Reader question: How do I handle a co-worker’s perfume?

Lori told her story in the comments. She writes:

It happens the moment the receptionist walks in –it feels like I have been hit and the nausea and blurred vision starts I feel weak.. Shortly after I feel like vomiting and end up with a headache/migraine tighten up the smell is so overpowering and then have to sit here for 8 hours at work –What can one do ??

And my reply:

Wow, Lori, that sounds so much like what I go through. I say you have no choice but to ask her nicely to stop wearing perfume. Luckily, I don’t work around other people, but I have had to ask the teachers at my kids’ schools not to let them use the scented soap. I felt like a jerk asking, but they were very kind about it, even if they were also a bit confused.

You can tell the receptionist that you feel bad having to ask her, but perfume gives you a migraine. Make sure she knows it’s ALL perfume, so she won’t be defensive. And then if she complies and it works out, give her a little gift of appreciation. And if she refuses, talk to your boss about it. Refer him to this website, if you like, or one of the sites I link to. You could also print out some of the information to hand them to read at their leisure.

It’s your health and livelihood at stake here. Yeah, the way someone smells is a very personal thing, and asking them to change that is a huge imposition, but gosh, would YOU want to make someone feel the way her perfume makes you feel? It’s only perfume. It’s not like you’re asking her to get a buzz cut or wear uncomfortable shoes.

And you never know…She may be feeling bad and not know why. Other people in your office could have the same problem as you, but be too afraid to say anything. Put some feelers out there. You never know until you ask!

Next post will be another reader question. Send your questions to, or leave them in the comment section.


4 responses to this post.

  1. Well I can totally sympathize. I work in a headache clinic and it never ceases to amaze me how many people will show up drenched in heavy perfume…once or twice we had a supervisor ask a new employee not to wear so much perfume as it makes people nauseated.

    Perhaps you can approach it this way too if the person gives you some resistance..most work places want employees to be productive and you can’t be if you have a migraine!

    Good luck1

  2. wow thats great advice!!!
    stopping by visiting all the 2008 Okie Blog Award Noms-Congrats on your nom!!!!

  3. Thanks, Georgie, and to you as well!

  4. Posted by Nola on March 31, 2012 at 5:59 pm

    I also have had extreme reaction to perfumes……..but I actually do Love many scents.
    One of the things you said she does not feel offended..tell her you react to all scents.
    I ABSOLUTELY DO NOT, and I believe it is important that you stay with truth..because that not only would give an option to “the offender” to inquire about any scents you like and do not react to, and perhaps switch to those (if they like them) when with you.
    I love many scents, and yet my reaction to specific perfumes is actually life-threatening..anaphylactic…blasting weird headache, shaking..start to become asthmatic…seeing stars..icy cold…can no longer stand up…projectile vommitting, and end up sitting on the floor too weak to move..icy cold, shaking. Poison, Cinnabar, Opium all produce the same reaction..and because they guard the formula..I cannot examine them specifically to track down which element (or combination) does comparing formula.
    I have also experienced that DISBELIEVING REACTION of those who question this is possible.
    I am a retired teacher who also reacted to chemicals for disinfecting our school floors..until we discovered the label said..not for use in human dwellings..for disinfecting stalls, barns, etc. and my allergist contacted the Board and quickly had it removed from caretaker supplies.
    I am also in holistic medicine and part of my training involved essential oils. Even among these natural scents..there are those which I inhale deeply and feel calmed and return for more..and others which immediately warn me beware..and if I remain near too long, I sometimes begin with my version of tunnel vision where the centre of my vision becomes the black hole and I can only see image in the doughnut (the perimeter).then blasting migraines, and flashy lights.
    Reactions may be entirely personal, but there may also be specific elements these companies use which produce a similar..almost neurological reaction in many people.
    For this reason, I believe they should no longer be permitted their “secret formula”, when the revelation may help identify elements harmful to humans (or other critters)…when so many of the products are derived through PETROLEUM PRODUCTS..and who knows what else.
    Another peculiarity..I love salmon, SHRIMP, halibut, sole…but the one and only time I tried clam chowder (which tasted good and gave me no warnings to avoid)…yet ten minutes later I was in emergency…near death, being given adrenalin for anaphylactic shock.
    Yearly, I had my so called April May cold which hit every year from 5 until I was 28, and was treated as asthma and pneumonia..with penicillin. It wasn’t until my near-death experience that..we tested for allergy, and among them was smoke, mold, tree and grass pollen..which was the cause of the April/May asthma.

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