Can Air Freshener Make You Sick? 10 Important Facts

Air freshener is so common and inexpensive that people can buy it without understanding how it might affect people once sprayed.

Can air freshener make you sick? For starters, it badly affects over 20% of the U.S. population.

I’ve compiled a list of ways air freshener might cause illness. Continue reading to protect yourself.

Can Air Freshener Make You Sick

Here’s 10 Things to Know About Air Freshener And Sickness

1. Can Air Freshener Trigger Allergies

Some of the chemical ingredients found in common air fresheners have been found to trigger an allergic reaction in some people.

If you notice that after spraying air freshener, you experience itchy eyes, a runny nose, sneezing, nausea, nasal congestion, headaches, or similar allergy symptoms, you may need to stop using that particular air freshener. 

Unfortunately, not all ingredients are listed on a can of air freshener , so you might not know that it will affect you until after you’ve bought and sprayed it.

There are some clues, though. If you have a history of seasonal allergies, for instance, it may help to steer away from floral scented air fresheners because they can contain some natural botanical ingredients that can trigger allergy symptoms in the same way that smelling a fresh bouquet of flowers would.

In this instance, cleaning all of your surfaces and floors might be the best solution in place of air fresheners. If you have carpet, dust mites, chemicals, and germs can seep into the fibers. It can help to vacuum more often if you frequently experience allergy symptoms.

Using mild cleaning detergents made with little to no fragrances can actually help your home smell fresh without the use of air fresheners. 

If the goal of using air fresheners is to rid the home of strong odors from, say, pets or cigarette smoke, then an air purifier might be effective for preventing an allergic reaction to the fragrances.

2. Can Air Freshener Cause Cancer

Ingredients like phthalates can affect hormones in a way that can lead to cancerous cell growth. Air fresheners that contain aldehydes, ingredients that keep the fragrances in the air for extended periods of time, can also cause cancer. 

The deodorizing chemical, 1,4-dichlorobenzene has been classified as a possible human carcinogen by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Hormonal disruptions can be caused by parabens that have been linked to breast cancer, more specifically, propyl parabens.

Another chemical, styrene, has been categorized as a “known human carcinogen.”

The list of carcinogenic and potentially carcinogenic chemical ingredients is longer than what is written here but knowing which chemicals pose a risk is not always helpful. Manufacturers do not have to list the chemical composition of fragrances used in air fresheners or other consumer products. Without the proper scientific instruments, the average person would be unable to determine which chemicals they’re being exposed to. 

Therefore, people with a history of cancer, at increased risk to cancer, or currently battling it, should avoid exposure to synthetic fragrances altogether. 

Under most circumstances, limited exposure is unlikely to lead to any illness but long term exposure to chemicals found in air fresheners can potentially result in chronic illness diagnoses, like cancer.

3. Can Air Freshener Cause Headaches

Fragrances in general can cause headaches. Since I was an adolescent, I would avoid walking towards the perfume counters in department stores because I didn’t want the scents to trigger a migraine.

Because air fresheners are made with fragrances, headaches and migraines can definitely be triggered by them. Ingredients like benzene and formaldehyde are two of the headache-causing culprits. Prolonged exposure to 1,4-dichlorobenzene can also lead to headaches.

In terms of migraines, if a person is already experiencing one and then comes in contact with fragrance molecules, it’s possible that the pain will intensify.

Air freshener is more likely to cause a trigger for individuals with migraines who have hypersensitive olfactory organs. For some reason, this type of stimulation, through the sense of smell, intensifies the response of the body’s limbic system – the place where memories and emotions are processed. This can cause a person to experience migraine symptoms through other sensory pathways as well. 

It’s easy to suggest that a person avoid fragrances altogether but this isn’t always possible. Also, not all fragrances will trigger a headache or migraine. And the way that you are feeling prior to coming into contact with the scent is another important factor.

