Q. For years now, I have woken up in the middle of the night unable to breathe through my nose. This disrupted a good night’s sleep, as I would have to get up and sit for 20 to 30 minutes waiting for my sinuses to drain.
I blamed it on lack of humidity since it never happened while I was vacationing at the beach twice a year.
I recently read that home air fresheners contain formaldehyde and petroleum distillates, aerosol propellants and p-dichlorobenzene (PDB) that can irritate nasal passages. I immediately unplugged all my air fresheners and after one day I was amazed with the results.
I have now slept straight through the night for about two solid weeks. Who would imagine that plug-ins could cause such sinus misery?

A. Air fresheners contain a variety of chemicals that may irritate the respiratory tract. PDB, found in mothballs as well as air fresheners, could result in reduced pulmonary function (Environmental Health Perspectives, Aug. 2006).
Other compounds found in air fresheners include phthalates. These are often used to carry fragrance in consumer products. Phthalates are also used to make plastic products pliable. These chemicals are controversial because they are hormone disruptors and potential carcinogens.

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  1. Michelle

    This would explain why I seem to have a cough and breathing problems. Airwick plug ins never used to effect me. Now I don’t use them as I feel like I’m suffocating! Initially they have a really nice scent but then when plugged in, all I can smell is a really powdery toxic kind of smell. Stopped using Spray Deodorant’s aswell as they seem to have the sae effect on me.

  2. Sue

    I am suffering from severe sinus headache, earache. Numb head and severe head pain when exposed to plug in air freshners in other people’s homes, if I avoid them my sinus are fine !!! Short exposure still affects me I can feel my sinuses immediately blocking up then the other symptoms come on and I suffer for about 3 days and cannot function I feel so ill , if anyone has had these experiences I would like to hear from them please

  3. cpmt

    ABSOLUTLY… SINCE I HAVE EVERYTHING in the book, I am very allergic to candles fragrances, plug ins, etc etc.. one time I went to a relaxing meditation… and ended with an asthma attack.

  4. alise

    I am going back to soy candles. They are non-carcinogenic, and safe. Some clerk talked me into plug -ins and I bought all the cute styles and many fragrances. I couldn’t figure why I had major post nasal drip, until I quit using them. Even the electric one with wax tarts are bothersome. Anyone else agree?

  5. jeannie

    My daughter has dogs, and thinks she can smell dogs in the house, so she has plug ins all over the house!!!! when I visit it has to be short, I find I cannot breathe feel chesty, and start coughing, and have to leave
    one of her children has asthma, and I keep saying it wont be doing her any good, as she keeps having bad breathing problems my daughter just won’t have it that the plug ins are the cause and carries on having them I myself think they are horrendous, I would rather have a whiff of a dog, than not be able to breathe!!!

  6. ebm

    Same thing happened to me at a friend’s home while I was visiting for a week. I could
    not stand near the plug in’s. I unplugged it in my room also. She had sinus problems
    but would not quit using them. Then she got short on funds and quit buying them and
    feels much better and so do her 6 pets! She also sprays the pets with Calgon body
    spray, I feel bad for them since one died of respiratory failure.

  7. cm

    I also have been affected by plug ins. When I first realized what could be causing all my sinus problems it was probably too late. This was after I had to have sinus surgery and had many rounds of antibiotics. Ugh. As soon as I unplugged this plug in I stopped coughing as much instantly.
    After a few years the same person plugged another plug-in in the office where I work. After two weeks I was at my highest level of intolerance. My sinuses were burning, they were swollen and I was coughing again, headache and nausea. I asked her to unplug it and instantly felt relief, but still had symptoms.
    I informed my employer and he was very concerned as this would have also been a fire hazard which it just so happened there was a fire inspection that day. Had I not had this person unplug it, it would have been written up as a fire hazard. I took the rest of this week off as comp time until I could get an appointment with my ENT doctor as I wanted this incident to be documented to never happen again.
    After visiting my doctor, he found I had another sinus infection. He was a little surprised (which I was that he had never heard of this) but nevertheless he submitted the paperwork to workman’s comp. I am very thankful that my employer truly believes this is a workplace hazard. We are mandated to attend yearly Right To Know meetings which covers this very subject of hazards in the workplace. No one is ever allowed to bring in anything from home and use it at work, and now I am sure the emphasis will also be on plug-ins.

