Did you know that scents can be an asthma trigger resulting in headaches, nausea and other symptoms? People have different tolerance levels to scented products, but typically children and women and those with asthma, allergies or environmental sensitivities are generally at more risk. In fact, 16-30% of the population is especially sensitive to fragrance.
Most of the chemicals in fragrances are volatile, meaning that they remain in the air for a long time. Each of us leaves behind a little bit of scent which ultimately creates an unseen cloud of chemicals in the air we all breathe – having a negative impact on both our environment and our health.
When we hear the word ‘scents’ – we often think fragrances, aromas or perfumes – essentially anything that adds a smell to something else. Scents are found in all types of products and environments including our homes, community areas, workplaces and of course, healthcare facilities. Personal care products such as aftershave, perfumes and colognes as well as household items like air fresheners, laundry detergents and cleaning products – all contain mixtures of various chemicals designed to have a particular scent. We bring many of these scents into our workplace where even more scents are found in such things as cleaning products or the soaps and lotions we use every day.
The chemicals used to add scents to products can cause serious health problems for some people – especially those who have lung disease such as asthma or COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease). COPD is a long-term lung disease usually caused by smoking. COPD includes a few lung diseases: the most common are chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Scents enter our bodies through our skin and our lungs causing many different reactions such as headaches, dizziness, shortness of breath, nausea, cold-like symptoms and worsening asthma symptoms.
So what can we do? Avoid wearing scented personal care products such as perfume, cologne, aftershave, scented lotions, creams, hairspray, mousse or gel, scented deodorant or antiperspirant. Also, use fragrance free skin care products including cleansers and creams in your home and workplace.
A scent-free policy is one example of a workplace-wide initiative meant to minimize allergic reactions. The Canadian Lung Association has developed a policy for creating a scent-free workplace. It helps employers develop a step-by-step plan of action. For more information on this please visit the resource section at www.lung.ca
Educating staff about the facts and health effects of scents is another way to get things started in your facility. We all play an important role in creating a safer and healthier environment and knowledge regarding scents and sensitivity is the easiest way to begin.