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ALA and AMA:
Fragrances DO Trigger Asthma!

Information appearing in The New Reactor,Vol 8, No. 2: March - April 1998.

It came without fanfare. It came quietly into my computer; not over my radio, nor the television, certainly not with appropriate apologies from the infamous television reporter of "Junk Science." Nor did I read of this through the popular press.

Just one day, there it was: Quietly sitting on a web page of the American Lung Association (ALA), waiting to be discovered. "Common Asthma Triggers ... Avoid perfume and perfumed cosmetics..." [emphasis, mine]. The last time I had checked there was no mention of fragrances as asthmatic triggers.

Feeling a wave of encouragement, I decided to check web pages under the American Medical Association (AMA) and discovered -- "Discuss ways to reduce exposures to the following: ... Other irritants (e.g., perfumes, cleaning agents, sprays)" [emphasis, mine].

Vindicated! All of us! Oh to be sure, "discuss ways to reduce exposures" could mean another fifty years of pondering by the AMA, but with these published statements, we can move forward.

This is the validation we need as we seek to regain recognition of our creditability and gain the access we have too long been denied. We the patients, afflicted with sensitivity to fragrance products, have known it to be true: Fragrance products can cause and/or exacerbate asthma -- and in my case, other's fragrances (heavy scents, heavily applied) set the stage for my slide beyond chemical-induced asthma, with which I lived most of my life [successfully], and into multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS).

We have been put through a living hell of disbelief and suffered the insensitivity of others -- a hell that has been worse in many ways than our sensitivity to the chemical fragrance products used by them.

Perhaps now our health care practitioners, workplaces, schools, government agencies, family and friends will begin to believe us. Perhaps now we will benefit from implementation of no-cost, fragrance-free accommodations. Perhaps now we will begin to see the burgeoning public health problem begin to slow, as people voluntarily refrain from wearing and using scented personal care and cleaning/maintenance products. Perhaps now we will see that people can help themselves maintain health as they accommodate others. Us.

Oh, yes, the ALA and the AMA have been concerned with asthma. We learned from them by way of the popular media that asthma was on the rise, as were asthma deaths. Calls went forth to take asthma seriously. We've been alerted to such dangers as paint, carpeting, furniture, adhesives, pesticides.

Ironically, they've also said to use vinyl bedding protectors to control dust mites, and to use insecticides against the dreaded roach. (From ALA's page: "Cockroaches - Use insect sprays; but only spray when your child is outdoors. Air out your home for a few hours after spraying. Use roach traps.")

The media's health editors could get behind the round up of the usual suspects: cats, cockroaches and dust mites. They even provided photo enlargements of cockroaches and dust mites so we knew just what to fear. And all the while, we kept saying: Tell them! -- Say it! -- Give 'em the straight scoop: Fragrance products.

Patients and creditable researchers have long documented the numerous health hazards that the ubiquitous fragrance products pose. It is just a matter of time before the whole truth will be told.

The ALA and AMA have not yet touched upon the whole story of synthetic fragrances, which are created from thousands of untested toxic chemicals. They have not informed us of the fact that fragrance personal care and cleaning/maintenance products are untested -- untested for inhalation; untested for chemicals in combination within the product itself; and certainly untested for the new chemical compounds created when individual scents volatilize and combine.

As fragrances reportedly volatilize at about 90 degrees, it's understandable that warm, poorly ventilated rooms, occupied by fragrance users, contribute to indoor air pollution, which affects everyone. Somehow. Sooner or later.

While the ALA and AMA have yet to inform the public that the industry is unregulated, we've brought you quotes in this publication from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) stating they do not regulate. And we still await word from the ALA and AMA that one does not have to use fragrance products to have one's health ruined by them -- personal care as well as cleaning/maintenance products.

There is much to be done. Certainly. But we have a start. It won't be another 50 years now. We can make a difference!

Following are excerpts from the websites given in the story above.

American Lung Association (ALA)

This link is no longer available, not even through The WayBack Machine.

IF you get asthma because of various scented personal care products and/or cleaning and maintenance products, the flu shots pushed by the ALA won't do diddly for you, despite their advertising bar at the top of their home page.

