Chemicals used in products such as air fresheners and scented candles may trigger allergic reactions or asthma attacks in sensitive people.
Experts say the increasing use of fragrance and scented products in homes and workplaces has lead to a rise in respiratory and allergic problems.
“The chemicals in some of these products can trigger the nasal congestion, sneezing and the runny nose,” president-elect of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) Dr. Stanley Fineman said. “With the asthmatics, there's really good data showing their lung function changes when they're exposed to these compounds.”
Scented products or any other thing that emits a scent similar to that of flowers or pine emit VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, which are chemicals that form a gas or vapor at room temperature.
High concentrations of VOCs can trigger eye and respiratory tract irritation, headaches, dizziness, and even memory impairment, warned Dr. Fineman.
“We're seeing more patients with the problem,” he said. “I've seen patients who say, 'I go into somebody's house who has one of these air fresheners and I just can't stay there.”
“I have increasing nasal symptoms, sneezing and coughing,” he explained adding “There is no allergy skin test for air fresheners, but people can definitely have a physiologic response to it.”
A 2009 study led by researchers at the University of Washington found significant numbers of Americans affected by pollutants in everyday products.
Among over 2,000 surveyed adults, about 11 percent reported hypersensitivity to common laundry products. Roughly, 31 percent had an "adverse reaction" to scented products on other people, and 19 percent reported breathing difficulties, headaches or other health problems after exposure to air fresheners. The rates were significantly higher among people with asthma.
“People who have asthma, a large number of them are chemically sensitive, and therefore find fragrant products irritating,” said co-author Stanley Caress. “Most commercial perfume products, even air fresheners, have chemical makeups and therefore are potential irritants.”
Experts suggested people with a history of asthma or allergic problems avoid using scented products especially the chemical ones.
The advice, however, can apply to products that may be labeled "natural" as well, Caress added. “Some people have natural allergies to things like wood, so they might have trouble with things like that as well.”
Fineman suggested people especially those with higher allergic reactions to use other ways to change the smell in their homes and workplaces. Some people, for instance, bake cookies to make their homes smell good.