July 12, 2018

Air Fresheners as Allergy and Asthma Triggers

Nowadays, it’s quite popular to use home fragrances, such as air fresheners and scented candles. However, based on a study by the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, these products may contain elements that are considered as allergy and asthma triggers. Fragrances in general can trigger or worsen allergy and asthma symptoms. Experts say that respiratory problems are increasing in homes where people use air fresheners.


Research shows that around 20 percent of the American population report health issues because of air fresheners. Besides, 34 percent of people with asthma experience the same.

Why Are Air Fresheners Harmful for Human Health?


There are several studies that look at the effects of air fresheners on human health.

A study published in 2008 analyzed the content of some air fresheners and laundry products. The results showed that the products contained a large number of different toxic chemicals, including acetone, used in nail-polish removers, and many volatile organic compounds.

Most of the products studies also emitted carcinogenic substances classified (according to the Environmental Protection Agency) as hazardous air pollutants. Interestingly, none of these chemicals were mentioned on the product label.

What is more, another study, that was conducted by the experts of the National Institutes of Health in 2006, linked a chemical contain in home fragrances with reduced lung function.

What Are the Volatile Organic Compounds?


Air fresheners often provide a pleasant smell reminding ocean breeze or tropical fruits, but many of them work by just masking bad odors, not removing them. This effect is produced by the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) contained in various fragrances for home use.

These compounds, even at below recommended acceptable levels, are potentially dangerous for children and adults with asthma. Exposure to high concentrations of VOCs may cause you to develop headaches, irritation of the respiratory tract, irritation of the eyes, dizziness, and memory issues.

According to a recent study, some plug-in deodorizers contain more than 20 volatile organic compounds. Many of these VOCs are considered toxic or hazardous.

There are federal guidelines regulating the levels of VOCs in products, but some air fresheners contain hazardous amounts of these chemicals. Despite this, global home fragrance market keeps growing, and it had reached around $8 billion by 2015.

Alcohol is one of the most common VOCs associated with air fresheners. Esters that are produced from an acid condensed with an alcohol are also a common ingredient in home fragrances.

In addition, many air fresheners contain formaldehyde, limonene and petroleum distillates, all of which can be harmful for your health.

Formaldehyde is used in the textile industry – to make fabric crease-resistant, as well as in car manufacturing, production of components for electrical systems and axles, production of engine blocks, door panels etc.

According to experts, formaldehyde is a human carcinogen, which means that exposure to this substance may cause cancer.

Formaldehyde contained in an air freshener can trigger an asthma attack and cause symptoms like nausea, difficulty breathing, watery eyes, and a burning sensation in the eyes, nose, throat, and other mucus membranes.

Limonene is a liquid hydrocarbon that doesn’t have any color but strongly smells to oranges. Classified as a cyclic terpene, limonene is used as a precursor to carvone and as a solvent in cleaning products.

Petroleum distillates are products of petrochemical manufacturing – one of the causes of air, soil, and water pollution. In people, these substances can cause respiratory problems, chemical pneumonia, pulmonary damage, and asthma.

There Are No “Green” Air Fresheners


Home fragrances have been getting more and more popular over the past years. Marketing people position these products as aromatherapy which is meant to improve your mental and general health. However, there are no scientifically approved studies that would confirm the beneficial effects of aromatherapy.

You may also have seen air fresheners labeled as “unscented”, “organic”, “all-natural” or “green”. However, even these products can contain dangerous chemicals.

What Are the Natural Methods to Freshen the Indoor Air?


Therefore, if you want to freshen the air in your home, experts recommend opening the window instead of using home fragrances.

If that is not an option (for example, if you are allergic to pollen), there are many other natural methods to improve the smell of your house.

Thus, you can try using an essential oil diffuser that will help to gently scent the air in a room. Various potpourris made of herbs, flowers, and spices are getting popular as well. You can make your own one and place it in the room.

Vinegar and baking soda help to remove cooking odors and odors from the surfaces.

Citrus fruit peel is also known to neutralize the odors and provide a pleasant, fresh smell.

The Bottom Line


In general, experts recommend checking the ingredients and potential risks associated with any products you are bringing into your home, especially if you have an allergy or asthma.

On the other hand, doctors and healthcare professionals should warn their patients about the risks of using air fresheners and other scented products. Otherwise, exposure to hazardous air pollutants may lead to dangerous health complications.

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