Fumes and perfumes
FOOD INTOLERANCE NETWORK FACTSHEET
Fumes and perfumes
"Some fragrances give me an instant headache and
make me feel sick to my stomach, I feel as if I am going
to vomit and just want to get away from it as quickly as possible".
Exposure to fumes and perfumes can affect food sensitive people in a variety of ways including headaches, lethargy, forgetfulness, respiratory problems, asthma and behaviour problems in children. Some chemicals act as sensitisers, that is, exposure can make you more sensitive to other chemicals. You can't avoid all chemicals, but you can reduce your total load. If this information seems overwhelming, go slowly. Get your food sorted out first.
Perfumes, fragranced products and environmental chemicals can cause all the symptoms of food intolerance due to inhaled salicylates and other chemicals. Some people are more sensitive than others.
Smells such as fragrances and other VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) have been implicated with autism and other health issues.
We recommend avoidance of the following:
- perfume in toiletries, cosmetics, after shave, washing powders, shampoo, conditioners, aerosols, deodorants, sunblock for all family members and household cleaners (see our shopping list for alternatives)
- essential oils, incense and 'naturally fragranced' products
- scent sprayers, air fresheners and toilet deodorisers
- bubble baths, finger paints, preschool paints and glues, food dyes in playdough (see Playgroup factsheet)
- paints, solvents and other renovating fumes
- petrol, diesel, engine degreaser and other traffic fumes
- smells of new or newly cleaned soft furnishings, upholstery, carpets, new mattresses, furniture, ('new' smells mean chemical exposure)
- shopping malls, hairdressing salons - alternatives include fast cuts or home hairdressing services
- pet shops, cigarette smoke
- workplace chemicals
- chemical smells of new cars, electrical appliances including computers and CD players – display or second-hand models are safer
- strong smelling plants e.g. herb plants, strongly fragrant flowers and trees e.g. eucalypt, camphor laurel, pine, particularly freshly cut as in a Christmas tree
- freshly sawn timber, sawdust (especially camphor laurel bark chips) and new timber for renovations, lawn clippings and mower fumes
- the smell of wood and smoke from wood fires
- the smell of strongly spicy food - don't cook it for others
My daughter's sinus headache problem is certainly affected by food chemicals - it has improved quite a lot on the elimination diet, but a whole range of environmental allergens seem to trigger it too. The grass being cut affects her. Walking through the detergent isle in the supermarket affects her. The smell of perfume and cosmetics affects her. Household chemicals affect her ... from story 
Fragrance in tourist accommodation is a major issue for us during our annual Fed Up Roadshow. In 2012 we covered 13,000 kms, from Rockhampton in Queensland to Bunbury in Western Australia via the Nullarbor Plain, and back.
For obvious reasons, we prefer to stay in rooms or cabins with cooking facilities, always request "no air fresheners, no fragranced cleaning products" when booking and carry a RainbowAir portable ozone generator with us to deodorise the rooms if necessary. In the past we have found it impossible to forecast the olfactory cleanliness of the room judging by the price, friendliness of the proprietor or what they guarantee. But perhaps this is changing ...
During Fed Up presentations I always discuss the need to avoid fragranced products due to inhaled salicylates. The audience in Kingaroy, Qld, would have seen a live demonstration because when we arrived, the tourist cabin was reeking with a commercial floor cleaner called Jacaranda Blue. This was despite our specifying "no air fresheners, no fragranced cleaning products" at the time of booking.
Jacaranda Blue is described as a "fresh fragranced cleaner, sanitiser, and deodoriser for use as an air-freshener and hand mopping of most surfaces including bathrooms & polished floors" according to the CleanX website. We have previously experienced major problems with this particular product in north west NSW so I didn't even go inside. Howard's foggy brain during the presentation - including tripping over the teller machine 3 times – was a perfect demonstration of what strongly fragranced products like this can do to adults. You can see what they do to children at http://www.immuneweb.org/articles/slimak.html
I am concerned that some mothers arrive at our presentations wearing fragranced products (probably deodorants, moisturisers, hair products and cosmetics) with smells that bother me which means they can also bother sensitive children. If I say anything to these mothers, they are usually surprised and say "I wouldn't have said I was wearing any perfume".
