Allergy to Odors and Strong Smells

young woman trying perfume
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In 2012 the New Hampshire legislature considered a law that would prevent state employees from using scented or fragrant soaps, given the concern that strong odors could result in problems for people with allergies and asthma. While it is possible that extremely strong odors, especially with prolonged exposure, could potentially worsen someone's allergy and asthma symptoms, such legislation is absurd in my opinion. My point was not that odors couldn't ever cause a problem for some people, but that it makes little sense for a government agency to get involved in an area where there is little evidence that typical exposures to fragrances would cause a dangerous reaction for most people.

As a result of my opinion on this matter, I received numerous comments  -- most of which disagree with my opinion. It appears that most of these comments were from people that deem odors to have much more of an effect on their daily lives than the average person. This may result in a far more debilitating condition called multiple chemical sensitivity syndrome (MCS). People with MCS appear to have severe sensitivities to even the slightest odor, which may cause symptoms of headache, fatigue, weakness and memory loss. There is no accepted cause, diagnostic criteria, or treatment for people with MCS.

People certainly have different thresholds for sensitivities to stimuli of all types -- sights, sounds, smells, touch, etc. If we decide to ban any unpleasant characteristic, such as fragrances (which, by the way, may be pleasant to most, but unpleasant to a few), what's to keep us from banning an unattractive person from going into public, a person with a raspy voice from speaking, or a person with poor style from wearing their choice of clothing? Unless something that a person is doing is clearly harming someone else (and it can't be proven in the case of MCS, and probably not even for people with asthma and allergies), they have every right to keep doing it, and legislation shouldn't be enacted to ban it.

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