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Can Avoiding Perfume Prevent Migraine?

By: Kathryn Senior PhD - Updated: 27 Jun 2012 | comments*Discuss
 
Migraine Perfume Allergy After Shave

For many people, an expensive perfume or after shave is a great treat, something to be enjoyed. Applying fragrance is a part of ‘getting ready’ to go out to a special dinner, an evening out, a party, or just for some substantial retail therapy. The problem with many perfumes, even the good ones, is that you get used to the smell – which may encourage some people to put more perfume on, not realising that they then are surrounded by a mini-atmosphere that is so strong it can make other people sick – sometimes literally.

Perfume Allergy

Having a perfume allergy means that applying a perfume or fragrance to your own skin can cause a rash or swelling or redness of the skin. It can also make your throat feel tight, your eyes water and can bring on a feeling of tightness in your chest. People who get this reaction to perfumes then generally avoid using them, but it is hard to avoid perfumes worn by other people.

If two people described above then get on a bus or train or plane, and have to sit together for significant length of time, the result is not hard to imagine. If you have a serious perfume allergy, going to public places can be a real problem.

What Are the Symptoms of Perfume Allergy?

If the perfume isn’t actually touching your skin, you are still breathing it in, and so the effects are mainly respiratory at first. Mild asthma can be made much worse, your throat may itch and feel swollen and your chest can feel tight, even if you don’t usually get asthma. In severe cases, it can become difficult to breathe. Beyond that, the smell also tends to cause nausea, even sickness and a common after effect is to develop a headache, which usually takes the form of a migraine.

Perfumes and other strong odours are well-known migraine triggers and as the sense of smell cannot be switched off easily, people can also develop a learned association between the smell of a perfume and a headache, making it more likely that they will develop a migraine.

What Perfume Components Cause Migraine?

Migraine and the host of other symptoms that occur in someone with a perfume allergy tend to be caused by alcohol based chemicals used to make perfumes. Benzyl alcohol, anisyl alcohol and benzyl salicylate are common culprits. Some natural compounds used to build up the notes in a fragrance can also set off an allergic reaction – natural oils such as rose and clove are particularly sickly and headache-inducing.

Finding Out if you Have a Perfume Allergy

If you tend to get migraines and you think there is a link between being exposed to strong perfume, it is possible to be tested to see if you do have a perfume allergy, and to find out which perfume components are causing the problem. Allergy tests involve having patches that are impregnated with different compounds placed on your skin, usually on your arm for 24 hours, to see if the skin becomes red and raised. If you do have a reaction, you then need to take steps to avoid perfume as much as possible.

It may be that other products, such as cleaning products and air fresheners have some of the same components. Buying alternatives, cutting out the use of any perfumes, body sprays, perfumed deodorants and other products could all help to reduce your exposure. Ideally, you should avoid perfumes as much as possible for a period of three months, and keep a diary to show when and how often you experience migraines before and after your perfume ban. If you find your migraines are much less frequent, perfume avoidance may have to become a way of life.

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