How to relieve a headache if it’s caused by a strong smell

Sensitivity to powerful aromas can be a troublesome thing. Find out the best way to reduce the pain.

Press Association
Last updated: 23 February 2018 - 3.28pm

We all know that stress, a hacking cough and flu symptoms can cause a headache – but how about certain smells, such as a room freshener or the faintest whiff of fragrance?

It may sound strange that something as alluring as a bottle of expensive perfume or a scented candle can trigger a headache, rather than evoke happiness, attractiveness and even an air of mystery, but for some, that’s the case.

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Likewise, a cleaning product that’s designed to smell thoroughly clean while it eliminates dirt, can bring on an attack.

And with so many designer smellies out there, from diffusers and pillow sprays, to laundry detergent and sanitizers, let alone enriched facial creams, it’s hardly surprising that some of us yearn for a fragrance – and headache -free lifestyle.

So what’s causing the headache?

Scientists suggest that while perfume can be extremely pleasant, it can cause a person’s blood vessels to swell and dilate, and, in turn, stimulate the nerve system in the brain associated with head pain.

Bottles with essential oils
(Thinkstock/PA)

Indeed, osmophobia, or a heightened sensitivity or aversion to smells, can be part of an aura that comes before a migraine. This extra sensitivity is due to increased activation of specific scent and pain receptors in the brain.

What can you do to relieve the pain?

Luckily, most headaches go away on their own, but there are certain things you can do to speed the process up, and things to avoid…

1. Choose fragrance-free products

Unscented products may contain a small amount of fragrance to neutralize the materials in the solution, so make sure fragrance-free appears on the packaging.

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2. Drink plenty of water

A natural alternative to paracetamol, it’s important to stay well hydrated, so drink six to eight glasses (1.2 litres) a day.

3.  Let fresh air in

Try to keep the windows and doors open as much as possible to let fresh air circulate in your home.

4. Exercise

Any form of exercise is a great cure-all, so exercise when you can, even if it’s just a brisk walk at lunchtime or a stroll after work.

5.  Relax

Try not to stress and introduce some relaxation time into your working week, not just at weekends. Breathing exercises (obviously in a fragrance free zone) will relax the head and neck muscles. Take time to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth, deeply and slowly.

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