Fragrance sensitivity is a REAL condition

Yes, fragrance sensitivity is real in spite of the anger it can arouse in someone who loves to ‘marinate’ in their favourite perfume or deodorant.

“Marinate’ in perfume was a term used by an Internet friend many years ago and since it describes what it seems like, I remembered it.

What is fragrance sensitivity?

Fragrance sensitivity can be defined as an irritation or an adverse reaction to chemicals in a perfume or other scented products such as air fresheners and cosmetics. Sensitivity to strong odors can make allergic people severely ill. People with asthma or other respiratory illness can be more susceptible to fragrance allergies compared to healthy individuals.

In the US Federal courts have ruled that an allergy to scents can be considered a disability under ADAAA (the most recent amendments to the Americans with Disabilities Act). Under this law, when an employee has a severe reaction to exposure to an odor or scent their employer must act on their behalf to remedy the situation

A study by Anne Steinemann of the University of Melbourne, states, “All fragranced products that I tested . . . emitted chemicals classified as hazardous air pollutants,” Steinemann said in an email. “You may not realize you’re being affected until it’s too late.”

A sensory Assault

A horror to someone with fragrance sensitivity

For many people, repeated exposures can bring about a constellation of symptoms,” says Tracie DeFreitas Saab, MS, a human factors consultant with the Job Accommodation Network at West Virginia University.

Those symptoms, she tells WebMD, can range from classic “allergic” reactions, such as sneezing, runny nose, and watery eyes; to headaches, inability to concentrate, and dizziness; to respiratory issues, such as breathing difficulties and wheezing; to skin reactions, such as itching, hives, and other rashes.

Let’s get personal

Why am I writing this now? People who know me, know that I am one of the 500,000 people in Australia with fragrance sensitivity.

Two things happened this week. One, the bank. I went into my bank and stopped in my tracks. It smelled like a perfume shop.

fragrance shop

Even the care worker with me was surprised at the perfume that ‘hit’ us. I had to wait on a bench in the shopping centre mall and leave the care worker to do most of my transaction.

More surprising was the fact that the staff member I spoke to when she brought something out for me to sign said that the bank had installed the fragrance as a signature for their bank.


What are we coming to that bank branches choose to smell like a perfume shop?

I opened an account at a different bank after asking if they knew of any plans to have their bank branches perfumed. The answer was disbelief.

The second incident was on a different day with a Care worker who came into my home smelling strongly of perfume. My Care Plan specifies that no one is to wear a fragranced product when in my home or taking me out.

When I asked her to leave she chose instead to make a call to her supervisor, all the while her perfume was permeating the air in my lounge room.

When she eventually did leave she was angry and told me she would not give up wearing her signature perfume as she stomped out of my home.

reaction to someone with fragrance sensitivity

Psychological issues

In Australia, last year, people with fragrance sensitivities were 2% of the population. We are vastly outnumbered by people who love fragrances. We are often ostracized, or disbelieved, therefore isolated.

By the way… I used to like wearing perfume.

As for the physical complications, the articles referenced cover much of these, and you will find links to Canadian Lung Foundation documentation in the memoir/help book I wrote called Living at the end of an Oxygen Tube. 

I do not deny your choice to wear perfume, or strong deodorant, or any of the many fragranced products. All I ask is that you respect my need to avoid these odours. Please do not try to prove me wrong and wear something fragranced and come near me. It has been done before. Please know that long after you have left, whatever you were wearing is either still lingering in my home, or affecting me. This is not an ‘affliction’ I would have chosen, it isolates me and limits where I can go… and I am already more limited than I would like to be.

having fragrance sensitivity is isolating

There is much more I could say, but there is enough here, although I would like to hear your opinion… no matter what side of the fence you are on.

Struggling this week,


8 thoughts on “Fragrance sensitivity is a REAL condition”

  1. It frustrates the heck out of me that the care worker would not respect your perfume sensitivity even though she was made aware of it before she committed to take care of you. That is very arrogant of her.

  2. I hear you loud and clear Susan. Through the 1980s, my wife & I lived & worked in a bushcamp. In 1978/79 I built a lumber mill there for another man, before we were married. In the mid 80s, an older brother of mine was hauling trees from the forest to the sawmill site, and he boarded in our dwelling. He had quit smoking a couple of years prior, so whenever I or my wife would light a cigarette, my brother would go out for a walk. We asked him why, and he said that since he had quit smoking, that his system had sort of adopted an allergy to cigarette smoke. We thought he was just being sarcastic. A couple of years later (October 10, 1988) I quit smoking. I had been getting infections in my left lung once & twice each year for some time, and that year I got it in both lungs, so I gave up that smoking habit, realizing that it might not be as healthy as I had thought! Almost immediately, I was experiencing the same symptoms as my brother had mentioned a few years prior. So I had to fess up to him)-:). My wife figured that now I was just being sarcastic like we both thought my brother had been. She realized similar symptoms after she quit that habit a few years later. So yes, disbelief, often namely to justify one’s habit[s], is an unfortunate, but typical reaction.

  3. I have been through this too and fortunately made it out the other side. It took about 15 years and treatments from a very special Doctor. I live in Canada and had a friend who had this too. She didn’t make it out. Before I got sick I used to love perfume and never would have thought it could cause so much pain and sickness. We finally moved out to the country, to a safe for me home and with time and treatments from my Dr I am much better. i still can’t take strong close up prefume and fabric sheets, but life is much better for me now.

    • Thank you for your comment. I was verbally attacked for asking a ‘care aide’ to leave my home because she was heavily perfumed. (My care plan said not to wear perfume or anything with fragrance.)
      Like you, I used to wear, and love perfume. I still have it though, glad you have some relief.


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