It can help a person to know their personal triggers in order to prevent a headache or migraine attack.

Sometimes a person can sense when a migraine is developing, in these situations, they can avoid strong smells, including air fresheners.

It’s best to communicate with family, friends, or coworkers about the condition. Doing so helps them to take precautions necessary to only spray air fresheners in a confined area that is away from the person with the migraine. 

4. Can Air Freshener Cause Sinus Infections

Sinusitis can be painful and annoying. Swollen and inflamed nasal passages that lead to mucus buildup due to viral or bacterial infections makes it difficult to breathe. Sinus infections can even cause headaches and pain or swollenness in related areas of the face, like the eyes, forehead, cheeks, or nose.

Smoke is one cause of a sinus infection. If you like to use incense as your air freshener, then you will want to light it on the opposite side of the room so as not to agitate this condition. Another option is to use low-smoke or smokeless incense.

Chemical irritants found in air fresheners can potentially irritate the nasal passage, which can agitate a pre-existing sinus infection as well. Whether you mistakenly walk into a fresh mist of air freshener, or you’re affected by molecules that linger in the air, agitation of nasal passages is no cake walk.

You may have to pay attention to the times when you notice a flare up. Had you begun using a new air freshener fragrance? The process of elimination might help you determine which air freshener has been agitating your sinus infection. 

Dry air is another indoor sinus infection trigger. So if you frequently experience sinus infections but would like to smell a nice aroma in your home, it might help to try using a humidifier. Some humidifiers are also diffusers that allow you to drop in essential oils as an air freshener. 

5. Can Air Freshener Cause A Sore Throat

The same chemicals that can irritate the nasal passage triggering allergy symptoms, can also irritate the throat. A respiratory reaction like this can be due to sensitivities or an allergy.  

According to researcher Anne Steinemann, “Fewer than 10% of air freshener ingredients are typically disclosed to the public.”

There is no way to verify what is being sprayed into the air when using air freshener. Even if a company claims that they only use natural ingredients, or that their product will disinfect the air or eliminate odors, these might be overzealous claims.

Choosing to no longer use a product doesn’t make the potential effects of using it disappear right away. Fragrance molecules can remain in the interior space and recirculate in the air for an unknown length of time. 

If you have refrained from using air fresheners but still feel throat soreness because of it, it might help to place unscented odor absorbers at various places in the home instead of testing out additional fragranced air fresheners.

6. Can Air Freshener Cause Allergic Reaction

Fragrance sensitivities can cause symptoms that do not activate an immune response, like watery eyes, ticklish feelings in the nose, congestion, wheezing, and more. The body is irritated but doesn’t feel threatened. Symptoms typically only last a few moments to a few hours.

Allergic reactions, on the other hand, are an immune system response. In this case a person’s body identifies an ingredient as a foreign substance that it needs to defend itself against. As a result, a person might experience swelling, inflammation, itchiness, and so forth, as if it is fighting off an infection. 

In most cases, people experience fragrance sensitivities more than allergic reactions in response to air fresheners. For there to be an allergic reaction to a fragrance, the body responds to a specific protein ingredient by triggering allergy symptoms that can last for days or even weeks after exposure.

Since allergic reactions are more severe than sensitivities, it’s even more important to eliminate contact with the substance that is triggering the reaction. Refrain from using air fresheners that cause your body to suffer an immune response.

7. Can Air Freshener Cause Coughing

If you’ve ever walked into a room that’s been newly sprayed with air freshener, you may have begun coughing or choking. This is the body’s natural response to inhaling these chemicals from close contact. 

In many situations, coughing after smelling air freshener indicates a fragrance sensitivity. The body is communicating that it is irritated by some ingredient in the air freshener. 

In one Australian medical study, 17% of participants reported that exposure to fragrances caused them to cough. 

Although sensitivities typically don’t last for long, some participants’ experiences were so disabling that they missed scheduled work days. Others had to leave early after being triggered in the workplace. Still others found it difficult to enter into business establishments due to exposure to fragranced products.

