ALLERGY RESOURCE CENTER
Allergy to fragrance is a problem that affects more than 2 million people. That number continues to rise because we are exposed to so many different fragrances on a daily basis.
Fragrance is the leading cause of skin allergies, resulting in contact dermatitis and other skin problems. The skin may become red, inflamed, itchy, or dry, most commonly in areas with repeated exposure to products containing fragrance: the face and neck, arms and hands.
We encounter fragrance everywhere; in personal care products, laundry products, home cleaning products, as well as candles and air fresheners. There are more that 5,000 different fragrances used by manufacturers today, and the combinations derived from those fragrances are too numerous to count.
It is almost impossible to avoid fragrance altogether. While we can eliminate personal products that cause us trouble, we can’t control what perfumes, colognes, and cosmetics others around us use. There are even fragrances added to some of the foods we eat, such as chewing gum.
In addition to skin reactions, respiratory problems sometimes occur. An asthma attack can be triggered by the chemicals in perfume. When someone is sensitive to the chemicals, either as an irritant or an allergen, the bronchial tubes swell causing a restriction in breathing.
Although an asthma reaction can occur immediately after contact with the irritant or allergen, skin reactions can take several days to develop, sometimes as many as seven to ten days. Usually the reaction time is more rapid after the initial outbreak of a contact dermatitis.
Other Types of Allergies
Colds vs. Allergies
The upper respiratory symptoms associated with an allergic reaction are usually sudden in onset. Symptoms of runny nose, cough, and congestion that develop over a longer period are more likely caused by a virus. Colds are finite in duration; the symptoms may become more severe for a short time, but gradually fade away. Allergy symptoms are chronic; when you have a dripping nose or itching eyes for weeks on end, suspect an allergy.
Tips to Avoid Allergic Reactions
Your doctor can do a skin patch test to help determine the specific things that trigger an allergic reaction. A patch test is conducted by placing a small concentrated amount of a suspected chemical on or just under the surface of the skin. If redness and swelling develops, the test is positive and the chemical is identified as an allergen.
When you have identified a particular product that causes an allergic reaction, you can take steps to avoid the fragrance, especially if it is a personal care product, but that isn’t always possible: everywhere we go we encounter aromas and odors that may cause a reaction.