Unplug Indoor Pollutants for a Breath of Fresh Air

Allergists say home fragrance products contribute to indoor pollution and may cause respiratory problems.

Sales of home air fresheners and scented candles are on the rise and so are respiratory problems in homes where these products are used, according to allergists at the annual scientific meeting of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) in Boston, Nov 3-8.

“This is a much bigger problem than people realize,” said Stanley Fineman, MD, ACAAI president-elect. “About 20 percent of the population and 34 percent of people with asthma report health problems from air fresheners. We know air freshener fragrances can trigger allergy symptoms, aggravate existing allergies and worsen asthma.”

Home fragrance products may smell “fresh,” but Dr. Fineman warns many of these products contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and are merely “covering up” —not eliminating—odors in the home. VOCs commonly found in air fresheners include: formaldehyde, petroleum distillates, limonene, esters and alcohols.

Studies show that even VOC exposure levels below currently accepted recommendations increase risk of asthma in children. High concentrations of VOCs can trigger eye and respiratory tract irritation, headaches, dizziness, and even memory impairment. In his presentation, Dr. Fineman discusses a study of plug-in deodorizers that included more than 20 different VOCs with more than one third of those classified as toxic or hazardous.

Despite research showing some air fresheners contain VOCs at toxic or hazardous levels based on federal guidelines, the home fragrance industry is expected to see continued growth, reaching $8.3 billion in global sales by 2015. So, why the fondness for air fresheners?

“There has been a shift among home fragrance consumers that pleasant smelling homes are not just for the holidays,” Dr. Fineman said. “We also are seeing a trend by manufacturers to market these products as aromatherapy which implies health and mood-boosting benefits although there are no scientific studies to support these claims.”

For consumers who desire a fresh scent without the associated health risks, Dr. Fineman recommends opening windows to let in Mother Nature rather than selecting products labeled “organic” or “green.”

“Products marketed as ‘all-natural’ or even those that are unscented can emit hazardous chemicals” said Dr. Fineman. “The safest option is to avoid exposure to pollutants that air fresheners emit.”

While Dr. Fineman believes consumers need to be aware of what they are bringing into their homes, he also adds that allergists need to be vigilant about asking patients about exposure to scented products, and they need to keep this potential trigger on their radar.

Allergists have the training and expertise to treat more than just the allergy symptoms. Those who suspect home fragrances may be triggering allergy symptoms, aggravating existing allergies or worsening asthma should see an allergist—a doctor who is an expert in diagnosing and treating allergies and asthma. To learn more about allergies and asthma, take a free relief self-test or find an allergist near you, visit www.AllergyAndAsthmaRelief.org.

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