Dealing with a scent sensitivity on business travel

If you’ve read this blog for any period of time then you know that I have a huge sensitivity to strong smells. On more excedrin migrainethan one occasion I’ve been flying and someone has sprayed perfume, painted their nails, or even just had some strong smelling food, and I’ve instantly had nausea or a headache. This doesn’t just happen on business trips, but it’s much worse when I’m flying and can’t really leave the area.

Do I have an allergic reaction to scents? I have no idea, and that’s not what I’m claiming here. What I’m saying is that when I encounter certain strong fragrances—nail polish, some perfumes, chemical smells—I get headaches almost immediately that are sometimes debilitating. I think it’s good etiquette to avoid using perfume or nail polish in confined public spaces like planes, but that doesn’t mean that everyone is going to agree. So unless I want to spend most of my business trips completely incapacitated, I have to have some coping mechanisms!!

Here are my tips for managing business travel with a sensitivity to scents.

Scarf. I always have my handy pashmina with me, which I use as a blanket, scarf, pillow….And if there is a crazy scent nearby I breathe through it to help block the smell. Yes I may look a little crazy but that’s better than a migraine!!

Teabags. My favorite teabags are mint and vanilla flavored. If a smell starts to bother me I can just hold it close to my nose and everything is good again. A variation on this to chew some gum or eat a mint.

Medicine. When a headache is brewing I will take medicine immediately, as it can take a while to kick in. My go-to OTCs are ibuprofen and Excedrin Migraine, but I also have a prescription for the worst episodes.

Turn on the air. If a scent assaults you while on a plane, try turning on the air and pointing right over your head. It can help push the smell past you.

Leave. It’s not always an option, but it could help if you can get up and walk away—even if it’s just to another part of the plane.

If all else fails, you can breathe through your mouth until the scent passes. Obviously not ideal, though.

Readers, do you have a scent sensitivity? How do you manage it when you’re traveling?

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  1. Oh yeah…my life story! I live in a world of unscented products! Exedrin Migraine is my best friend…

    There is a joke my husband and I have that whenever I fly I always get stuck by the person with the cologne/perfume on. It is like they seek me out!

    My first day of travel always seems to be impacted by smells on the plane. It really puts a damper on things. This summer I was on a flight to Hawaii and someone around me kept taking out a hand sanitizer that was very smelly. By the time we landed I felt so sick. Really messed up my first day because I couldn’t shake the headache..

    I just have to deal with it as best I can. But it has a huge impact on my life.

  2. My problem is not migraines but asthma. Excessive perfume has triggered several attacks. Usually I keep my distance if at all possible, which could be difficult on a plane. Fortunately most people seem to avoid application on planes. It may help that I am usually up front.

  3. I also get migraines and use Excedrin migraine. I have found that peppermint also helps so I always travel with that as well. I place a small drop on the back of the neck or temples, however, for a few extreme cases I have used a very small amount right under the nose. It was the only thing that stopped me from being sick when someone’s perfume was too strong.

  4. I don’t have quite as extreme a problem, but pretty close. Fortunately, I have rarely encountered this problem on a flight. I have sleepytime tea bags of vanilla and honey, but it probably would not have occurred to me to use them that way, so thanks very much for mentioning that.

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