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Headache at the Office? This Could Be Why

If you’re sensitive to smell, working in an office environment might be challenging. Between the co-worker who bathes in perfume, the one who eats a fragrant meal at his desk and the other who always has something spouting out of her diffuser, your nose probably picks up more than you’d like it to throughout the day. If you often end up with a midday headache, it may be linked to the various smells traveling around the room. According to a recent study, certain office smells can actually pollute indoor air and lead to headaches and fatigue.


When researchers from Purdue University set up thousands of sensors in four open office spaces to track indoor air contaminants, they found that certain chemicals were actually polluting the indoor air. Chemicals emitted from antiperspirants, hairspray and makeup were found at levels 20 times higher in the indoor space, compared to outside. Even peeling an orange caused a release of chemicals. Researchers say the chemicals, called monoterpenes, mix with the ozone to create particles that may potentially bury inside the lungs.

The study led researchers to voice concern about a buildup of indoor air contaminants, which they say could cause headaches, fatigue and airway irritation, if office spaces are not ventilated properly. Even long after the workday ended and employees went home, the compounds released still lingered in the air.

Study author Brandon Boor said, “We know poor indoor air quality in office environments can inversely affect the health and well-being of office workers.” He added, “We wanted to shed light on the behind-the-scenes role ventilation systems have on the air we breathe.”

The sensors in the study showed how the chemicals moved through filters and ventilation systems, and researchers said they hope the results will lead to the development of better office ventilation systems.

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