By: Laurie Edwards for Medtech1
When everyone from the Olsen Twins to Britney Spears is promoting a new fragrance, you know the industry has capitalized on a growing trend. With the popularity of perfumes and body sprays among adolescents increasing, so too are the complications for students with asthma and allergies.
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Sometimes it’s all about quantity – using conservative amounts of your favorite scent can brighten your day without affecting the people around you.
Public places like libraries and hospitals have begun to ask patrons to wear minimal amounts of fragrance, though outright bans haven’t been upheld in court. Wearing minimal amount of fragrance at work may help people in your building.
To learn more about chemical sensitivity, check out the Chemical Injury Information Network’s site at www.ciin.org
Asthma is a chronic condition characterized by inflammation of the airways, coughing and wheezing. It affects approximately 15 million people, nearly five million of whom are under the age of 18. For many asthmatics, attacks are triggered by environmental agents like dust, pollen, perfume or mold.
The issue is getting more attention in part because of the enormous popularity of body sprays – lighter colognes that are marketed to teens as a way to increase their attractiveness. As evidence of this soaring trend, annual spending on body sprays and similar products increased from $6.2 million in 2001 to $99.3 million in 2005.
As first reported in the Boston Globe, a Massachusetts school superintendent has asked the school committee to consider a policy that discourages heavy use of perfume and cologne. Though it wouldn’t be a total ban, if instituted, it would be the first time any school in the country asked its student population to refrain from scents.
“Certainly our approach upfront is one of cooperation. We’re just asking the parents and the kids to try and be sensitive,” said Barry Motta, the superintendent of Upper Cape Regional Technical High School. He pointed out that fragrances that trigger asthma attacks are classified in the same category as secondhand smoke by the Institute of Medicine.
According to the Chemical Injury Information Network, at this point courts haven’t upheld fragrance bans, but advocacy groups across the country have championed measures that eliminate fragrances in public places. From gyms to libraries to hospitals, policies are in place reminding patrons to be aware of the chemical sensitivities of those around them.
For asthmatics, school buildings themselves can be sources of symptom exacerbation. Mold is another asthma trigger and conditions that aren’t addressed quickly like leaky roofs or plumbing, condensation and excessive humidity can cause mold to flourish. Changes in construction over the past 20 years or so have also contributed to mold problems since buildings with “tighter” construction do not allow trapped moisture to release.
Scents and school maintenance aren’t the only explanations for asthma exacerbations. According to a recent study, a “pollution cloud” surrounds asthmatics and people with allergies and the dirt, dust and environmental agents in this cloud contribute to worsening symptoms.
Despite all the attention focused on conditions in schools and public places, home environments can greatly influence an asthmatic’s symptoms. “Each kid has his own individual pollution cloud,” said lead researcher Nathan Rabinovitch of the National Jewish Medical and Research Center in Denver. “What’s in it depends on what’s in their house, what’s in their school and what their daily experience is.”
The study sought to answer the puzzling question of why asthmatics get better or worse from one day to the next. Specifically, they looked at endotoxin, a type of bacteria found in pets, dust mites and other elements in the home environment.
When young children are exposed to endotoxins, it can help their immune systems tolerate their presence and has a protective function, known as the hygiene hypothesis – but for people with asthma, such exposure can make them sicker.
“It’s very murky… the hygiene hypothesis basically asks whether a kid has allergies or not and what. That’s different than asking why kids who have asthma get better or worse,” said Rabinovitch.
The study found that personal exposures to endotoxins were “significantly higher” than the levels the children were exposed to in the environment, supporting the idea that a personal cloud of pollution surrounds children.
Add the combination of heavy perfumes and potentially toxic buildings to the idea of a personal pollution cloud, and it gets easier to see how the environment influences asthma patients.