Can smells make you sick? Research shows scent sensitivity could be dangerous

Posted at 8:20 AM, Apr 24, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-24 08:21:48-04

Melissa Eboli now works from home most days, where she knows she can avoid smells that make her sick.

“If I was around somebody that had strong perfume on or was smoking a cigarette, the smells were bothering me and would put me into a full-blown asthma attack,” Eboli said.

Her doctor helped her figure out the smells were the culprit and that her sensitivity is severe.

“There was times when I’ve had meetings when, unfortunately, I wouldn’t be able to drive to because I might have been exposed to some sort of external pollutant,” she said.

New research shows the risk is real. Nearly 35 percent of Americans report one or more adverse health effects when exposed to common fragrant consumer products, like air fresheners or deodorizers, cleaning supplies and personal care products. 

Anne Steinemann, Ph.D., of the University of Melbourne, Australia, explains, “These types of health problems include asthma attacks, migraine headaches… dizziness, seizures, and skin rashes.”

Dr. Steinemann led the research and says it doesn’t require a super sensitive nose to be impacted, physically or financially. Her study found, “Over 15 percent of Americans have lost days at work or lost a job just in the past year from exposure to common fragrant consumer products in the workplace.”

Fragrance sensitivity—or multiple chemical sensitivities—can even be considered a disability on a case-by-case basis, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Now, some companies are getting proactive. Dr. Steinemann says, “An immediate step would be to implement a fragrance-free policy.”

Melissa does her best to avoid triggers but thinks society needs to wake up and smell the potentially debilitating situation.

“I wish other people would be more compassionate to understanding that there are people who are more sensitive to smells and scents,” she said.