Juniper Times

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The Danger in the Air

As I walk down the aisle of Wegman’s, I’m thinking to myself what a great day I’m having. I love it when I have the time to just linger at the grocery store and take the time to browse and read labels and look for new products to try. I’m a health nut, admittedly. I wasn’t always. But when you get to be a certain age, it’s time to clean up your act or you start to fall apart. I’m 48, so I had to start cleaning up my act about 5 years ago. I feel pretty good most days now. But wait… nooooo.

I try to move away from the offensive smell immediately to try to escape the inevitable. Is it going to work? No. Someone’s perfume is about to ruin my day and give me a damn migraine!

I wasn’t always like this, hiding and running from all fragrances. Perfumes and laundry detergent smells send me into a dizzying tailspin of pain and anxiety. Dryer sheets are the worst. I can smell those on people from 15 feet away sometimes. It’s almost like I have bionic smell.

I’ve had migraines since I was about 12. They run in my family. Both my mother and my grandfather got them. I used to get them on average once a month with my period and if I ate MSG. It all changed when I went through early menopause starting at age 43. I was through it by 45 and I went through a period of three years when I had a migraine almost every day.

I’m on a cocktail of medications to prevent them now, including an anti-seizure, but the one thing that remains is my sensitivity to fragrances. When I come in contact with a chemical smell, my whole face feels as if it’s made of glass and it’s breaking into a million shards of tiny pieces.

Perhaps the reason I’m so sensitive to fragrances is because they are so toxic and they are harmful to us. After all, the CDC considers fragrances so harmful that it has banned them in all of its buildings. According to the Environmental Working Group, many fragrances contain carcinogens, hormone disruptors, thyroid disruption and can cause sperm damage. Some don’t even list all their ingredients (Secret Chemicals Revealed In Celebrity Perfumes, Teen Body Sprays, 2010). So who knows what other harmful effects they could have on our health?

Dryer sheets and laundry detergents are particularly toxic. Not only are the “softening” agents toxic but they can contain hundreds of untested chemicals including hormone disruptors. A University of Washington Study on air contaminants from fragranced consumer goods detected between 18 and 20 chemicals in each of four laundry products- including likely human carcinogens (Sutton PhD., 2011).

It’s not just migraine sufferers that are affected by fragrances. People with asthma are also at great risk. For some sufferers, fragrance is their main trigger of an attack.

In just the past week I have met three other women who are also bothered by perfume. The first was when I was at the gym. I was working out and there was a young woman who had on half a bottle of the poisonous stuff. The manager noticed that I was covering my nose and looking generally ill. She pulled me into her office to ask me if I was OK. When I told her what was going on, she said she was also very bothered by it- that she broke out in hives. She said her mother was allergic and got allergy symptoms. Later that week I was at the bank and the woman that usually waits on me told me that she is so sickened by perfume that she has to keep a small fan behind the counter so she can blow the perfume smells away from her. Then just yesterday, my chiropractor’s wife noticed me in the waiting room looking pale and covering my nose. She walked into the waiting room and she immediately knew what the problem was. She took me to one of the treatment rooms and said” I can’t stand perfume either! Oh, my gosh, that’s so strong!” It turns out, she has asthma and perfume is a major trigger for her.