Suspect Scents

Air fresheners and scented candles might make allergy symptoms worse

By Mary J. Loftus

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Take note before you light that apple-cinnamon candle on the mantel. Air fresheners and scented candles might make allergy symptoms worse, say Emory researchers.

“The chemicals in some of these products can trigger nasal congestion, sneezing, and a runny nose,” says Stanley Fineman 70C 73M, a clinical associate professor and an allergist with the Atlanta Allergy and Asthma Clinic. “With the asthmatics, there’s really good data showing their lung function changes when they’re exposed to these compounds.”

As the incoming president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, Fineman spoke in November at the group’s meeting in Boston.

Air fresheners, scented candles, plug-in deodorizers, and wick diffusers may irritate people who have allergies and are chemically sensitive. Nearly a third of people with asthma also have chemical hypersensitivity, according to previous studies, and more than a third reported irritation from scented products.

And just because a product is labeled “natural” or “organic” doesn’t mean it’s going to be irritation-free, he says. One of the best ways to make your house smell great naturally? “Bake cookies,” Fineman says.

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