One mother described her perfume sensitivity: "Some fragrances give me an instant headache and make me feel sick to my stomach, I feel as if I am going to vomit and just want to get away from it as quickly as possible".
How would a young child behave if he or she reacted like that to their mother's fragranced products, worn all day every day? My guess is they would appear to be irritable and difficult.
A good news fragrance story
In Sydney, as usual we requested smell-free accommodation - a cabin in the Lane Cove River Tourist Park which is situated next to the National Park and managed on clean, green, sustainable principles. This one really was smell free. It was so good I asked what they used for cleaning. The answer "it's all eco friendly and non toxic" - EnviroClean Eucalyptus floor cleaner and Earth Renewable products. The towels didn't reek of fragranced washing products either. (Eucalyptus is not failsafe but we couldn't smell it when we arrived, presumably because it is eco friendly, not like artificial fragrances that are often designed to last for ridiculously long periods of time by the use of phthalate perfume fixatives which have been linked to a variety of health problems including cancer.)
Of course I googled it all and found this information on the Earth Renewable website:
"Earth Renewable cleaning products contain NO Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), NO chlorine or bleaches, NO harmful solvents, NO biocides, NO caustic alkalis, NO known carcinogens, NO known toxins. Frighteningly most commercial cleaning products are full of these substances which makes them hazardous, toxic, carcinogenic and plain bad for people and the environment. All Earth Renewable products are SAFE FOR PEOPLE."
"I wish all our accommodation could be cleaned with this stuff, " I thought, and it appears that there is now a way to make it happen. It's a matter of choosing places with environmental qualifications such as the Eco friendly star (motoring organisations) or Ringer the bell frog at Golden chain http://www.goldenchain.com.au/article/a-greener-golden-chain/. For example, over 85% of Golden Chain properties (Australia's largest motel chain) have gained the Ringer Environmental Qualification.
Eco-friendly stars are awarded for environmental management including - most important for us - the use of environmentally friendly cleaning products. They cover a wide range of prices, locations and types of accommodation. You can search for Eco-friendly tourist accommodation in Australia by using the advanced search option and ticking the green star
See more about Eco-friendly STAR accreditation
More about the roadshow http://fedup.com.au/information/support/fedup-roadshow-2012-report
When you think air pollution, do you think smokestacks and traffic? Think again. Invisible chemicals in our homes or offices mean our exposure to toxic pollutants can be up to 50 times higher inside than it is outdoors.
Ironically, investigation of indoor air quality was started by the tobacco industry, hoping to divert attention from the dangers of passive smoking. For the last twenty years, experts have been finding out about the effects of invisible chemicals called volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Found inside buildings, VOCs are associated with sick building syndrome - a range of symptoms which include eye, skin and throat irritation, headaches, lethargy, dizziness and nausea - and are known to aggravate asthma.
Thousands of different VOCs have been identified. Carpets, floor tiles, solvents, paints, varnishes, new furniture, glues and wall coverings all emit a complex mixture of organic compounds.
Formaldehyde is one of the most common VOCs. In buildings, it is used in pressed wood products, particleboard and plywood, foam, plastics and insulation. A West Australian study found concentrations of formaldehyde in office buildings were within safe levels, but temporary classrooms - which typically make extensive use of customwood - were more than 25 times the level of the safety standard. Testing the belief that the effects of VOCs can be overcome by the use of indoor plants, researchers found you'd need an indoor rainforest to reduce formaldehyde levels even a little.
Workplace air: what you can do: everyone is entitled to a safe workplace under the Work Health Act. If your workplace makes you sick, there are standards to protect you. More information from Total Environment Centre at www.tec.nccnsw.org.au .
From a medical journal
Following severe complaints about air quality in an office building in Denmark, one part of the building was renovated with new ventilation and carpet was replaced by a tested low-emitting vinyl floor material. The other part of the building was unchanged as a control. The severity of occupants symptoms was significantly reduced by the intervention. Pejtersen J and others Effect of renovating an office building on occupants' comfort and health. Indoor Air 2001;11(1):10-25.
