Tuesday 10 September 2019

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Being a Migraine Sufferer with Fragrance Sensitivity

A woman with brown hair, in white fur jumper, leans on a wall, ducking her head while holding it using her left hand

Photo by Carolina Heza on Unsplash.

Being a Migraine Sufferer with Fragrance Sensitivity

I have suffered with migraines for almost as long as I can remember. What do migraines look like? They can be slightly different for each person, but mine tend to be extremely bad headaches, and exhaustion with nausea/vomiting, migraine aura (which is a visual disturbance, which for me is like those coloured blobs that appear if you look at a light for too long - except mine grow and get bigger, and end up blocking out everything so I can't see), and, very rarely, tunnel vision. Over the years, there has been so much trial and error with my doctor to find the right medication not only to treat, but to also prevent. Some didn't work, others had side effects - there was one preventative medication that kept me from sleeping, and a treatment medication that made it feel like a had a huge weight on my chest, with the weirdest sensation, and every time I moved, the weight and sensation would be unbearable, so I would have to lie completely still, feeling terrified.

We've finally sorted out medication that works. I take Amitriptyline every night as a preventative, and when I have a migraine, I take Naproxen and Domperidone to treat. Now, when everything is fine and normal, I have three to four migraines a year, that last roughly four days - that keep me off work for the entirety of the migraine. But I have specific triggers - two more than others - that can bring on a migraine, and can increase that number.

One of them is stress. Not everyday, normal levels of stress, but major stress. Stress because of serious health issues in family members. Stress that comes from thinking you might be made redundant. Stress that comes from feeling like the rug has been pulled out from under you, and your world has been turned upside down. A definite migraine trigger. A few years ago, I woke up in the middle of the night after hearing a large bang. My brother had fallen down or up the stairs, and smacked his head against them. Not only was he in huge amounts of pain, but he couldn't remember  if he was going up or down the stairs, nor why he would have been going down stairs - or was down there in the first place - because there was no reason for him to be. 111 said he should go to hospital because he couldn't remember how he fell nor what he was doing, which really had me worrying, because what the hell has he down to his head?! Within an hour, I had a migraine. My brother turned out to be fine in the end, but the worry was too much.

My other trigger is the big one, and the one that has more of an effect on my day-to-day life: scents. I have fragrance sensitivity. I have to try and steer clear when painting it being done, because of the fumes. Doors shut, windows open. Earlier this year, our housing association wanted to paint all the outside window frames on our house, which was brilliant. You want to paint the window frames of my bedroom window, and you want to have the window open, and then for me to spend roughly eight hours in the room at night with all the fumes? Bloody fantastic. I can't do air fresheners, plug-ins, scented candles, or toiletries that you see everywhere around Christmas time for gifts. I have to be careful about all toiletries I use: hand soap, shower gel, shampoo, face wash, moisturiser, deodorant. Anything to floral and perfumey, and I'll get a banging headache that can lead to a migraine.

Every time I leave the house, I risk getting a migraine. When I come to shops like Lush and The Body Shop I have to either cross to the other side of the road if I'm on the street, or hold my breath until I'm enough of a ways past them if I'm in a shopping centre. I can't use massive Boots and Superdrug stores, because the perfume is overpowering. If I walk past someone wearing a strong/an awful lot of perfume or aftershave, at the very least I'll get an instant banging headache that will be with me all day. Just by walking past them and for a nano-second, breathing in their perfume/aftershave - like it goes in through my nose and straight up to my brain. At work, some of my colleagues that work on my floor wear perfume - but don't put on a huge amount, thankfully - which I get used to and am fine with. But if they reapply at some point during the day? Instant banging headache. I don't even necessarily have to be near someone; the other week, I was in our staff room, and a colleague came in who was wearing a strong perfume - she didn't come anywhere near me, but still, instant banging headache that lasted all day. If I had to be around her for the whole day - if we worked on the same floor - it would have become a migraine.

Now, I can't - and don't - expect people not to wear perfume/aftershave. That's ridiculous. People shouldn't have to go without smelling nice because people like me have issues with scents. However, if people who wear perfume/aftershave wanted to try and help, here are some suggestions:

  • Don't spray on more than is necessary. Do you really need to spray more than twice? And you probably don't need to reapply; if you can't smell it, it's probably because it's working with your own scent - it doesn't mean it's worn off. Trust me, we can still smell it.
  • Don't spray it on, on public transport, like buses, and train and tube carriages. The scent hangs around, and we have to either get off or change carriages - which isn't quite so easy on a tube.
  • Don't spray it on in public areas, like staff rooms.
  • If you need to spray it in a public toilet, please do so in a cubicle - not by the sinks, or the general area. I can avoid a specific cubicle, I cannot avoid the toilets as a whole. Some cubicles are completely enclosed, like their own little room, but even cubicles with gaps at the top and bottom are still going to slow down the fragrance's spread. Sure, some people might think you're spraying in a cubicle to cover up a nasty smell, but does that really matter? Someone thinks you've had a poo (which we all do, what's the problem?!) for a second and then forgets you exist, or you give me a migraine that lasts roughly four days.

If you would consider doing/not doing the above, I, and people like me, would be so grateful. It won't stop all instances of perfume/aftershave related migraines, but it would help reduce them.

Hopefully you now have more of an idea of what it's like to be a migraine suffer - or at least, to be this migraine sufferer - and hopefully some ways in which you can help, if you use perfume/aftershave, and will consider helping us out with the suggestions above. Being a migraine sufferer is tough, but it's a fact of my life, and something I just have to live with.

Over to you graphic

Do you get migraines? What are your triggers? Have you found anything outside of medication that helps you? Or do you generally have fragrance sensitivity that effects you in other ways?

Do you use perfume/aftershave, and will you consider my suggestions above?

Are you a witch with fragrance sensitivity? How do you get around it in your practice? Or are you a witch that might have some suggestions for me? Let me know in the comments!

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