Can Perfumes Make Your Asthma Worse?

Asthma is known as an inflammatory lung condition in which the air passages get narrowed, resulting in various symptoms.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),

  • Nearly 26 million Americans have asthma.1
  • Asthma is linked to 3388 deaths a year.1
  • Asthma is the 3rd leading cause of hospitalization in children.1

Is fragrance one of all the known triggers of asthma? Can perfumes make your asthma worse? Let us understand this in detail.

Can Perfumes Make Your Asthma Worse?

Before discussing whether perfumes can make your asthma worse or not, let us understand how the triggers act.

Asthma is a condition in which the muscles around the respiratory airways get into spasm due to various triggers, causing narrowing of the passages. This makes it difficult to breathe and the person experiences symptoms like cough, shortness of breath, chest tightness. The passage of air through the narrowed airways makes a whistling sound called wheezing, which is very typical of asthma.

Certain factors have been identified as substances, which act as irritants to the respiratory passages of people with asthma. When they are exposed to such substances, the body perceives them as foreign particles or irritants and reacts by initiating an inflammatory response. Such factors are called triggers, as they trigger an asthma attack.

While the common triggers of asthma are believed to be tobacco smoke, dust, air pollution, pets, mold, cockroach allergen, smoke from burning wood or grass, some other triggers also include thunderstorm, food additives, and fragrances.2 This is of great importance when discussing if perfumes can make your asthma worse.

What Do Research Studies Say About Perfumes Making Your Asthma Worse?

Although it is commonly believed that people are exposed to pollution when outside, some studies have reported that most exposures to hazardous pollutants affecting the health of a person are present inside the house.3 The commonest of such hazardous sources are fragranced consumer products like air fresheners, cleaning products, laundry supplies, and personal care products, which also include perfumes. It is believed that exposure to fragranced products are linked to adverse health effects that can worsen headaches, migraines, asthma attacks, respiratory problems and mucosal symptoms.3

Studies have reported that asthma poses significant challenges to the quality of life of a person, resulting in loss of productivity at work or absenteeism from school and also imposes financial burden from chronic medical care.4

This makes it necessary to identify the factors that can worsen asthma and those that can be controlled must be managed appropriately. It is noted that many asthmatics report airway symptoms on exposure to fragrances and odors, which are common when using perfumes or other cleaning supplies. While the exact mechanism is not clear, the adverse responses may be linked to physiological as well as psychological processes.

Some odors are sufficiently high in their concentrations and can activate two different sensory systems in the nose, one is the olfactory system via Cranial Nerve I, and the other is the trigeminal system via Cranial Nerve V. The first one is the olfactory nerve, which provides neural information from odorant receptors. The second nerve is distributed along the nasal, oral, and ocular mucosa that responds to irritant vapors. This results in an inflammatory response and also release neuropeptides that can affect the physiological function of respiration, vasodilation, and glandular secretions.4 This can trigger an asthma attack due to bronchoconstriction of the air passages, resulting from these pathways. This mechanism can explain a possible way in which perfumes can make your asthma worse. It is also believed that pre-existing concerns about the fragrances and repeated warnings can also lead people with asthma to mount a stress response on exposure and provoke symptoms or worsen asthma.4

A study on the effects of fragranced consumer products on asthmatics was conducted to investigate the prevalence and types of effects of fragranced products on asthmatics in the American population. The results indicated that 64.3% of asthmatics report one or more types of adverse health effects from fragranced products, including respiratory problems (43.3%), migraine headaches (28.2%) and asthma attacks (27.9%).5

Adverse health effects were noticed more prominently in asthmatics than in non-asthmatics. It was also noted that about 35.4% of asthmatics have lost workdays or a job in a year, due to fragranced product exposure in the workplace.5 More than twice as many asthmatics would prefer that workplaces, hotels, airplanes, healthcare facilities, and health professionals were fragrance-free rather than being fragranced. These reports are clear enough to confirm that perfumes can make your asthma worse.

More research is needed to understand exactly why the fragranced products like perfumes result in adverse health effects like worsening of asthma in some people. However, meanwhile, it is worth taking appropriate precautions and following certain guidelines regarding the usage of strong perfumes at home, workplaces, societies, and in public. If taking necessary action can help in preventing asthma attacks, it can greatly help in preventing the worsening of asthma and help to manage the condition better.

Conclusion

Now that you are aware that perfumes can make your asthma, you need to avoid perfumes and other fragranced products in every possible way. While there is no need to get stressed about the possibility of getting exposed to perfumes, it is also necessary to take the right steps. Educate those around you, your family members, and try to create a perfume or fragrance-free environment at home.

While exposure to perfumes and other odors at the workplace or in other public places may be difficult to control, you can plan to take the precautionary measures.

Considering wearing a mask for protection in areas where you expect such exposures. Talk to your doctor about rescue medications or any assistance that you can use in case of emergency, in case perfumes make your asthma worse and you need medical aid.

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