  8. Tammy C.

    “Many of the comments were about “plug-in” air fresheners. Are the “plug-ins” more dangerous than “regular” air fresheners (like the gel ones that gradually disappear) — or are they really all the same? Just wondering…”
    I was wondering the same thing. I use wax tarts/melts in an electric tart warmer/burner. Would these also have the potential to cause the same health problems?

  9. mw

    Thank you I got it and will read thoroughly. I hope that is the cause. I have moved them out of a direct line that they were in. I appreciate you sending this to me.

  10. Cindy B.

    Many of the comments were about “plug-in” air fresheners. Are the “plug-ins” more dangerous than “regular” air fresheners (like the gel ones that gradually disappear) — or are they really all the same? Just wondering…

  11. asn

    I am retiring at least two years earlier than I’d planned because people at work have refused to quit using fragrance & my employer refused to accommodate my need for a fragrance free workplace (and threatened to fire me on the spot if I ever said another word about fragrance).
    Air fresheners are some of the worst offenders – people who have them at home come to work & church emitting the fragrance – and then claim they don’t use any fragranced products. My symptoms include asthma & breathing difficulties, chronic bronchitis, chronic cough, headache, burning eyes, severe fatigue, and inability to concentrate. It’s difficult to do my work with these physical problems!
    My Dr. asked me repeatedly when I was retiring. After the 12th doctor visit in a year, I announced my retirement. The problem affects my personal life as well as my work life. It takes days away from the office to begin to feel better. I’m hoping retirement will enable me to do the things I love – concentrating enough to create jewelry & finish a quilt, and hiking, participating in church activities, writing, etc.

  12. PP

    A quick way to take away bad odors, or any odor for that matter is to light a match in the are of the offending smell. The fire uses the oxygen that carries the smell. By the time the match is ready to be extinguished, the odor is gone. I keep a candle and matches in the bathroom for a quick fix to those smells.

  13. Renee

    I agree so much. Many times I have been forced to leave churches, doctors offices, and people’s homes due to the extremely strong odors caused by the air fresheners. The scary part is that most of them state in the warning section “DO NOT INHALE OR BREATH VAPORS”.
    How does one not inhale an air freshener scent? If some of the same synthetic chemicals listed on many air freshener products were in my lab at those concentrations, I would have to dispose of it as hazardous waste. That is a scary thought.
    There are many natural ways to control odors and still have a great smelling home. One of my favorites is baking soda in a cute glass bottle mixed with an essential oil such as peppermint or grapefruit extract. For those without access to essential oils in their area, I recommend the use of ground apple pie spice or pure baking extracts. These are not as concentrated as essentials oils of peppermint, lemon,etc., but they do add a safe great scent to the home.
    The baking soda absorbs odors and keeps the home smelling fresh. After 3-4 months, I sprinkle the scented baking soda on my carpets for a few minutes , then vacuum to leave the house smelling fresh and safe. Find other great natural safe alternative recipes at http://www.thetakebacktour.com

  14. Rita C

    29 years ago I found out that dryer sheets did the same thing to me! Plugged up my nostrils. I haven’t used them since and minimize the use of fragrances in my home.

  15. Ryan

    I first noticed air fresheners were a problem for me when visiting my Aunt. I couldn’t breathe. The only thing I saw around the house were multiple plug in air fresheners. I unplugged all of them. There was almost instant relief.
    The most difficult part in this is educating those around me. Nobody seems to believe me without seeing it for themselves. I hope sharing this article helps! Thanks for covering the topic!

  16. cpmty

    PHTHALATES, are you talking about BPA?

  17. cpmty

    SEVERAL YEARS AGO I had the same problem until I find out i was very allergic to mites, dust, smoke etc… at home, restaurants etc.

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