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Ask the Allergist

Ask the Allergist

What is a Sensitivity to Scents?

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I have noticed over recent years a sensitivity to scents (chest tightness) such as perfumes and scented soaps and lotions. The chest tightness can occur if I’m having nasal congestion too. After I take an antihistamine (oral or spray), it goes away. Is this a sign of allergies or asthma?

Strong odors and scents can be a trigger for rhinitis and/or asthma. This is usually not an allergen, but an irritant. Common strong odors that can cause issues include air fresheners, perfumes, colognes, deodorants, nail polish, and some cleaning products.

These irritants can definitely trigger nasal congestion, runny nose, cough, and asthma symptoms. Prevention is the best route to take here.

  • Work with your healthcare provider to manage your asthma and allergies
  • Have your asthma management plan and appropriate asthma medications with you in case you have an asthma attack after being exposed to strong perfumes or scents.
  • Limit your exposure to places where there may be strong odors such as department stores with perfumes, laundromats, and fabric stores.
Allergy, Asthma, Nasal Allergy (Rhinitis)
Answered by

John M. James, MD, is a board-certified allergist. He is also President of Food Allergy Consulting and Education Services, LLC. He has worked as a medical specialist in the field of allergy, asthma, and immunology for over 30 years. Dr. James received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Arkansas and his Doctor of Medicine degree from the University of Tennessee. He is board certified by the American Board of Allergy and Immunology.

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