Can you be allergic to a smell?

Even if you are allergic to peanuts, the smell of peanut butter won’t set off a reaction.

20th July 2015

Asked by: Alex Round, London

Even if you are allergic to peanuts, the smell of peanut butter won’t set off a reaction. Chemicals called pyrazines cause the smell, whereas the peanut proteins that cause the allergy aren’t normally volatile enough to inhale as an aroma. Cooking can release large enough particles to set off allergies to many foods; even then it isn’t the smell that is triggering this, it’s the cloud of food proteins.


There is, however, a phenomenon known as ‘chemical sensitivity’. Here, sufferers report headaches and nausea from the aroma of paint fumes and perfume. This isn’t medically recognised in the UK, though, and it certainly does not count as an allergy.