Sick building syndrome isn't confined to offices. New houses can be a major problem. Homes less than one year old in a Melbourne study had up to 20 times the recommended level for VOCs. These airborne toxic chemicals can last for months. Renovations lead to the same effect.
'But it only took them two days to put the kitchen in,' said one woman whose son suffered headaches and lethargy for months after the installation of a new kitchen. VOCs in wood, glues, solvents and paints used in houses and house renovations can gas off for years but are particularly high in the first six months. Some people are more sensitive to the effects than others.
Homes - what you can do: avoid new homes and home renovations. Choose non-toxic paints and materials, for example, Berger Breathe Easy range, Daisy Paints from WA, Bio Paints (Bridgewater, South Australia, phone 1800 809 448) and www.checnet.org . If you have to renovate, ventilate. Keep windows open.
New cars can be even more of a health hazard. An Australian analysis of three new cars found levels of VOCs nearly 130 times as high as the recommended Australian exposure limit. The high levels lasted for up to six months.
Cars - what you can do: buy a car which is already six months old. If you buy a brand new car, ventilate. Leave the car parked with the doors and windows open in the sun whenever possible during the first six months, and leave the windows open when driving. Remember, some people and especially children react to the fumes of petrol at filling stations.
Carpets are the biggest source of dust in a house. A house with hard floors and a few rugs will have about one-tenth the dust of the same house with wall-to-wall carpets. As well as dust mites, moulds, pet hair, and cigarette smoke, carpets are a reservoir for VOCs from cleaning products, solvents, deodorisers and air fresheners, heavy metals like lead and cadmium, and pesticides. Toxic chemicals used in the manufacture of new carpets and some vinyls include tributilin (particularly high in dust-mite treated carpets), permethrin, brominated flame retardants, and phthalates.
From a medical journal
A mobile unit for environmental quality testing in Germany monitored 75 clients who had with health complaints. In all cases high levels of pyrethroids were found largely in permethrin treated carpets. Sixty per cent removed the carpets. More than 80 per cent of the clients who removed their carpets reported complete or at least partial improvements of their complaints. - Boge KP and others Effects of renovation measures on health status of persons exposed to pyrethroids through carpets and flooring Gesundheitwesen 1996;58(12):673-81
Carpets - what you can do: avoid carpets. Choose ceramic tiles or wooden floors with nontoxic varnishes. If you are stuck with old carpets, start a clean up program: put in a high quality doormat, take your shoes off and leave them at the door, use a power-head vacuum cleaner and vacuum twice a week, for three weeks, make 25 passes a week over the carpet within a metre of the front door, 16 passes over the areas which receive a lot of foot traffic and 8 passes over the rest. After that, halve the passes. If you are an asthmatic, leave the house while someone else vacuums for you. Do not have your carpet or lounge cleaned with commercial carpet shampoo.
Regard any new furnishings with suspicion. Furniture made from particleboard can emit the same VOCs as buildings. A stereo system with speakers can contain many glues and solvents. New mattresses and children's waterproof mattress covers have been found to emit chemicals which will affect the chemically sensitive. Likewise, new computers. Permanent press drapes, sheets and even clothes contain formaldehyde.
Furnishings - what you can do: buy good used furniture or leave items like stereos and computers outside to gas off for a while. When buying a new mattress, explain your concerns. Request a non-smelly mattress. Some new mattresses are much worse than others. Ask staff to remove the plastic covering and leave the mattress to gas off for a few days at the warehouse before it is delivered. Keep windows open at first. Avoid permanent-press, moth proof or wrinkle free sheets, clothes and drapes. See also Factsheet on Toxic furniture - effects of flame retardants.
- A nine year old boy suffered from snoring and sleep apnea. An elimination diet revealed that a few food additives were responsible - sunset yellow (110), the bread preservative (282) and MSG (621). When he later developed the problem while avoiding his food triggers, a new mattress turned out to be the cause.
