When the tear film is inadequate, the nerve endings in the eyes are more exposed, making the eyes more sensitive to fumes and perfumes. The tear film can be compromised when there is aqueous deficiency or evaporative dry eye.
Delayed tear clearance when tear ducts are cauterized, when the tear ducts are blocked, or when the tear film is inadequate, will cause molecules from these fumes to remain on the eye longer than usual, causing increased sensitivity.
Allergies to the environment or to topical medications used in the eyes can increase eye sensitivity overall, exacerbating sensitivity to fumes and perfumes.
After eye resurfacing surgery with amniotic membrane for conjunctivochalsis, the new immature tissue may be sensitive to fumes and perfumes. As the membrane matures, the sensitivity decreases and eventually disappears.
When Eyes Taste and Smell
When there is sensitivity to fumes and perfumes, it can feel as if the eyes are burning and sometimes it can feel as if the eyes are tasting or smelling the fumes. Sometimes there is burning, tasting, and smelling at the same time. It can be very alarming to feel that the eyes tasting or smelling fumes.
If the eyes are already burning for some other reason, such as co-morbid meibomian gland dysfunction or an allergic reaction to an eye drop, suddenly encountering fumes can be unbearable. A piece of ice can be applied near the eyes as a coping mechanism until the fumes dissipate.
Even after fumes dissipate, it can take some time for the discomfort to pass and for the eyes to return to normal.
Many types of fumes and perfumes can cause sensitivity, including: cooking fumes; outgassing from products in home improvement stores; gasoline and diesel fuel; raw foods that give off strong scents like onions; hand lotions; shampoos and conditioners; soap; cleaning fluids; products containing bleach; cigarette and cigar smoke; and many more.
Eyes can be extremely sensitive even to very mild fumes. Sometimes, even when they can’t be smelled, the eyes detect the presence of fumes.