Occupational Acute Anaphylactic Reaction to Assault by Perfume Spray in the Face

James E. Lessenger, MD, private practice

J Am Board Fam Med. 2001;14(2) 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction

Background: Perfumes have been associated with rashes in employees exposed to scented soaps or with allergic conditions, such as rhinitis or asthma, in employees exposed to perfumes or fragrances in the air.
Methods: Reported here is a case of an anaphylactic reaction and respiratory distress as a result of a deliberate assault with a perfume spray. The medical literature was searched using the key words "fragrances," "respiratory distress," "assault," and "health care workers."
Results: A female medical assistant with no history of asthma or reactions to fragrances was assaulted by a patient, who pumped three sprays of a perfume into her face. The employee experienced an acute anaphylactic reaction with shortness of breath, a suffocating sensation, wheezes, and generalized urticaria, and required aggressive medical treatment, a long period of oral bronchodilator therapy, and, finally, weaning from the medications.
Conclusions: Perfumes are complex mixtures of more than 4,000 vegetable and animal extracts and organic and nonorganic compounds. Fragrances have been found to cause exacerbations of symptoms and airway obstruction in asthmatic patients, including chest tightening and wheezing, and are a common cause of cosmetic allergic contact dermatitis. In many work settings the use of fragrances is limited. Assault is becoming more common among workers in the health care setting. Workers should be prepared to take immediate steps should an employee go into anaphylactic shock.

Perfumes, fragrant substances applied to the human body, have been used by men and women in Egypt since the dawn of recorded history. They were used by the Greeks, Romans, Arabs, and Europeans and have been described in cultures on all continents. In the workplace, they have been associated with rashes in employees exposed to scented soaps, or with such allergic conditions as rhinitis or asthma in employees exposed to perfumes or fragrances in the air. Rarely have they been used in assaults.

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