- A woman with long term painful eczema especially on her face found her condition settled on the elimination diet - but always worsened on the weekend. Eventually she realised the eczema was aggravated when she sat on her sofa which had been commercially cleaned. Months later the carpet was cleaned in her office at work and her eczema flared up again, necessitating a long period of sick leave.
At first, researchers thought VOCs were only associated with building materials. Then they realised that buildings full of people had twice the level of VOCs. Freshly dry-cleaned clothes emit trichloroethane, the solvent used by dry-cleaners. Nail polish and even the plastic liners on disposable nappies have been found to emit chemicals which can affect sensitive people. There are chemical residues of shampoos and soaps. Pleasant smelling chemicals in air-fresheners, deodorants and fabric conditioners include volatile chemicals like limonene, pinene, terpinene and camphor. Some perfumes contain hundreds of different VOCs. Fragrance sensitivity has been suggested as an occupational hazard, especially among health workers, metal workers and food handlers. For example, exposure to scented gravel in cat litter boxes has been implicated in occupational asthma. Women are more likely to be affected than men.
Personal products - what you can do: avoid drycleaning. Avoid air fresheners. Avoid aerosol deodorants. Avoid ironing sprays and fabric conditioners. Buy cloth nappies instead of disposables. Avoid perfumes. In the US, the Equal Opportunity Commission has ruled that a fragrance-free workplace is not an unreasonable accommodation for a chemically sensitive individual. Choose low-scent deodorants, hair products, cosmetics, cleaners and washing powders. Minimise time spent in shopping malls. Ask your child's teacher to avoid perfumes and perfumed products. For information about some Australian schools which have introduced a low-chemical policy to help their chemically sensitive children, contact the Australian Chemical Trauma Alliance (links on this website). Some families opt for home-schooling.
From a medical journal
For unknown reasons, a patient at a medical clinic sprayed perfume in a medical assistant's face at close range. The assistant had no history or family history of allergies or asthma other than pollen-induced hayfever. She suffered an immediate anaphylactic reaction and was admitted to hospital where she recovered. For months afterwards the assistant needed daily bronchodilator medication for persistent shortness of breath and has developed a persistent sensitivity to perfumes. The patient was arrested and charged with assault. Lessenger JE Occupational acute anaphylactic reaction to assault by perfume spray in the face J American Board of Family Practitioners 2001;14:137-40
There are approximately 70,000 chemicals registered for use as cleaning products. Formaldehyde is just one example. It is a common ingredient in disinfectants, furniture polishes and water softeners. Some other known toxic chemicals in household products include methanol, ammonia, chlorine, butyl cellosolve, cresol, glycols, hydrochloric and phosphoric acids, naphthalene, PDCBs, perchloroethylene, phenols and TCE (tricholoethylene). Propellants like propane and butane are irritating to the lungs. The average American household has 45 aerosol cans. Washing powders and pre-soakers with enzymes are a well-known cause of adverse reactions including occupational asthma.
Household cleaners - what you can do: wash windows with water, remove most of the water with a squeegee and then polish to a shine with a soft clean cloth. No need for toxic window cleaner. You can do most household cleaning with soda bicarbonate, vinegar, dishwashing liquid and dishwashing detergent. Soaking clothes overnight in pure soap flakes will get them just as clean as more toxic detergents. More information: Clean House, Clean Planet, or www.checnet.org Remember, some children react to chlorine in swimming pools during swimming lessons.
Chlorpyrifos used to be most commonly used pesticide in the US. In several surveys, more than 90 per cent of US children showed chlorpyrifos residues in their urine. Exposure to chlorpyrifos has been associated with asthma in farmers and when a study at Duke University showed chlorpyrifos was associated with ADHD-like symptoms in young rats, the pesticide was banned from domestic use in the US. It is still sold on Australian supermarket shelves in many products. Exposure to pesticides is most likely for farmers from handling of sheep, sheep dipping and wool handling. Urban residents are exposed to pesticides used to control cockroaches, other insects, rodents, fleas on pets including flea collars, lawn and garden pesticides, and foods that have been grown with the use of chemicals.
