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Are your scented candles and air fresheners making you sick?

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Allergists say get rid of scented candles and air fresheners to breath easy.

Home fragrances can aggravate allergies and asthma. Sneezing, wheezing and runny noses are just a few of the symptoms that can occur from scented candles and using air fresheners in the home that emit VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, according to allergy and immunology experts.

VOC’s are a respiratory irritant that could also affect friends and guests visiting your home. To breathe easier and keep your home free from pollution, top allergists recommend eliminating fragrances from the home.

“This is a much bigger problem than people realize,” said Stanley Fineman, MD, president-elect of the American College for Asthma, Allergy and Immunology.

“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.”

He says the problem is expected to get worse as the result of manufacturers marketing of the products who make claims that fragrances provide aromatherapy to boost mood and promote health. Fineman says there’s no science behind the claims.

Some of the harmful compounds found in scented candles, sprays and plug-in air fresheners include formaldehyde, petroleum distillates, limonene, esters and alcohols.

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Despite claims that the products eliminate odors, allergists say they only mask odors.

According to Fineman, a study of plug-in deodorizers that included more than 20 different VOCs found that more than one third were classified as toxic or hazardous.

Even candles and air fresheners labeled “green” are not recommended. Instead, Fineman says open the windows to let Mother Nature keep your home smelling fresh.

“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.”

But it’s not just consumers who need to be aware of the health risks associated with indoor fragrances. Fineman also suggests physicians stay alert to scented products that patients are using.

For children, VOC’s from scented candles and plug-in fragrances can trigger asthma. High levels of exposure to compounds in the products can even lead to memory problems.

The findings, presented at the ACAAI annual meeting, is a message to consumers to get rid of home fragrances that include scented candles, sprays and plug-in air fresheners. Getting rid of indoor pollutant can ensure better respiratory health for children and adults.

Image credit: Morguefile



Consumers can be assured that the fragranced air fresheners they use in their homes are safe when used according to label instructions. There is no definitive scientific evidence, clinical or otherwise, to prove that fragrance materials cause asthma, nasal congestion, sneezing, or runny nose. The fact is that cold air, dry air, and almost any aroma can trigger various respiratory symptoms in different individuals. Some individuals may experience respiratory sensitivity to certain materials in the environment, both natural and man‐made. And people who experience such sensitivity to consumer products can choose to avoid using the products. But it is irresponsible to assign blame to popular consumer products without supporting scientific evidence. The safety of fragrances marketed today is based on clinically proven, scientific studies reviewed by an independent panel of experts, published in the highest level, peer-reviewed, scientific journals available to anyone and ratified by government agencies around the world. The fragrance industry welcomes scientific dialogue, but insists on real science and fact-based consumer education and medical advice. For more information please visit http://www.ifrana.org/news/industry-coalition-stands-behind-safety-fragranced-air-freshener-products .
This reply is ridiculous. The manufacturers of cigarettes claimed that they were good for your health for decades, and had doctors as spokespeople. Then, they said there is no scientific evidence to prove that smoking was harmful....because only industry-backed or big-pharma-backed studies can get funding, and they'd never attack corporate profits. These candles and air sprays obviously cause asthma attacks, which is why they are prohibited in so many schools, and in all healthcare environments.
Consumers know profit is the bottom line. Public health is seldom the focus when money is at stake. It takes too long for research results and people suffer in the meantime.
It also gives me a horrible headache, shortness of breath, an overall feeling of body aches, and passing out. It is absolutely detrimental to my health and many others. Actually, the so-called natural candles are even worse. BEWARE!