Sales of home air fresheners and scented candles are on the rise and so are respiratory problems in homes where these products are used, according to allergists at the annual scientific meeting of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) in Boston, Nov 3-8.
"This is a much bigger problem than people realize," said Stanley Fineman, MD, ACAAI president-elect. "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."
Home fragrance products may smell "fresh," but Dr. Fineman warns many of these products contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and are merely "covering up" —not eliminating—odors in the home. VOCs commonly found in air fresheners include: formaldehyde, petroleum distillates, limonene, esters and alcohols.
Studies show that even VOC exposure levels below currently accepted recommendations increase risk of asthma in children. High concentrations of VOCs can trigger eye and respiratory tract irritation, headaches, dizziness, and even memory impairment. In his presentation, Dr. Fineman discusses a study of plug-in deodorizers that included more than 20 different VOCs with more than one third of those classified as toxic or hazardous.
Despite research showing some air fresheners contain VOCs at toxic or hazardous levels based on federal guidelines, the home fragrance industry is expected to see continued growth, reaching $8.3 billion in global sales by 2015. So, why the fondness for air fresheners?