'Public health is not protected when the urine of virtually every child in this country contains residues of these [neurotoxic] chemicals.' - from In Harm's Way: Toxic threats to child development a report by Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility available at: www.igc.org/psr
Children are are more vulnerable to the effects of chemicals because, weight for weight, they breathe, drink and eat more, with a consequently higher update of potentially toxic substances. It is estimated that there are more than 15,000 neurotoxic synthetic chemicals, almost all developed in the last 50 years.
In Halifax, Nova Scotia, municipal authorities have banned pesticide use on city and private lawns because the sprays cause life-threatening asthma in one of their young residents. Gardeners are advised how to use a mixture of grasses, put more effort into mulching, and learn to live with less-than-perfect lawns, say city landscapers. Halifax is one of 37 towns and municipalities so far across Canada to outlaw the cosmetic use of pesticides on lawns. (more details, http://www.sierraclub.ca/en)
The average US family uses three of four different pesticide products, either indoors or outdoors, each year. Pesticides on lawns brought into the house on shoes and pets' paws can increase the pesticide loads in carpet dust as much as 400-fold. Sheltered from sun and rain, indoor pesticides will last much longer. Although DDT was banned nearly 50 years ago, it is not uncommon to find DDT residues in carpets. Pesticides and other semi-volatile compounds can evaporate, drift around the house and settle back onto the carpet, toys and workbenches. This means that children can be exposed to chemicals even in rooms where pesticides have not been used.
Young children are also most at risk for exposure to pesticides in foods because they have a proportionally high intake of fruit and in their diet. Fresh fruit and vegetables, especially apple juice and apples, were the foods which contained the highest levels of pesticides in a survey of residues in children's diets.
Pesticides: what you can do:
Wash your hands frequently. Studies show that many synthetic chemicals vaporise and then settle on indoor surfaces - counters, tables, clothes, furniture, toys - where they can be readily picked up by those who touch them. Develop the habit of handwashing in children.
Never assume a pesticide is safe. Anything designed to disrupt living organisms - plant or animal - may also prove harmful to humans in unexpected ways.
Limit uses and exposure. Spraying for pests should never be done routinely or as a first option. With integrated pest management (IPM), pests are monitored and controlled by less toxic means. Use toxic chemicals only used as a last resort. Use barriers - block up crevices - to deny pests entry to houses.
Insects and rodents: fly swats, mouse traps, sticky fly paper and flyscreens are mechanical means to deal with insects and rodents.
Mosquitoes: use screens, wear protective clothing and stay indoors at dusk.
Cockroaches: seal crevices, clean up foods scraps thoroughly and store food in pest-proof containers, use sticky baits - not baits with chlorpyrifos. You can use an insect growth retardant on cupboard hinges.
Fleas: wash bedding frequently. Here are two natural anti-flea suggestions from the internet. Slice up two lemons and pour nearly boiling water over them, then soak overnight. The next day, strain the liquid and pour into a spray bottle. Spray the dogs liberally and then massage the solution into their coats. If you are sensitive to inhaled salicylates, use this alternative: wash dog with low-fragrance shampoo and soap up liberally, leave suds for 8 minutes then rinse off - this is supposed to kill fleas.
Headlice: this method worked for us when my kids were little. It combines the drown-the-pests principle with the known toxicity of soap plus mechanical removal by combing. Shampoo with your regular shampoo, rinse, shampoo again and leave with a towel around your child's head for twenty minutes, then rinse. Apply your regular conditioner and comb well with a white nit comb so you can see what you catch. Swim or wet hair in the shower, condition and comb nearly every day for two weeks or until you stop catching anything. Wash bedding and towels in hot water or dry in dryer. See headlice factsheet
Garden pests: use Tom Ogren's recipe for homemade insecticides by mixing three teaspoons of liquid soap, three teaspoons vegetable oil and four litres of warm water. Add a few drops of hot pepper sauce if you have warm-blooded pests like rabbits. www.allergyfreegardening.com
Weeds: follow this recommendation from the US Department of Agriculture. Fill a spray bottle with household vinegar and spray weeds, preferably on a sunny day.
