Is Fresh Air Making You Sick?
The number of people suffering with allergy symptoms is at an all-time high. Sales of air fresheners are at an all-time high. These two facts may be related.
Stan Fineman, MD, president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, presented the following information at our annual meeting in November, 2011: 80 percent of Americans buy some type of air freshener each year. No one wants their house to smell like cat litter or cigarette smoke; however, the ingredients of those products can include formaldehyde, benzene, other volatile organic compounds (VOC's), phosphates, and ammonia. This includes sprays and diffusers (wicks). Plug-in deodorizers have over twenty different volatile organic compounds.
Okay, but aren't "organic" and "green" products safe? Literally, "organic" means it contains carbon. Therefore, my cat's solid waste contributions to his litter box are "organic". Organic, "natural" or "unscented" does not equal safe; many of these products contain phthalates. Phthalates, which are industrial chemicals used to make plastics flexible, are thought to cause many endocrine/hormone problems. (SC Johnson is voluntarily phasing out phthalates in its plug-in deodorizers by 2012).
Especially beware of the word, "unscented". Unscented products can still contain an irritating fragrance. It will also contain a masking fragrance to hide that odor. Instead of unscented, look for "fragrance free".
What about my scented candles, you ask. 63 percent of scented candles produce soot. Candles often also contain VOC's, lead, and other non-allergic irritants. A study done at the University of South Florida concluded, "the toxicity characteristics of candle emissions match those of diesel emissions", and "their size, < 1 micro-meter, allows penetration into lungs". A 2009 study from the Journal of Environmental Health reported that 20 percent of all people reported health problems from air fresheners, and 30 percent of all people report problems when exposed to certain perfumes, colognes and other scented products. Okay, but what about my potpourri? (You don't even want to know about potpourri).
Current health claims about aromatherapy may (or may not) be true about emotional well being. I love the way my house smells when we are baking chocolate chip cookies. However, if you think air fresheners are irritating your lungs, nose and throat, you're probably right. Here are some recommendations for keeping your home smelling clean: Don't let anyone smoke inside, empty the garbage outside regularly, put baking soda at the bottom of your garbage can, grind up some lemon in the garbage disposal, and open windows to let in fresh air (assuming pollen/mold is not too high outside).
I'm still trying to teach my cats how to clean their own litter box.
Note: Information contained in this article should not be considered a substitute for consultation with a board-certified allergist to address individual medical needs.