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8 Ways to Handle Smells That are Migraine Triggers

One thing I dread about going to the mall is dodging those department store Perfume ladies who try to block your path and spray you against your will. If they succeed, odds rise quickly for a migraine later. I literally hold my breath and scurry through Cosmetics.

Must we wear masks everywhere? Your nose may know what causes headaches and migraines, even if you don’t. Smells are one of the leading migraine triggers. Ignoring those triggers can cost you in a very real way.

Strong scents are so prevalent in our culture that we’re often not fully aware of them and how often these smells are migraine triggers. For us, they’re potentially toxic.

Prevention magazine reports:

Why does this matter? If you someone sprays you with perfume at a department store, you get a migraine. If you get a migraine, you lose a day of work. If you lose a day of work, you can’t afford to eat out this week. If you can’t eat out this week, you burn an enchilada at home. If you burn an enchilada at home, you get a migraine again. Don’t let someone spray you against your will. Run through Cosmetics.

We don’t own the air we breathe. It’s pretty difficult to control the scents around you. Be on the lookout in these situations:

  • Pungent body odor from the person in Seat 37F

  • Car exhaust on your commute

  • Oil-based paint at work

  • Bathroom cleaner

  • The dude in the next cube wearing too much Drakkar Noir

  • Three-part forms (do these still exist?)

  • Cigarette smoke in casinos

  • Smoke from campfires

  • Gas fumes at the pump

  • Abercrombie & Fitch – or anywhere within 100 feet of it

  • Nail salons that burn incense (yes, I switched!)

Of course, in your car, you can turn off the recycled air vent. At home, you can switch to non-toxic bathroom cleaners and low-VOC, water-based paints. You can choose whether to enter a casino, and you can ask for a different seat on a plane due to “allergies.” You can ask your boss for a different office to reduce the triggers at work.

But what do you do when you’re just plain stuck — in public or in a captive environment?

Dr. Mauskop suggests carrying a small vial of pure organic lavender or peppermint essential oils. Neither has been linked with headaches, and peppermint has been found to help reduce throbbing pain. Lavender, meanwhile, chills you out—making it great for preventing stress and tension headaches. Take a whiff whenever you need to disguise offending smells.

8 Ways to Handle Smells That are Migraine Triggers

1. Request a fragrance-free policy. It’s tough to ask for, yes, but you may be surprised at how many of your co-workers thank you. 2. Wear a fragrance-free button. A more subtle approach than a policy, it invites conversation. Even if you wonder whether you’re entitled to a fragrance-free space, you can simply say that many scents cause an allergic reaction for you. 3. Wear flesh-colored nose plugs. This is a practical alternative to a mask for public places, home or dark environments when you don’t want to discuss it. 4. Block with menthol or lavender oil. You can use it topically right under your nose, or infuse it in your personal space. 5. Use an air purifier – It will make your air much cleaner to breathe and keep it circulating when it feels like there’s no escape from the offending smell. 6. Circulate air with manual fan – It’s a lower cost alternative to the air purification system that, if positioned correctly between you and the source of the smell, may make it go away. 7. Ask others to stop wearing scents – This takes some courage, and may depend on whether you know the offender or controller personally. Tough call. 8. Wear a face scarf or surgical mask – Desperate times call for desperate moves. You may just need a big physical filter.

Track the scents that are a migraine trigger for you using our Personal Migraine Diary. It’s free – you can download it here. What’s not free: the day of work or vacation you miss because that scent caused a migraine.

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