Simultaneous sensitivity to fragrances

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Abstract

Background

Cinnamal/cinnamic alcohol and isoeugenol/eugenol are pairs of related fragrance chemicals found in Fragrance Mix I (FM I), and thus are routinely tested in combination with other fragrances in the European standard patch test series. Their close structural similarity makes the occurrence of simultaneous sensitivity within these chemical pairs likely, although at present there are no robust data to support this hypothesis.

Objectives

To establish the frequency of simultaneous reactions to these fragrance chemicals in patients with suspected fragrance allergy attending a contact dermatitis clinic; to provide evidence in support of proposed metabolic pathways; and to determine whether including all four separately in FM I is necessary to avoid missing a diagnosis of fragrance allergy.

Methods

We analysed retrospectively the records of patients patch tested to the European standard series during the 15-year period 1984–98 for positive reactions to FM I. In a subset of patients tested to the constituents of FM I, positive reactions to cinnamal, cinnamic alcohol, isoeugenol and eugenol were sought. Data were analysed using 2 × 2 contingency tables (Fisher's exact test).

Results

During this period, 23 660 patients were tested to the European standard series, of whom 1811 (7·7%) had positive reactions to FM I. Of the 1112 patients tested to the constituents of FM I, 934 had positive reactions to at least one constituent (total 1324 positive reactions to constituents). Of these 934, 826 also had positive reactions to FM I itself; 108 were negative to FM I but reacted to one or more of its constituents. One hundred and seventy-eight patients did not react to any of the breakdown constituents of FM I; 34 of these had positive reactions to FM I itself. Of 139 patients allergic to cinnamic alcohol, 87 were also allergic to cinnamal (63%), compared with 108 (11·1%) of 973 cinnamic alcohol-negative patients (P < 0·00001). Of 231 patients allergic to isoeugenol, 50 were also allergic to eugenol (22%), vs. 109 (12·4%) of 881 isoeugenol-negative patients (P = 0·0002).

Conclusions

These data support in vitro experiments indicating that cinnamal and cinnamic alcohol may generate a common hapten and are consistent with the view that simultaneous sensitization to isoeugenol and eugenol occurs to a limited extent, despite their being metabolized via different pathways. In view of the substantial number of isolated reactions to each of these fragrance chemicals, all four should continue to be included separately as constituents of FM I.

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