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(Lighting the Way to Less Toxic Living)



Baur X, Schneider EM, Wieners D, Czuppon AB
Occupational asthma to perfume.
Allergy 1999 Dec 54:12 1334-5

Patients with airway diseases often experience asthma like symptoms upon contact with perfumes.  Up to now, they were mainly assumed to be due to the irritative effects of perfumes in patients with preexisting unspecific bronchial hyperreactivity.

Respiratory symptoms from fragrance are usually attributed to them being respiratory irritants. This is generally accepted by the medical community as indicated in the excerpt from the article above. Most MSDS sheets on fragrance chemicals also indicate they are irritants. Even the fragrance industry acknowledges fragrance can act as a respiratory irritant. Unfortunately their suggestion of maintaining one's scent in a "scent circle" is impossible as fragrance materials are volatile substances. Their assumption that fragrances are respiratory irritants and not allergens has not been established by research. While fragrance does not generally contain proteins, respiratory sensitization to materials that may act as haptens has not been ruled out. Materials such as limonene form skin and respiratory sensitizers when oxidized.

Scented Products Education and Information Association of Canada: SPEIAC Position on Asthma and Allergies

Role Of Scented Products in Asthma and Allergies

There is a strong association between sensitization to allergens and asthma. Children with allergies are at increased risk of developing asthma. Consequently, allergen exposure should be considered in the treatment of asthma. The most significant allergens appear to be those that are inhaled.

While strong odours and scented products (among many other things) may act as an irritant to trigger an asthmatic attack, they do not cause asthma - the predisposition to bronchial inflammation and swelling is a pre-existing condition.

Both allergic reactions and asthma, can be aggravated by strong smells which can act as a non-specific irritant to the inflamed airways of the sufferer. However, what is an irritant or trigger for one person may not be for another so it is essential to know which irritants and/or triggers create a problem for an individual and avoid them.

Furthermore, one must be careful not to confuse dislikes with diseases. Everyone has personal preferences but likes and dislikes should not dictate what the rest of society can or cannot do. Fragrances have been enjoyed for thousands of years and contribute to people's individuality, self-esteem and personal hygiene. We believe people should be considerate about their fragrance use, and should follow the guidelines of remaining in their own "scent circle".

MSDS sheets on this and many other fragrance chemicals indicate they are respiratory irritants. Though fragrance is composed of volatile compounds which get into the air, inhalation is not indicated to be primary route of exposure. Eye contact and ingestion is listed as a primary route.

Shim C, Williams MH Jr. Effect of odors in asthma.
Am J Med. 1986 Jan;80(1): 18-22

Abstract: Many patients complain that some odors worsen their asthma. Perfume and cologne are two of the most frequently mentioned offenders. Four patients with a history of worsening of asthma on exposure to cologne underwent challenge with a cologne, and their pulmonary function was tested before, during, and after the exposure. Forced expiratory volume in one second declined 18 to 58 percent below the baseline period during the 10-minute exposure and gradually increased in the next 20 minutes. Saline placebo pretreatment did not affect the response to subsequent challenge. Single-blind pretreatment with metaproterenol and atropine prevented decline in one-second forced expiratory volume in three of four patients and blunted the response in the other. Cromolyn sodium prevented decline in one of four, and occlusion of nostrils prevented decline in one of three. A survey of 60 asthmatic patients revealed a history of respiratory symptoms in 57 on exposure to one or more common odors. Odors are an important cause of worsening of asthma.

"Fifty-seven of 60 patients claimed a respiratory reaction to one or more odors.

The odors that commonly worsened asthma were insecticide (85 percent), household cleaning agents (78 percent), perfume and cologne (72 percent), cigarette smoke (75 percent), fresh paint smell (73 percent). Automobile exhaust or gas fumes (60 percent), and cooking smells (37 percent). The odors that caused asthma were not necessarily unpleasant, and many noxious odors failed to produce asthma"

For further information about chemical triggers of asthma and other respiratory conditions, and healthy alternatives to toxic products, contact:

Liberty Goodwin, TIP Director, at 401-351-9193 or