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Allergies caused by inhaling fragrances?

14/2008, 05.08.2008

Consumers should be better informed about the use of fragrances in public areas

Fragrances are used in many products which consumers come into contact with. They include cosmetics, detergents and cleaning agents. Some fragrances may lead to allergies when they come into contact with the skin. Whether fragrances could also trigger allergic reactions when they are taken up via the respiratory tract, was discussed by experts at the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) in Berlin. One outcome of the meeting: there are no reported cases in which the inhalation of known problematic fragrances was the cause of allergic reactions. However, in individuals who already have a skin allergy, these substances can exacerbate the symptoms when they are taken up through respiratory air. "Consumers should, therefore, be better informed about the products and premises fragrances are used in", says Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel, President of BfR.

The bathroom smells of peach blossom, the underground station of croissants and the department store of fresh laundry. What many people don’t know is that the fragrances used to mask unpleasant odours or stimulate the appetite are not real but synthetic. Fragrances are increasingly used not only in private households but also in public areas. Experts from national and international research institutes discussed the effects on the respiratory tract at BfR. The expert meeting was staged in conjunction with the National Action Plan against Allergies of the Federal Ministry for Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection (BMELV).

It is common knowledge that some fragrances can trigger allergic skin reactions (contact allergies). Hence, when specific concentrations are exceeded in cosmetics, they must be listed on the packaging. Nonetheless, the participants at the expert meeting were not aware of any cases in which fragrances taken up from the respiratory tract had caused allergic reactions. However, people who have already developed a contact allergy to specific fragrances may be more at risk of these substances exacerbating allergic symptoms of the skin or causing irritation to the respiratory tract when they are inhaled.

That is why consumers should be informed when fragrances are used in public areas, for instance in air conditioning systems. Moreover, the manufacturers of "fragrance marketing" methods should refrain from using fragrances which are known as possible triggers of allergies. Furthermore, the contents of sprays should undergo more extensive testing for possible reactions of the respiratory tract.



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