Our Greenhouse

Air fresheners can harm you and your baby

There has been a silent invasion of air freshener units over the last few years. Evidence is now emerging that they are bad for your health. If you are pregnant they are also bad for your baby.

Monica Wildeby Monica Wilde
16 December 2014

I have to avoid public toilets. Not because I am fussy in any way, but because the electronic 'air freshener' units that are now everywhere trigger allergic reactions in me if I breathe them in, especially just after they have silently squirted some unknown chemical into the air.

There is a mounting body of clinical evidence that artificial, chemical 'air fresheners' are bad for many people's health. The rate of respiratory illnesses in care homes increases after they are installed. Parents of children with asthma are advised by their doctors not to use them in the home. Sadly, 'air freshener' chemicals do not fall under either the Cosmetics Regulations nor the Food Labelling Regulations. By law, in both cosmetics and food, you have to tell people what allergens may be in the product. But there seems to be no law governing the contamination of our fresh air! Now evidence is emerging that it is not just a few allergy-susceptible people who suffer, but unborn babies as well.

Avoid air fresheners during pregnancy

In 2013, a study was carried out to evaluate the effects of household use of cleaning products during pregnancy on infant wheezing and lower respiratory tract infections. In Spain, 2,292 pregnant women were asked about their use of various household cleaning products. When their babies were 12-18 months old, their children's wheezing and lower respiratory tract infections were reported and their use of cleaning products evaluated .

The researchers found that the instances of respiratory tract infections was higher when sprays or air fresheners were used during pregnancy. The odds of wheezing increased with spray and solvent use. The associations between spray and air freshener use during pregnancy and the incidences of both wheezing and lower respiratory tract infection was very clear. And even when the mums stopped using these products after pregnancy, if they had used them during pregnancy, their children were still likely to suffer albeit not quite as severely.

The researchers concluded that the use of cleaning sprays, air fresheners and solvents during pregnancy may increase the risk of wheezing and infections in the offspring.

If you are pregnant please avoid using air freshener sprays and plug-in dispensers in your home. Ask friends to kindly switch them off while you are visiting. In public places, like supermarkets, cafes, etc. ask them to let you use a fragrance-free loo and if they can't provide one, explain to the staff there about the dangers they are causing to you and your child. Eventually the message will get through that clean, uncontaminated air is as much your right as fresh water and a choice in allergen-free food or cosmetics.

 

References

Casas, L; Zock, JP; Carsin, AE; Fernandez-Somoano, A; Esplugues, A; Santa-Marina, L; Tardón, A; Ballester, F; Basterrechea, M; Sunyer, J (2013). The use of household cleaning products during pregnancy and lower respiratory tract infections and wheezing during early life. Int J Public Health, 58(5) pp. 757-64

Farrow, A., Taylor, H., Northstone, K. & Golding, J. (2003) Symptoms of mothers and infants related to total volatile organic compounds in household products. Arch. Environ. Health, 58(10), 633-41.

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