Allergy or coincidence?
February 17, 2010 4:19 AM   Subscribe

It seems that whenever I am around certain air fresheners or scented oils, I immediately get a sore throat, runny nose, and headache that goes on to become a garden-variety head cold lasting a week or so. Is this an actual allergic reaction, or just a coincidence?

It seems that on every occasion I have been around a certain type of air freshener (usually the kind with oil that plugs into the wall with a kind of sweet, flowery, fruity 'tropical' scent, and some varieties of the big tacky plastic air fresheners favored by taxi drivers) I have immediately felt terrible and desperate to get away from the source, and that has been followed up by a week of sore throat, runny nose, and general malaise and headacheyness. I just bought some coconut scented perfume oil from the Body Shop that started to make me feel the same way - I immediately scrubbed it off and sealed the bottle up inside a ziploc bag, but an hour later I still have that icky feeling in the back of my throat and the ghost of a headache threatening to kick in hard at any moment.

I know that runny nose and headache can be normal allergy symptoms, but the fact that they don't go away after I get away from the scent that seems to trigger it makes me think that maybe I'm not *really* allergic to these things - it just seems like I am because I happened to be around the scents when a cold was brewing, maybe in the same way that someone who gets food poisoning will develop an aversion to the last thing they ate before they became sick, even if that wasn't the food that was poisoned. Does that make any sense?

Anyway, I am just wondering if anyone else seems to have these kind of 'allergies' or if it's just psychosomatic.
posted by Wroksie to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This happens to my mother. She claims that she is allergic to the alcohol content, and it's kind of backed up by evidence when, after drinking a glass of wine, she'll have an uncontrollable sneeze attack and her eyes will puff up. She's also allergic to skin contact with certain metals and gets little red hives from the cold (she actively avoids being in the freezer section of the grocery store.) However, we suspect that the aversion to "smelly things" as we call them in my family, has gone from a small legitimate allergy to a psychosomatic reaction with day-long cold-like symptoms from my mother, because often it will be triggered by things that have no alcohol and none of the artificial ingredients like those you describe. Like, if I have a pineapple sitting next to a bunch of lilies and Mom walks through the kitchen after they've been removed, she'll smell the lingering tropical floral type scent and start coughing.

If you're having a cold for a week after a sickly sweet smelling cab ride, you might want to go to an allergy specialist and see what's up. My mom's problems are pretty easy to avoid but she only has symptoms that last for a day or so.
posted by Mizu at 4:33 AM on February 17, 2010

You may also be sensitive in some way (allergic or other) to the chemicals in air fresheners. The manufacturers try to hide it, but at least some air fresheners actually anesthetise your nose and those chemicals could be the problem.
posted by TedW at 4:51 AM on February 17, 2010

When you're getting away from the scent are you also changing your clothes and taking a shower?
I'm allergic to my mum's dog so when I come home from visiting I have to throw my clothes in the washing machine and take a shower straight away to avoid the sort of reaction you're describing. If its a scent you might also have particles of the allergen adhered to your nose hairs.
posted by missmagenta at 5:05 AM on February 17, 2010

I am sensitive to many fragrances (and all perfumes) and those air fresheners are the worst. I have a different reaction than you do, but a bad exposure can cause several days' worth of symptoms. Missmagenta's advice is worth trying; I often have to change my clothes after an exposure to fragrance because it has transferred and clings, and I can't start to recover until I'm no longer carrying it around with me.
posted by not that girl at 5:38 AM on February 17, 2010

I've had this reaction to scents for 30 years. Some affect me some much my heart stars racing
and my temperature rises ( you can watch my skin go red); often, I'll have to sit down to avoid fainting. It usually takes a day or two to recover

Other scents I don't even notice.

I doubt it's in your head. Just the way you're wired.
posted by larry_darrell at 5:52 AM on February 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

do antihistamines help? I would pop a benadryl in addition to showering and washing your clothes. that might help back off the symptoms and head off a week of misery. I can't stand those oily plug-in room fresheners (or indeed, any). I'm always going around and surreptitiously unplugging them at people's houses while I'm there, and then I plug them back in when I leave, just so I can be able to breathe for the rest of the day.
posted by toodleydoodley at 6:58 AM on February 17, 2010

Sounds like it's time to make an appointment with an allergist.
posted by valkyryn at 7:46 AM on February 17, 2010

I have the same reaction walking through the perfume/cosmetic area of a department store or sitting near someone in a public place wearing certain strong scents, though mine doesn't last longer than maybe an hour or so (though the headache can linger longer).
posted by cecic at 9:25 AM on February 17, 2010

Definitely an allergic reaction. That happens to me as well.

My theory is that your immune system is constantly changing it's "battery" levels.
So when an allergen, such as a something a perfume might contain, gets into your system, it spends resources/energy to fight that offending allergen. Thus, your overall immune level goes down, and it is way easier to catch a cold. Since I am not a doctor, I may be just talking pure crap here...

But my experience over the years seems to backup my theory:
- if I am in a good healthy stage, I can withstand better a "perfume" attack.
- if am a bit weaker, smelling an aggressive perfume is typically followed by a cold.

Claritine (or your antihistamine of choice) is always your friend here!
posted by theKik at 9:51 AM on February 17, 2010

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