So, I suggest you go to ALA's Search, key in perfume, click on Asthma Triggers in Children to bring up "Some common asthma triggers and how to control them: ..."]
Strong Odors And Sprays -- Painting in the home should be done when your child is not there. Avoid perfume and perfumed cosmetics such as talcum powder and hair spray. Do not use room deodorizers. Use non-perfumed household cleaning products whenever possible. Reduce strong cooking odors (especially frying) by using fan, and/or opening windows. "

And from the page, Home Control Of Allergies And Asthma, we get: "Strong Odors Or Fumes -- Perfume, room deodorizers, cleaning chemicals, paint, and talcum powder are examples of triggers that must be avoided or kept to very low levels."

American Medical Association (AMA)

As of February 20, 2001, the above URL brings up the following message:

    Thank you for visiting the JAMA Asthma Information Center.
    The Asthma Information Center no longer exists.
    To return to the JAMA Home Page, click here.
One might wonder why, as asthma rates soar and our mainstream medical doctors seem to be clueless to cause, that JAMA has eliminated a worthwhile section, which served to educate the public.

But then, one realizes that the chemical industry is the medical industry, the pharmaceutical industry, the flavors and fragrance industry, the pesticide industry (and that's just the beginning of the list). Can you imagine if people started getting the idea to eliminate all the scented products they've come to unwittingly rely upon, that maybe they'd not be so sick and wouldn't have to rely so much on OTC and prescribed drugs? Suddenly, with astute shoppers making informed decisions, based upon their right to know, the various facets of the chemical industry would be down billions of dollars, the billions upon billions of dollars accrued at our expense.

And don't think the chemical industry didn't see that potential coming! Back in 1990, they published their damning and damaging call-to-arms, "Environmental Illness Briefing Paper." If you haven't read that and taken that to your doctor, workplace, school, place of worship, then I suggest you do so as soon as possible. You are NOT somatizing -- an oft expressed theory among various doctors, including Dean Edell. Fragrances are synthesized from petrochemicals and no one knows the effects of the tens to hundreds of chemicals used in combination. They don't know the effects upon user and they sure don't know the effects upon non-users who inhale these volatile organic compounds, even if their doctor states the impossible: Avoid fragrances.

We've paid a heavy price with debilitating and disabling illnesses to self and our children, to our yet-to-be progeny . . . and in too many cases, with premature death -- the ultimate price.

Figure 2-4. Summary of Control Measures for Environmental Factors That Can Make Asthma Worse ... Indoor/Outdoor Pollutants and Irritants -- Discuss ways to reduce exposures to the following: Wood-burning stoves or fireplaces; Unvented stoves or heaters; Other irritants (e.g., perfumes, cleaning agents, sprays).[emphasis added]

-- barb wilkie © 1998, March-April edition of The New Reactor, newsletter of the Environmental Health Network, PO Box 1155, Larkspur, CA 94977, 415.541.5075

Note: Permission has been granted to other newsletters to print the above story, or exceprts from it, with proper credit to the Environmental Health Network, along with its contact information. -- bw

And within this past year, I've discovered that the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America also lists fragrances as a trigger of asthma. See: Answers to FAQs ... "Have you had coughing, wheezing, or shortness of breath in certain places or when exposed to certain things (e.g. animals, tobacco smoke, perfumes)? " [emphasis added] -- barb

FDA Petition to declare "misbranded" fragrances released to market without adequate testing:

    For information on the chemicals in modern synthetic fragrances, please visit EHN's Citizens' Petition before the FDA, "Docket Number: 99P-1340/CP 1." Included is FDA contact information, as well as analyses of six popular scents, plus the image of a label with links out to more edifying information regarding the chemicals used to formulate modern, synthetic scents. FDA Petition

    Follks, do take addvantage of this golden opportunity to inform the FDA about your negative reactions to synthetic fragrances, whether first- or secondhand. Reference "Docket Number 99P-1340/CP 1"

Visit EHN's Avoid Fragrances -- a list of links to august organizations, which inform their patients that fragrances are triggers to illnesses. See

For excellent information on negative health effects of fragrances, visit the website of Betty Bridges, RN: Fragranced Products Information Network -- new domain name:

Comments? (Barb's email is no longer valid, please contact EHN). Please put WWW in subject line. Thanks.

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The Environmental Health Network (EHN) [of California] is a 501 (c) (3) non profit agency and offers support and information for the chemically injured. In this section, EHN brings you a few stories that appeared in past issues of The New Reactor EHN's HomePage is