When you walk through a department store, do you avoid the cosmetics section fearful that strong scented perfumes will leave you gasping for air? Here is why asthma and perfume don't mix well.

Researchers have found that the intense smells associated with perfumes can prompt respiratory symptoms, including coughing and wheezing, even in people who don't have asthma. But in those who already have compromised airways,  reactions to perfume can be more severe. A study reported in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology showed that even very brief exposure to scents, such as breathing in magazine perfume strips, could be enough to reduce the breathing capacity in people whose lungs were compromised.

Beware of Scented Products

It's not only perfumes that trigger asthma symptoms. Scented candles, room fresheners, soaps, shampoos, shaving cream, deodorant, and even laundry detergent can also pose a problem.

With any of these types of products, it usually isn't the fragrance itself that makes you sick, but rather the chemicals used to create them. As many as several hundred different substances can be used in just one fragranced item, and these can cause a strong reaction not only in the wearer, but also in people within arm's length.

Asthma and Other Health Problems

The reason for the perfume and asthma relationship is that the chemicals used to make some scented products can be released in the air, where they become trapped in your hair and clothing. This causes you to breathe them in and possible even absorb them through your skin. .  If you're highly sensitive, the result can worsen your asthma.

You may also suffer from any of these other health effects:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Nasal symptoms
  • Nausea
  • Shortness of breath

Exercise Your Scent Sense

Your best bet is to avoid wearing perfume and using scented products whenever possible. If you do select something with a scent, pick the lightest fragrance you can find. Heat intensifies the effect of the chemicals, so in the summertime your reaction could be more severe. Also, remember that scented products not only affect you, but can make other people sick, too.

Even if you forego the perfume yourself, you'll need to take action to minimize your exposure to other people's fragrances and to the scents in your common household products.

Here's how:

  • If people in your home or workplace wear perfume or use scented products that bother your asthma, talk to them about the problem. Many will be willing to forego scents when they know it gives you a reaction.
  • Make sure your bedroom and your workspace are well ventilated.
  • Ask your human resource representative for support on this issue. A growing number of companies are enforcing scent-free workplaces and you can help yours be proactive in this area.
  • Understand that even products that are "unscented" may also have some type of fragrance in them, so read labels carefully before you buy.
  • Keep household supplies that do contain fragrance in sealed containers.
  • Avoid contact with scented fragrance strips in magazines.

Be Prepared

Since even your best efforts won't be enough to help you steer clear of all scents, be sure to carry your fast acting relief inhaler with you at all times, so if your asthma kicks in you'll be prepared.

Sources:

American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI)

http://www.aaaai.org/professionals/ask-the-expert/view.asp?id=9634

http://www.aaaai.org/patients/allergy_asthma_issues/2009/winter/allergy_risks.asp

Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology/US National Library of Medicine

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7583865

Canadian Lung Association

http://www.lung.ca/diseases-maladies/asthma-asthme/treatment-traitement/index_e.php

http://www.lung.ca/protect-protegez/pollution-pollution/indoor-interieur/scents-parfums_e.php

Clinical and Experimental Allergy

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2222.2005.02138.x/abstract