Please don’t wear perfume to the doctor’s office

Please dont wear perfume to the doctors office

Along with about 8.4% of the US population, I have asthma. To promote good doctor-patient communication, I can’t sit too far away from you.  To perform a high-quality physical examination, I must enter into your personal space.  Several minutes of inhaling that strong scent, however, can cause me to have trouble breathing.

I’ve never been brave enough to bring this up before, fearful of irrevocably harming our relationship.  You have the right to wear as much perfume as you like.  It’s not your fault that I have asthma, and it’s not your responsibility to help me deal with it. But the boundary between your rights and my responsibilities seems to be tilting more toward me.  I’m also compelled to speak up for the 1 in 12 people around you with asthma.  A quick Google search confirms that this is a common issue for us asthmatics.

I despise these hypersensitivities that humiliate me with coughing fits after exposure to what should be innocuous stimuli; in a more perfect world, I could at least conceal my problem from those around me.  Maybe part of my reticence to broach this issue relates to an intense desire to present myself as “normal and healthy” to those around me, including my patients.

At the end of the day, too, I value the doctor-patient relationship too highly to jeopardize it for something as banal as perfume.  After all, docs sacrifice other elements of well-being to do their job.  Most of us buy into the premise that a career in medicine requires dedication and sacrifice.  So, for now, I will settle for this generic cyberspace plea:

On behalf of the 25.7 million Americans with asthma, please think twice about how much of that perfume you apply before heading out the door.

Jennifer Middleton is a family physician who blogs at The Singing Pen of Doctor Jen.

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  • Dustin Salzedo

    Have you considered an informational letter to all of your patients outlining a health management lesson along with your office policy of staff and patients not wearing scented products? Avoiding asthmatic triggers is something that most reasonable people will willingly do, but many don’t know how important it is or even that common personal care products are problematic. You can also “disguise” the request in general “preparing for your visit” instructions relative to not masking odors which help to diagnose illnesses.

  • crnp2001

    Absolutely true! We have one woman who comes in monthly for a B-12 shot…she absolutely REEKS. I talked with her privately about not wearing the perfume, as she bathes in it. Patients have complained numerous times, and I get an immediate migraine. She agreed…then she complained to my physician colleague that I had “embarrassed her” in front of other patients in the waiting room and staff (not true…I had spoken with her privately). Grrrr…now she continues to wear it and he doesn’t have the chutzpah to speak up. I refuse to see her…but it still stinks up the place.

    • Susan Czarnecki

      You’ve met my Mother-in-Law !! The informational letter is a good idea and maybe would have helped before you spoke to her. Too Late !! My Mother-in-Law did this to cover a vaginal odor that she said comes with loss of hormones. She had been checked for infections etc, no success. Soap & water twice a day failed, so rather then suffer the humility of that not allowed to say the body part odor she bathed in Elizabeth Taylor’s White Diamonds ! Believe me in heat, it’s worse !

  • Diane Fonner

    This comes up on my migraine board all the time. Some offices apparently have signs up in the waiting room (probably mostly headache specialists) asking people NOT to wear perfume at all. Of course it could be horrendous BO which is just as bad, it all leads to nausea, migraines and asthma for me. People can only hold their breath for so long……

  • Robyn H

    I believe that you absolutely have the right to speak up about how the fragrances are causing your asthma to flare. I recently had a Dr visit and the blood pressure cuff that was used on me was saturated in some strong smelly fragrance. I am chemically sensitive and I could not for the life of me figure out where the heck that nasty perfume smell was coming from after I got home. I kept getting whiffs of it. Then I realized that my upper left arm was burning and saw that I had a rash there and when I examined it closer took a sniff and that is where the fragrance was. Where the blood pressure cuff had been used on my arm! ARGH@#$%^ So please speak up about it!

  • Erin Rosales

    The perfume itself might be banal, but the impact it has on others is not. We have a no purfume/cologne policy for our healthcare interpreters. Wearing strong scents (pleasant or otherwise) might be counterproductive to our interpreters’ attempts to be “invisible” during the face-to-face encounters. More importantly, we need to consider the needs and well-being of other people in the room. Most – and I’ll dare say all – healthcare interpreters would be horrified if something they did caused harm to a patient. We need to show just as much consideration for the providers. Thank you for addressing this.

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