Allergy-sufferers react to advice on perfume

EARTH MATTERS AT HOME

August 12, 1992|By Susan McGrath | Susan McGrath,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

A letter about perfume has triggered a population explosion in my mail bag. Here's a representative sample:

Dear Ms. Household Environmentalist: For those of us highly allergic to perfume your column was a real bummer. We prefer perfume users NOT to inflict it on us on public transport, car pools, etc.

Dear Ms. H.E.: I believe you "missed the point" on your advice to the reader on perfumes and scents of all kinds and their contribution to the environment. What a perfect opportunity you had to come to the aid of the millions of persons like myself who have allergies. One sniff of any type of scent sends us into horrible coughing spells or asthmatic reaction.

Most of us cannot even go to the theater or other affairs that have assigned seating for fear of the next seat being occupied by a scented person. Try dining out and having someone with TC perfume or cologne sit down at the next table -- so much for that meal. PLEASE HELP US!

Dear Ms. H.E.: Please retract your advice about wearing perfume in car pools or on public transportation. There are already too many ditsies in vans or buses who think it's sexy to reek of perfume at 6 a.m. You have obviously never been cooped up with one of them. Perfume in close quarters is just as offensive as smoking, which is not permitted. Perfume and other scents are for after 5 p.m. and ALWAYS should be subtle. Cheap and/or overpowering perfume is never appropriate.

Dear Ms. H.E.: I'm writing in response to the letter in your column regarding perfume's contribution to air pollution. Thank you for raising this issue. In my adult life I have found myself sensitive to scents of all kinds, in particular perfumes. I suffer from migraine headaches which are "triggered" by as little exposure as an elevator ride with even one passenger wearing perfume. It is a source of great pain, suffering and frustration to start my day, going to work, taking one of the few available elevators to my job on the eighth floor of a local hospital and having that one perfume-laden individual stroll into the elevator completely oblivious to the effects I will suffer for at least the next 24-48 hours as a result of being forced to share breathing space for only a minute or more.

Since you are in a position to educate or at least share information with the public, would you also share this with your readers? I think that boiling the effects of perfumes into total tons of hydrocarbons, while an astounding fact, also may trivialize the issue of the personal suffering those of us are forced to endure by those around us who insist on wearing fragrance -- not to mention the companies who are, or will be, using fragrance, unbeknown to their shoppers, in an effort to affect mood and thereby increase sales.

Dear Susan: I know how helpful you have been in providing information to the public on issues of concern to the American Lung Association.

Please allow me to comment on behalf of those with asthma. Though your focus was on hydrocarbons released from perfumes and their effects on the environment, your article stated that perfumes do contribute to outdoor air pollution but do not pose an immediate threat to the average perfume wearer. While that may be true of the general non-allergic, non-asthmatic population who is wearing the perfume, it certainly isn't true for their neighbor, co-worker or classmate with asthma. Strong odors and aerosols can trigger asthma attacks in this population. One woman even told me an admitting clerk's perfume at a local hospital sent her into a full-blown asthma attack.

You can imagine hair spray, perfume and after-shave are big no-no's for people with asthma, in which case, car-pooling with a group of strongly scented fellow workers could be a medical catastrophe.

I'm sure no one would willingly want to send someone with asthma to the emergency room -- people just need to be a little more educated about asthma and its triggers. Sincerely, Sara Swanson, Program Manager King County/Northwest Region American Lung Association.

Dear Perfume-Wearing Readers: It looks like the jury is in on your perfume, and the verdict is: guilty. It pains me greatly to be the scent grinch, but in view of the fact that perfume can trigger unpleasant and even life-threatening symptoms in an estimated 15 percent of the population, perhaps you should reconsider wearing it. It might not be having the effect you anticipated! If the prospect of going perfume-less triggers unpleasant and even life-threatening symptoms in you, save scent for the evening and wear it lightly.

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