Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up
Includes Expert Content
Dealing with fragrances and other chemicals at work
avatar
lspence3 posted:
I have asthma primarily when exposed to chemicals and smoke, which causes coughing. I work in a large open building with many cubicles (call center). There are women who will spray fragrances during the work day and I can't keep everyone from doing it. Besides using an inhaler at work, would it help to buy a desk air filter or fan?
Reply
 
avatar
abbymay16 responded:
An air filter certainly might help keep the air in your cubicle. A lot is going to depend on the ventilation system in the building and how effectively it circulates the air.

You might try gently talking to some of your co-workers and explaining your difficulties with scents and see if they would be understanding and perhaps NOT spray the fragrances in the work area.

Human resources might also be a good place to touch base, as you have the right to have your workplace made safe for you...many office adopt a fragrance free policy to aid those of us who have issues with scents and chemicals.

Good luck,

Mattie
Vive Bene, Spesso L'Amore, Di Risata Molto (live well, love much, laugh often)
 
avatar
coughy16 replied to abbymay16's response:
I agree with Mattie. I used to handle it by going to the people who were using the fragrances that bothered me & very apologetically explain that it was totally my problem, & that I felt bad even mentioning it, but would there be any way that they would consider not applying it at work. I would of course explain to them the symptoms etc. I found that by using the apologetic approach, and making it about me & not that they were doing something wrong made most of them more than willing to work with me. Most people do not want to be the cause of someone else feeling lousy!
 
avatar
DUKE MEDICINE
Gregory M Metz, MD responded:
Exposure to perfumes and fragrances at work can be a trigger for some patients' nasal symptoms or asthma. I have numerous patients with similiar experiences. I agree that talking with human resources may be a good start as your work may have already have a policy in place to handle this. Additionally, having medications that can help treat or block the reaction may be beneficial. For some patients with nasal reactions to strong odors, nasal ipratroprium spray can help. For those with asthma, having your rescue inhaler at your desk can help, but sometimes (depending on your symptoms, diagnosis and exposures) a low dose inhaled anti-inflammatory medication daily may allow better tolerance of these irritant triggers. I would also mention this to your doctor at next visit as well.
 
avatar
bresky responded:
Hi

I have the same trouble with fragrances; I talked to human resources where I worked and they posted scent awareness signs around the building. I also had some very supportive co-workers who would often talk to other on my behalf as I couldn't get close to them due to the scent and would tell me not to go to certain places due to scents. Its still a learning curve but it has gotten so much better at where I work.
Hopefully people will understand and many when they see attack feel awful and would try to prevent it from happening again.
Good luck
Bre
 
avatar
Denswei responded:
Ventilation is uneven between cubicles. You might be able to arrange for one near an air vent blowing into the room.
If other people complain, there may even be a problem with the ventilation system so that not enough fresh air comes in (I know a person who developed severe asthma after moving into a newly refurbished office--not a cubicle-- in which the ventilation was not working).
 
avatar
4CleanAir replied to Gregory M Metz, MD's response:
Dr. Metz,
The low dose inhaled anti-inflammatories you mentioned above, can you give an example? Would an antihistamine also help as a preventative measure?
 
avatar
sgbl88 replied to 4CleanAir's response:
Hi sorry you are dealing with this. I think I had responded to you once, but I don't see it here.

Here is a list of the medications you asked about: Advair , Aerobid , Asmanex , Dulera, Flovent , Pulmicort , Symbicort , Qvar

Dulera is a new combination medication that contain Asmanex and Foradil (a long acting broncho dilater). It is working very well for me.

I have pretty bad issues with all types of odors, even food. Antihistamines do help me some. Also, you might want to try OTC NasalCrom. Nasal antthistamines help me more than anything except pretreating with a nebulizer. Nasal antihistamines are Astepro and Patanase. I prefer Patanase by far. I seemed to have been alergic to Astepro as my nose got REALLY stuffy when I used it.

I will write more some time later. I hope this helps you get started though.

