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Sensitivity to Fragrance in Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Do Smells Make You Sick?


Updated June 13, 2014

Sensitivity to Fragrance in Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

The central sensitivity of fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome make us sensitive to all kinds of things, and a biggie for some of us is smells -- especially artificial fragrances. Some people have full-blown multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) as an overlapping condition, while others of us have less of a problem.

My mother, who's otherwise very healthy, has always gotten headaches and nausea when exposed to certain types of fragrance. Walking into a candle shop, for example, is a nasty experience for her. She can tolerate most perfumes, some brands of scented body wash, and most natural fragrances, but over the years she's become sensitive to more and more things.

I'd never had this problem. Recently, however, I walked down the candle aisle of a store and immediately got a stabbing pain right between the eyes. Seconds later, I started feeling sick to my stomach and a bit dizzy. Since then, I've been testing myself. I can't tolerate the overwhelming mixture of scents in an aisle full of products, but at least so far I haven't had a problem with a single fragrance. I seem to be OK with essential oils and body-care products as well.

The people who really have a serious problem get sick around all kinds of smells -- shampoo, deodorant, that new-car smell, a wide range of chemicals, and the list goes on. It's a true allergic reaction and then some. The symptoms of multiple chemical sensitivity can be severe and are extremely similar to those of fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, so it can be hard to sort out which illness is causing which symptom. The chemically sensitive person can react to minute amounts of a problem chemical, so it's often hard for people around them to understand how in the world it can bother them. Not all doctors believe in MCS or know how to identify it. Here's a site with lots of information on MCS: MultipleChemicalSensitivity.org

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