Allergic Teen Seeks High School Perfume Ban

Fort Wayne teen sues school for not banning the body scents he's allergic to.

November 17, 2010, 4:49 PM

Nov. 19, 2010— -- No cell phones in school, no rough housing on the playground, no perfume in the hallway?

One Indiana high school could have a zero tolerance policy on cologne, perfume, and other sprayed body scents if concerned mother Janice Zandi wins a court case she's filed against the Fort Wayne Community High Schools for not banning the scents that her son J.Z. is allegedly allergic to.

Seventeen-year-old J.Z. has had to be treated for a reaction at school several times in the last year in connection with his allergy, thrice requiring an ambulance to nearby Parkview North Hospital, where he was treated for respiratory distress.

Claiming that the school district's refusal to protect her son with a fragrance ban violates the Americans with Disabilities Act, Zandi filed the suit Nov. 12.

But several allergists contacted said they had never heard of an actual allergy to sprayed scents and noted that an allergy would be highly unlikely given the size of the particles in perfume.

"Generally we think of sprays as irritating to someone with asthma, but this is not a true allergy," says Dr. Wesley Burkes, chief of Pediatric Allergy and Immunology at Duke University Medical Center.

Whether allergy or asthma, J.Z.'s case pushes the envelope on school liability concerning allergies. If won, the case could open up broader interpretation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, allergists say.

Deadly Mist: Allergic to Recently Sprayed Scents?

According to the official complaint, J.Z. has never suffered an anaphylactic reaction outside of the school grounds and "can tolerate exposure to the normal scents found in contemporary American society, and reacts only to freshly sprayed perfumes, colognes, and body sprays (such as Axe) lingering in the air."

None of the allergist contacted by ABC News, however, had ever heard of an allergy to sprayed scents.

"I know of no documentation that they cause actual primary allergic reactions," agreed Dr. Miles Weinberger, director of Pediatric Allergy and Pulmonary Division at the University of Iowa. "It especially doesn't sound credible for allergy that various difference odors, sprays, and scents have triggered the reaction."

Perfume Sensitivity May Be Asthma

In the legal complaint, Zandi claims that allergy testing at Lutheran Hospital in Fort Wayne that "confirmed that, when exposed to the mist of scented sprays intended for the human body, J.Z.'s respiratory passages literally close, restricting his ability to breathe. Medical personnel described this condition as "anaphylaxis", a severe and potentially life-threatening allergic reaction which can lead to bronchoconstriction resulting in breathing difficulty, swelling, dizziness, shock and even death."

While perfumes and body sprays can often cause skin irritation or be aggravating to asthma, a true case of anaphylaxis, in which the body goes into shock, is not something any of the allergists contacted had heard of.

Because he has not treated J.Z. himself, Weinberger said that he would need further information regarding the nature of the testing performed on him, but he noted that it's possible for a "child to be having a psychological response with vocal cord dysfunction" instead of a true allergic reaction. "Never underestimate the power of mind-body interactions," he says.

How to Handle Bizarre Allergies in a School Setting

According to court documents, J.Z.'s principal, Barb Ahlersmeyer, responded to Zandi's initial requests for a perfume ban by making a request to students that they limit in-school use of sprays, allegedly saying that that was all she could do and that J.Z. "just has bad genes."

Zandi argues, however, that given the medical documentation of her son's response to sprays, his condition qualifies as a disability that must be accommodated by the school district.

"I think for anyone who has allergies where it's an identified cause and effect -- it's the school's responsibility to accommodate him because it is a form of disability," says Dr. Clifford Bassett, medical director of Allergy and Asthma Care of New York.

But given the broad nature of the boy's alleged reaction, allergists felt accommodation didn't have to go so far as to appeal to the Americans with Disabilities Act and a fully ban spraying scents.

"You have to help accommodate, help them attend school instead of banning altogether because there are too many products people are allergic to," Burks says, adding that using banning as the go-to solution will open up too many possible allergens to cumbersome restrictions.

Fort Wayne Community High Schools refused to comment on the matter as it is still an active litigation.

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