Sonya
Sonya http://exchanges.webmd.com/fragrance-and-odor-issues http://exchanges.webmd.com/pediatric-asthma-parent-support http://exchanges.webmd.com/politics-and-health-debate-exchange
 
avatar
DUKE MEDICINE
Gregory M Metz, MD replied to 4CleanAir's response:
For patients with nasal and breathing symptoms with exposure to irritants, I try medications such as sinus rinses, nasal steroids (flonase, nasonex, etc) and sometimes inhaled steroids (qvar, flovent, etc.). If there are significant nasal symptoms, nasal atrovent can also help. Your doctor can determine whether any of these therapies are right for your condition.
 
avatar
japan92254 responded:
If you have a Chemical Sensitivity - all the medication in the world will not help. I, along with thousands of others, suffer from a condition called MCS, Multiple Chemical Sensitivities. I was laughed at, tormented, and made fun of when I asked the people in my office to "please tone down" the fragrances. I eventually lost my job due to lost time at work and the controversy I caused. I passed out at work when the cleaning crew was there one time and had to be transported to the ER. Check out the The Canary Report online. It is a support group to those with this serious and debilitating condition. There is no "cure" since it is not an organic illness. It is not the smell - it is the man-made chemical. that causes the problem.
 
avatar
sgbl88 replied to japan92254's response:
I have to say that I agree and disagree. While the medications will not cure the problem, they are very effective at controlling the symptoms and giving the patient a more normal life (and prevent emergency situations).

I was becoming a hermet because of my symptoms. I could not go grocery shopping for my family and was getting very depressed. I actually broke down in tears because of an attack in a grocery story because of them - a ben of bell pepers of all things. No man made chemicals there. I could not go to church and be around other people I love.

I use all the medication Dr. Metz mentioned and then some (one of each class) and can now function normally most of the time - Dulera or Advair, Nasonex, Patanase, Atrovent, Xolair and several others. While I HATE taking all this medication, I hated my life as a prisoner in my home even more.

While I would love for the rest of the world to give up their fragrances so that I can do without my medicaitons, I also realize that the problem is mine to deal with. I can't expect the world to cater to my issues, even though the chemicals that cause my problems are truly bad for everyone. I have to be realisitic. People will not give up things they enjoy no matter how much they hear it is bad for them unless it hits home in some way. Think about all the smokers in this world.

I am also very aware that there are times when medicating is not an option, avoidance is the only way to control my symptoms. Either I don't go on the outing or leave when things become over whelming. This usually happens when I am sick or on edge already. Usually, if properly medicated I can handle these situations.

Take care and all know that a "normal" life can be achieved when the symptoms are effectively treated.

Sonya
Sonya http://exchanges.webmd.com/fragrance-and-odor-issues http://exchanges.webmd.com/pediatric-asthma-parent-support http://exchanges.webmd.com/politics-and-health-debate-exchange
 
avatar
abbymay16 replied to sgbl88's response:
Sonya, I agree completely.

When my asthma was really out of control the supermarket, particularly the cleaning products aisle, was something I just avoided.

Now that my asthma is under good control and has been that way for years, I don't have issues with the cleaning product aisle. Strong perfumes/colognes trigger a response from time to time, but generally as long as I can leave the area quickly it doesn't even require the use of my rescue inhaler.

Our state has adopted a smoke free policy in restaurants and some public places, so I also don't have that issue to deal with as often. Even our hospital and health care offices have gone smoke free, so folks are not even able to smoke on the property at all.

The key is getting the asthma and allergies under good control and you can have a 'normal' life again. It takes time and trial and error, and often a LONG list of meds, but in the end its worth it.

Mattie
Vive Bene, Spesso L'Amore, Di Risata Molto (live well, love much, laugh often)
 
avatar
Mathchickie replied to abbymay16's response:
I've also found that the right meds have made a huge difference in this area. Before, my chest would tighten every time I passed someone who reeked of cigarettes or perfume, or every time I went into the ladies room shortly after it had been cleaned. I still try to avoid irritants, but brief incidental exposures aren't an issue anymore.


Helpful Tips

Asthma InhalersExpert
There are several types of inhalers for asthma. Some inhalers (inhaled steroids) are controller medications that are used on a daily basis ... More
Was this Helpful?
121 of 151 found this helpful

Related Drug Reviews

  • Drug Name User Reviews

Report Problems to the
Food and Drug Administration

FDAYou are encouraged to report negative side effects of prescription drugs to the FDA. Visit the FDA MedWatch website or call 1-800-FDA-1088.

For more information, visit the Duke Health Asthma and Allergies Center