Food: peel all fruits and vegetables thickly or buy organic. Limit fruit juice or buy organic. Filtered water is the best drink.
More information: visit the entertaining virtual house at the Children's Health and Environment Coalition website. You can click on each item for articles and nontoxic alternatives, www.checnet.org
From a medical Journal
Pyrethrin insecticides (eg permethrin) are an extract of the crysanthemum flower and are considered to be much safer than organophosphates like chlorpyrifos (Dursban). However, pyrethrins are known to trigger asthma attacks. This paper reports the case of a 37 year old woman with a 10 year history of mild asthma, no allergies, no family history of asthma or allergies, no asthma exacerbations for nearly three years, and no medications. The woman developed severe shortness of breath a few minutes after beginning to wash her dog for the first time with a pyrethrin shampoo. Seconds later she developed gasping respiration, collapsed and could not be revived. Wax PM and Hoffman RS Fatality associated with inhalation of a pyrethrin shampoo. Clinical toxicology 1994 32(4), 457-460.
Edwards, R. 'When a new house is positively sickening' New Scientist 10/3/01, p20.
Newswire, 'Sick Auto Syndrome', New Scientist 12/1/02, p11.
Renner, R. 'Curse this house', New Scientist 5/5/91, p38.
Immig, J. 'The Toxic Playground', Total Environment Centre, 2000. www.tec.nccnsw.org.au.
Children's Health and Environment Coalition website: www.checnet.org
Pappas GP and others, The respiratory effects of volatile organic compounds. Int J Occup Environ Health 2000;6(1):1-8.
Colborn T and others, Our Stolen Future, Abacus, 1996, www.ourstolenfuture.org
Anderson, R and Anderson J. Sensory Irritation and multiple chemical sensitivity, Toxicology and Industrial Health 1999;15:339-345. See abstract below.
Many of the symptoms described in Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) and multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) resemble the symptoms known to be elicited by airborne irritant chemicals. Irritation of the eye, nose, and throat is common to SBS, MCS, and sensory irritation (SI). Difficulty of breathing is often seen with SBS, MCS, and pulmonary irritation (PI). We therefore asked the question: can indoor air pollutants cause SI and/or PI? In laboratory testing in which mice breathed the dilute volatile emissions of air fresheners, fabric softeners, colognes, and mattresses for 1 h, we measured various combinations of SI and PI as well as airflow decreases (analogous to asthma attacks). Air samples taken from sites associated with repeated human complaints of poor air quality also caused SI, PI, and airflow limitation (AFL) in the mice. In previous publications, we have documented numerous behavior changes in mice (which we formally studied with a functional observational battery) after exposure to product emissions or complaint site air; neurological complaints are a prominent part of SBS and MCS. All together, these data suggest that many symptoms of SBS and MCS can be described as SI, PI, AFL, and neurotoxicity. All these problems can be caused by airborne irritant chemicals such as those emitted by common commercial products and found in polluted indoor air. With some chemical mixtures (e.g., emissions of some fabric softeners, disposable diapers, and vinyl mattress covers) but not others (e.g., emissions of a solid air freshener), the SI response became larger (2- to 4-fold) when we administered a series of two or three 1-h exposures over a 24-h period. Since with each exposure the intensity of the stimulus was constant yet the magnitude of the response increased, we concluded that there was a change in the sensitivity of the mice to these chemicals. The response was not a generalized stress response because it occurred with only some mixtures of irritants and not others; it is a specific response to certain mixtures of airborne chemicals. This is one of the few times in MCS research that one can actually measure both the intensity of the stimulus and the magnitude of the response and thus be allowed to discuss sensitivity changes. The changing SI response of the mice might serve as a model of how people develop increasing sensitivity to environmental pollutants. Intensive study of this system should teach us much about how people respond to and change sensitivity to airborne irritant chemicals.
Here's a useful brochure from the University of Toronto that you can use at your school or workplace
© Sue Dengate update October 2012