Air fresheners–Go Organic…Not!

Tomorrow starts the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology national meeting in Orlando.  Great fun and food, but more importantly, great new information about allergy.  If you watch the news at all, you’re bound to hear about natural products for your health.  Organic anyone? 

Read this blog about a patient who only THOUGHT she had allergy; it was really volatile organic compounds (VOC) causing her symptoms of sneezing and nasal irritation that made her think she had allergies. 

Case reports like Mary’s are helpful to instruct allergists in the best treatment methods for our patients with rhinitis.  Sometimes it’s allergic and sometimes it isn’t. 

Take the following report for instance: 

Love the smell as long as I can breathe!

They may smell sweet, but popular air fresheners can cause serious lung problems.

That’s the message from a new study presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI). Home fragrance products often contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that include such nasty chemicals as formalehyde, petroleum distillates, limonene, esters and alcohols. (Download a copy of the presentation here)

Exposures to such VOCs — even at levels below currently accepted safety recommendations — can increase the risk of asthma in kids. That’s because VOCs can trigger eye and respiratory tract irritation, headaches and dizziness, as Dr. Stanley Fineman, ACAAI president-elect, pointed out:

This is a much bigger problem than people realize. 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.

MORE: 5 Ways Americans’ Allergies Are Getting Worse

And if you hope that “all-natural” fragrance products can give you a nice scent without the chemicals, Fineman has bad news for you — even products marketed as organic tend to have hazardous chemicals. That shouldn’t be surprising since fragrance products don’t eliminate bad smells; they just cover them up, and that usually requires something strong.

Fineman suggests that you’d be better off simply opening up your window and letting fresh air in — though that advice might not work well where I live.  OK, I get it!

The study also gives some much-needed attention to the problem of indoor air pollution. While air freshener-related asthma is certainly a health hindrance in the developed world — at least among those who like to live in artificially sweet-smelling homes — indoor air pollution is a major health catastrophe for much of the developing world, one that leads to the premature deaths of nearly 2 million people a year according to the World Health Organization. The majority of those affected are very poor women and children who might spent hours cooking food over a wood-burning fire in a hut with little ventilation.

To read more about indoor air pollution and how to avoid it, see:


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