Are Air Fresheners Making You Sick?

Are Air Fresheners Making You Sick?

A new medical study led by Emory University finds that common air freshener products can aggravate asthma and allergies, which disproportionately affect African-Americans.

Published November 11, 2011

If you are anything like me, you depend on candles and air fresheners to keep your home smelling good. But a new report warns that perhaps we should rethink our love for Yankee Candles and Febreeze. Researchers from Emory University and the Atlanta Allergy & Asthma Clinic have been publicizing their finding that hazardous chemicals in items such as plug in deodorizers, room sprays, and scented candles can worsen symptoms for those who suffer from allergies (like me) and asthma.

"The chemicals in some of these products can trigger the nasal congestion, sneezing and the runny nose," Dr. Stanley Fineman, an allergist with Emory University and the Atlanta Allergy and Asthma Clinic. "With the asthmatics, there's really good data showing their lung function changes when they're exposed to these compounds."

And given how popular these items are and how frequently they are used in people's homes, researchers are seeing a higher frequency of other adverse reactions such as dizziness, breathing issues, water eyes, respiratory tract and headaches to name a few. reported:

"People who have asthma, a large number of them are chemically sensitive, and therefore find fragrant products irritating," said Stanley Caress, a professor in the department of environmental studies at the University of West Georgia. "Most commercial perfume products, even air fresheners, have chemical makeups and therefore are potential irritants."

A 2009 study by Caress and Anne Steinenmann at the University of Washington found that nearly a third of people with asthma also have chemical hypersensitivity, and more than a third reported irritation from scented products.

"The more you're around, the more likely it is to cause an attack," Caress said. "People with asthma, many of them should try to avoid artificially fragranced products."

This news is especially relevant to the Black community given our high rates of asthma. According to the Office of Minority Health, in 2009 some 2,380,000 African-Americans reported that they currently have asthma; African-American women were 30 percent more likely to have asthma than non-Hispanic white women, and that we are three times more likely to die from asthma-related causes than the white population. Black children have a 260 percent higher emergency department visit rate, a 250 percent higher hospitalization rate, and a 500 percent higher death rate from asthma, as compared with white children.  

It's important to note that even the sprays that are labeled "natural" or "fragrance-free" can release irritating chemicals. But then that begs the question what should we use to keep our homes smelling fresh?

Healing From Home Remedies, a holistic website, suggests simmering herbs to help keep your home smelling fresh. They suggest throwing the following herbs in a pot of water on your stove:

•    Lavender — A beautiful floral scent that is anti-bacterial and anti-depressant yet calming.

•    Rosemary — Another herb to lift the spirits and clear the head. Literally, so it's great for colds, congestion and headaches too.

•    Basil — Also good for moods and colds.

•    Mints — Spearmint, peppermint, lemon balm are all fresh, clean scents.

•    Cinnamon — Great holiday home scent!

•    Citrus Peels — Use any leftover citrus peel whether it's grapefruit, orange, lime or lemon. Great odor remover especially after cooking fish or other fried foods.

(Photo: Tim Oram/Getty Images)

Written by Kellee Terrell


Latest in news