half an hour….. I did actually survive an hour long Mass with incense by sitting through the entire thing with my nose to the peppermint oil bottle…….it was distracting and I felt like everyone was looking at me, but hey, I didn’t get a migraine!
    The other thing that helped me in general with my migraines was going gluten free. I used to get 8+ 3-day migraines a month and now i might get one, and it usually doesn’t last very long!

  • Julzzf
    6 years ago

    The best defense I have found against smells is learning to breathe through my mouth and not my nose. It is a difficult task I must admit because it is natural to breathe through your nose. It does help though. Admittedly though when someone has caked on the perfume like it is lotion I gotta run out of the room. Or I just gripe at them. I know not nice but if you know the person frequently they will respect that and not wear it next time I have found. I know just about everything in my house that can be unscented is. Thank god for that. Good luck to you.

  • Angie Marcella
    6 years ago

    I have tried everything other than Botox and now that new implant device, I have tried pretty much all the allergy meds and sprays( watch out a lot of them have a fragrance), all of the different preventative meds, and pretty much all the meds you can take when you get one. and the herbal one migravent(which is buttersbur and feverfew) -which gave me ataxia and 4 different Er’s couldn’t figure out what was wrong and just kept sending me home, was like I was super drunk couldn’t walk my words were slurring was super scary – I was scared to walk even a few feet took me standing up from a chair and passing out and breaking my ankle, and me and my husband thinking back to what could maybe have caused it because it took a few days of taking it for it to get bad, so I didn’t realize sooner. There is an allergy medicine (think it’s called cyprohepadine that with all the research I’ve done said could possibly help with smells) didn’t help me but then I have a high tolerance to meds and unusual side effects and alleries to lots of others. Gabapentin cut my migraines in about half , but I still got at least 10 or more a month and it made me gain about 80lbs, which made me want to die, so it wasn’t worth it, I wouldn’t do it again- if it would of got rid of all but one or 2 maybe. But I don’t know if it actually helped with fragrance triggered ones or if that was just the avoidance part helping. I have went to numerous neurologist and even the head pain and neurological institute any none of them could help me- they had 2 suggestions other than botox verapamil (which turned the top of my head to feeling like it was on fire and gabapentin . I have tried ones that turned my spine to feeling like liquid fire and no one could touch me without me wanting to scream in pain, some gave me jerks and twitches, some made it feel like I was getting electrocuted non stop,and one made me feel like it was 120 degrees all the time even when it was below zero outside and I didn’t have a coat on, and a lot just did nothing. Would love to know if anyone has tried and gotten help from Botox with fragrance being a major trigger.It worries me to even think of trying it because it stays in your system and with my luck ,I would have a bad reaction to it. I know most insurance doesn’t like to cover it and it is really expensive, my aunt used to get it for migraines but she doesn’t get them from smells like I do. I know the main thing they tell you is avoidance which you can do at home , most of the time, but step out the door and it isn’t possible. So like you I would love to know if anyone has found anything that actually works.

  • Teri-Robert
    6 years ago


    Maybe I can help a bit here. Botox actually has helped me have fewer fragrance-triggered Migraines. It hasn’t eliminated the trigger, but I’ve been getting Botox treatments for almost a year now, and after the second one, I did notice that fragrance now triggers me, oh, probably about 70% of the time now instead of 100%. Something that I’ve noticed a huge improvement in is light sensitivity between Migraines. That’s been reduced by about 60%. Have you asked your insurance company about covering Botox? They used to get away with denying it by saying it was “experimental,” but since the FDA approved it for chronic Migraine, most insurance companies do cover it. The one caveat is that you meet the diagnostic criteria for chronic Migraine, which means 15 or more Migraine or headache days per month, at least eight of which are Migraine.

    One thing those of us who have had bad experiences with medications need to remember is that our minds can overrule our bodies. If we try a new medication thing that we’ll have a bad reaction, we almost always will because our minds make it happen, even if it wouldn’t have otherwise. In psychology, this is called “self-fulfilling prophecy.” In medicine, it’s called the “nocebo effect.” If you decide to try something new and want some support to go into it with a positive attitude, lots of us here would be glad to give you support. Lots of us have fears of new meds.


  • caradrouin
    6 years ago

    I took Bromocriptine for years for a pituitary adenoma. Amazingly, for someone who usually gets ALL the side effects, taking a drug that most people cannot tolerate, the only side effects I got were a runny nose(slight) and a decreased sense of smell. Sadly, it stopped working to suppress the tumor and I switched to Dostinex. It took months for my olfactory sense to return. This isn’t exactly what you asked for.

    On the other hand, I have some natural flower essence calming spray from Diana Moll, LAc. It’s very nice and I usually don’t like anything like that.

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