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To the Those Criticizing the Woman With Asthma Who Asked People to Wear Less Perfume

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Asthma is a life-threatening chronic illness. When I worked as a high school teacher, one of our students died at the bowling alley at a school activity! It was a dreadful experience! It was sudden, and everyone was helpless! An asthma attack can come on suddenly and can escalate extremely quickly so a person’s life is in danger.

World Asthma Awareness Week has just come and gone. Here in Australia, there was quite a storm created when a young woman asked public transport commuters to consider the impact of dousing themselves in strong perfumes. What a furor ensued. I just don’t get these people!

Being a severe asthmatic myself and at high risk, I read the social and national media responses with interest, alarm and even some anger!

The responses ranged from, “Gosh I hadn’t thought about that!” to a rant about “political correctness and how the majority shouldn’t have to change for the minority [one in nine people here in Australia have asthma] and that these asthmatics need to fix up their own health problems themselves and just not travel on trains and buses.”

I am appalled at the selfishness that was the most common response! And also, the statements regarding the “right to wear perfume” being infringed! All that was being suggested, not demanded, was that consideration be given to those with respiratory illnesses especially on public trains and buses where you are in very confined spaces. Perfume and the amount of it being used is a choice; having asthma isn’t. Having to inhale someone’s perfume in a confined space can’t be avoided! Masks don’t stop in, moving seats doesn’t solve the problem, and using puffers isn’t the answer either. All that is being asked is to just use perfumes a bit more judiciously. I fully concur.

I was at a concert, and the woman behind us had swamped herself with a strong perfume. I ended up having an asthma attack! I cough terribly during an attack which must have disturbed and irritated her, and others. I had to get up and leave!

If you have asthma, there can be lots of restrictions and limitations on where you can go and what you can do. Where I live, in Canberra, some controlled fire burning was being done opposite our house. The wind blew the smoke towards our home. We had to leave for several days because of the smoke. Then we had a dust storm, which meant staying indoors for 24 hours with the air-conditioning running to keep the air clean. There’s also the wood and coal burning fires used in winter, and smog too! I can’t go into hardware stores due to dust and paint fumes; I can’t park underground due to car exhausts; I can’t go into the “potpourri” shops nor the detergent aisles of supermarkets. Spring with all the pollen is problematic and also when the sugar cane farmers nearby burn off the stubble. With these situations I can exercise some sort of control so I don’t end up in an ambulance or in Emergency. But, you can’t do that on public transport! I, as one of the one in nine, and as a member of the public, would like to be able to use public transport without risking a severe asthma attack!

Perfume is a recognized allergen. Some workplaces actually ban it. Why can’t we as human beings think about how our choices and behaviors adversely affect others! Why is it so hard for people to be thoughtful?

For many asthmatics, strongly doused perfume wearers are a real risk. Perfume and asthma go as well together as oil and water.

Getty photo by ampak

Originally published: May 6, 2018
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