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Why do I sneeze and get a stuffy nose when I smell perfume or cigarette smoke?


Updated February 02, 2009

Question: Why do I sneeze and get a stuffy nose when I smell perfume or cigarette smoke?
Answer: It probably isn’t because of allergies. People who experience nasal symptoms after being exposed to strong odors, weather and temperature changes, and cigarette smoke have vasomotor rhinitis, a form of non-allergic rhinitis.

People with vasomotor rhinitis are often treated as if they have allergies, but their symptoms don’t get better with typical allergy medications, such as antihistamines. This is because histamine is not causing the symptoms. Instead, triggers -- such as an overpowering cologne -- irritate the membranes inside the nose, causing it to produce mucus. The mucus either fills up the nasal passages, causing congestion, or runs out of the nose (runny nose) or down the throat (post nasal drip).

Treatment of vasomotor rhinitis includes the use of a variety of prescription nasal sprays, the cautious use of oral decongestants (such as Sudafed), as well as the use of nasal saline irrigation.


Diagnosis and Management of Rhinitis: Joint Task Force on Practice Parameters in Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 1998;81:463-518.

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this site is for educational purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for personal care by a licensed physician. Please see your physician for diagnosis and treatment of any concerning symptoms or medical condition.

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