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Fragrance allergy: A smelly affair

Fragrance allergy: A smelly affair

Exposure to certain scented products can be troublesome for those with an allergy

For people with fragrance allergy, exposure to certain scented products can cause severe allergic reactions

A room filled with scented candles, a dash of exotic perfume and light music in the background can be an ideal date night for many. However, the fragrance emitted from the candles or perfume can be a mood spoiler for those with fragrance allergy.

“Perfumes, scented candles and other such fragranced products trigger an allergic reaction in some, especially if they have underlying conditions of dust-mite or pollen allergy, asthma, etc,” says Dr Milan Modi, allergy specialist from Surat, Gujarat. “The sensitivity can be triggered either through contact allergens (which trigger sensitivity through skin contact and largely affect the skin) or aeroallergens (which trigger sensitivity through the air and largely affect the nose, lungs and gut),” says Dr Modi.


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Fragrance allergy can cause occupational and social hindrances for many as it could lead to symptoms like sneezing, runny nose, blocked nose, swelling around the breathing tube, puffing and breathing difficulty. In some cases, symptoms can also include loose stools, acidity, itchy rashes and swelling of the skin.

Fragranced products are a part of our daily lives, which include recurrent use of room fresheners, deodorants, laundry detergents, fabric softeners, scented or essential oils, personal care products (hand sanitisers, shampoos, soaps, colognes), scented candles, naphthalene balls, incense sticks, etc. A 2004 study describes that these products contain hazardous volatile chemicals that react with air to generate possible allergens (such as formaldehyde and acetaldehyde), thereby causing fragrance allergy.

A 2012 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Dermatology states that perfumes and other fragranced products contain at least 100 contact allergens which can cause facial or hand eczema among women who are sensitive to them.

Difference between allergy and sensitivity

Allergy and sensitivity are not synonymous. “Allergy is a severe defensive reaction of the immune system to allergens, whereas sensitivity is a mild reaction to allergens without any involvement of the immune system,” explains Dr Sindhu Kamath, pulmonologist from Kasturba Medical College (KMC), Mangaluru, Karnataka. “Unlike an allergic reaction, the reaction for sensitivity is mild (causing nausea, headache, itchiness or redness of skin) and not debilitating,” she adds.

Aditi Nayak, a 38-year-old boutique owner in Mangaluru, and 50-year-old Ram Rajeevan’s allergy is triggered by aeroallergens emitted from fragranced products such as perfumes or incense sticks that emit a strong smell.

Nayak experiences breathing difficulty, nausea, vomiting and headache. Rajeevan develops sneezing, runny nose, watery eyes and headache. It is imperative that they move away from the environment immediately in order to prevent their health from getting worse.

Treatment for allergy

Dr Modi believes that allergies can be completely controlled. “It is important to identify the root cause,” he says. Allergy blood tests and skin prick tests can help to identify the allergen.

Treatment depends on the severity of the allergy. “If the allergy is minor, a combination of steroids, antihistamines and bronchodilators (an inhalant drug that helps to open the airways in the lungs) can help to control it. However, allergy immunotherapy (allergy shots) is recommended if these methods fail and allergy impairs everyday functioning,” says Dr Kamath.


  • Get yourself tested if you have frequent allergic reactions.
  • Avoid using perfumes and fragranced products that trigger allergies.
  • Use fragrance-free products.
  • Read the labels to understand the suitability of the product.
  • Wear masks when exposed to allergens.

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