The Migraine Trigger That’s Right Under Your Nose

Is the Cause of Your Migraine Perfume?

Is the Cause of Your Migraine Perfume?A cause of your migraine could be right under your nose.

That’s right, certain perfumes can trigger a major migraine attack. It took me a while to make the correlation between spraying on my favorite scent and the killer headache that would soon follow. I blamed stress, work, the lights in the office, or what I ate that morning, but after a while I noticed it was only on the days I wore perfume.

The funny thing is, once upon a time, I was a district sales manager with a company that sold a full line of perfumes and every quarter they introduced a new scent. This is when my migraines first surfaced and I never made the connection at that time.

I would get cases of the new product and hold meetings to encourage the sales force to test away and then go forth and sell the product. The entire conference room would be filled with a fog heavy with the new fragrance, and I would leave with a killer migraine burgeoning.

I thought it was the stress of public speaking and worry that the sales force might not meet the company’s required sales projections. I always blamed stress or allergies — not the fragrant little bottle right under my nose.

The Facts About Scent

Migraines can cause an increased sensitivity to light, sound, sudden movements and yes, even scents.  Perfume is actually listed as a “controllable trigger of migraine” by the Mayo Clinic. I wish I knew that back when I was exposing myself to perfumes on a regular basis.


Researchers have found that any scent, good or bad, food or cleaning product, can trigger a migraine headache in those people already prone to them. Typically, it is an unusual smell or a very intense fragrance — like you would find with perfume or things like bleach, paint thinner or secondhand smoke — that will act as a migraine trigger.

But How Do Perfumes Act as a Trigger?

What happens within the body to make those beautiful, sweet smelling fragrances inflict us with so much pain and trouble?

Research is still developing on this one, but the theory is that as perfumes and fragrances are so overused and  omnipresent — in detergents, soaps, lotions and shampoos, for example — and based more on chemical compounds than on anything natural. Because of this, they are believed to be causing more health problems, including migraines.

In other words, it is not which fragrance you choose to wear, but mostly the chemical construction of it that is causing you the problem. And the more constant, increased exposure to such a scent, the greater the chances that it can lead to a pretty intense migraine. Once a migraine is triggered by your perfume or any other smell you encounter, it will develop pretty much the same as a migraine triggered in any other way.

How Do You Know Which Scent Is to Blame?

One of the best ways to narrow down what is causing your migraines, regardless of the trigger, is to keep a daily migraine diary. Every time you experience a migraine, make note the key information, like the time of day it begins, day of the week, the activities you did that day, and how long you suffered from it.

Next page: how to avoid fragrance triggers

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