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Asthma & Other
Respiratory Diseases

Environmental Triggers of Asthma

Asthma is a chronic lung disease that causes inflammation of the airways, making it harder for air to move through the body for an affected individual to breathe.  Asthma has no single cause, however, asthma attacks, or an acute episode where a person may exhibit shortness of breath, chest tightness, wheezing and coughing, can be triggered by different factors, including the environment. Each person affected by asthma can have different asthma triggers. The most common triggers include pollen, chemical exposures, smoke, dust mites, stress, exercise and extreme changes in weather. There is no cure for asthma, but asthma can be managed through a medical treatment plan. Treatment plans can include identifying and avoiding triggers and using medicine to manage or prevent an asthma attack. (Sources: AAFA)

Pediatric Asthma Survey

Take the 1-minute survey for a personalized pediatric asthma assessment.

Fragrance-Free At Home

In conjunction with Asthma and Allergy Awareness month, each year Women for a Healthy Environment hosts its annual Fragrance-Free event in downtown Pittsburgh to raise awareness about “Fragrance.” This mystery ingredient is found in hundreds, if not thousands, of consumer products ranging from personal care items such as baby products, soaps, lotions and shampoos to room deodorizers, carpet cleaners laundry detergents and fabric softeners. Due to loopholes in Federal regulations, companies are not required to identify the chemicals that make up this ingredient based on provisions for trade secrets. Synthetic fragrance can include a selection of over 3,000 different chemicals, the majority of which have not been tested for safety.

Exposure to fragranced products can pose significant health risks as demonstrated by compromised respiratory conditions (breathing difficulties), neurologic responses (such as dizziness and headaches), skin irritations (hives and itching) and allergic reactions (runny nose and watery eyes) as well as hormone disruption. We know through laboratory testing to some fragrances come from chemicals that can interfere with various hormones in our body. These could be linked to reproductive or developmental problems.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 18.7 million people are affected with asthma in the United States and it is estimated that one in five has tested positive to one or more allergens. Many of the consumer and personal care products we use contain sensitizing agents that trigger these serious health impacts. Last fall WHE launched a campaign requesting Procter & Gamble to fully disclose of fragrance ingredients in its Febreze line of products. Over 7,000 people took action and signed our petition. We know this is an issue that affects many of us each and every day.

What’s not healthy for us is also not good for our environment.

Over the past 50 years, the United States Food and Drug Administration indicates that 80-90% of fragrances have been synthesized from petroleum, and some of the commonly found harmful chemicals in fragranced products include acetone, phenol, toluene, benzyl acetate, and limonene. Fragranced products such as air fresheners contain Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), chemicals that keep the fragrance molecules airborne so the fragrances linger longer and reduce our indoor air quality.

Ideas to reduce fragrance around the home:

  • Seek natural personal care products and cleaning products that are less toxic and don’t contain the ingredients “Fragrance” and “Parfum,” and look for essential oils as ingredients in personal care products.
  • Take caution when selecting unscented or fragrance-free products and read ingredients. Sometimes these products contain a masking chemical that will be listed as “Fragrance.”
  • Use plant-based, biodegradable and non-toxic cleaning products like vinegar and baking soda. Skip the fabric softener and dryer sheets!
  • Eliminate the use of car or home air fresheners. If you must use a candle, choose one made from soy or beeswax, rather than a paraffin candle. You can also simmer cloves or cinnamon sticks on the stove or look for a fragrant plant.
  • Be mindful of children and pets. They are closest to the ground and have greatest exposure to cleaning products that contain harmful chemicals.