Coughing caused by fragrance sensitivity may not be this extreme for you. If there is consistent direct exposure, that can become a problem. But in most cases, turning away and inhaling fresh air can alleviate the coughing spell without the chemicals causing extensive damage.

8. Can Air Freshener Cause Hives

When air freshener is sprayed into the air, those molecules don’t simply linger there, they also fall onto surfaces. Since they’re microscopic, people may not realize that they can come in direct contact with those chemicals that have landed and remain on surfaces throughout the day. 

They can be ingested if a person, say, puts their hand to their mouth after touching one of these surfaces. The chemical can simply be absorbed through the skin as well.  

Hives are an allergic reaction, not just a sensitivity. Rashes, welts, redness, swelling, itchiness, and burning can all be an indication of an allergic reaction to fragrance chemicals from an air freshener. 

Usually, washing the affected area with mild soap and water can remove the irritant that might remain on the surface of the skin. A cold compress can alleviate symptom discomfort. Some people take antihistamines to quicken the healing process. 

9. Can Air Freshener Cause Sneezing

If a person has a sensitivity to an air freshener ingredient and it is sprayed close to that person or drifts over to their face, the body might respond by sneezing. 

But this sensitivity can occur with natural ingredients as well. For instance, terpene is a naturally occurring compound found in the essential oils of plants. It has many functions, which includes producing a strong scent that repels pesky insects and attracts pollinators. This scent can trigger a sensitivity in some people, causing them to sneeze.

Although it is a naturally occurring scent, it can also be produced in a fragrance lab. Either way, scents like lavender and jasmine are known to have high terpene content, so at the very least, you may want to avoid these two scents if you want to continue to use air fresheners without sneezing.

10. Can Air Freshener Cause Shortness Of Breath

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are released by air fresheners. When those chemicals are sprayed into the air, they flow directly into the lungs, and then through the bloodstream. Researchers have discovered decreased lung functioning in individuals with asthma who are exposed to air freshener. And about a third of individuals with asthma also experience chemical hypersensitivity, which can enhance the negative effects of being in the room when an air freshener is sprayed. 

Aerosol air fresheners can definitely harm those with sensitive respiratory systems. With increased use of air fresheners over the years, scientists report that there’s also an increase in respiratory and bodily complications, like eye irritation, dizziness, and impaired memory, in patients with asthma.

And these reactions can also occur with other types of air fresheners, like candles, wall mounts, or diffusers.

If you are a person with asthma, it’s best to stay away from artificial fragrances. But not all exposure to natural scents is without irritation. It’s possible to also experience irritation and trouble with breathing from the smell of wood or pine needles.

In this case, you may want to veer towards cleaning your home with neutral scents like baking soda or white vinegar.

These natural cleaning solutions can reduce the need to cover bad odors with an air freshener. Humidifiers or house plants, like aloe vera, peace lilies, lady palms, or snake plants, can also naturally clean the air so that you don’t have to mask odors with air fresheners.

If you have asthma and desire to simply have nice scents in your home, try adding essential oils to a diffuser. Scents like lavender and eucalyptus are anti-inflammatory and smell lovely.

Final Thoughts

Did this list help you out?

Air freshener has been around since 1948 and will likely continue to be a quick way to spread a nice aroma throughout a space.

If you or someone in your home has a pre-existing illness, it is important to understand the ways that spraying air freshener might impact health. 

A couple ways to avoid becoming ill from air fresheners is to bake something, or in some instances, try out essential oils. Weather permitting, you may want to keep a window cracked or a screen door open in order to circulate fresh air.  

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Grace Young

I love candles! I have personally tried over 100 brands of candles. The total burn time of these candles is over 5000 hours. I also talk about essential oil diffusers and reed diffusers. Essential oil diffusers and diffusers are also an important part of the scent in my home.

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