I can't smell that smell
August 27, 2017 10:23 AM   Subscribe

I tried a scented oil diffuser and it hurt my lungs. Is there any way for an asthmatic to use a diffuser or scented oils without harming my lungs?

I have moderate asthma and early COPD and burning candles or incense aggravates it. I bought a cool mist scented oil diffuser and a selection of inexpensive essential oils. It holds less than a cup of water and 2-3 drops oil. When I used it w/citrus oils I was coughing soon after use and the next day my lungs hurt and felt like I’d smoked a pack of cigs. Googling led me to some info that some (esp. citrus iirc) essential oils have volatile organic compounds that are bad news for asthma.

I asked my health professional at my asthma checkup why that bothers me but spraying on perfume doesn’t and she just shrugged and said probably the essential oils are cheaper and the perfume higher quality so I guess fewer impurities in your perfume?

Is there any safe way I can use a diffuser? I bought an inexpensive one but would be willing to spend more if it were safer for me. I could buy more spendy oils if that would be less irritating. If not, is there any way I can use these oils to enjoy the scents? I did read about putting a few drops on a cotton ball then putting that in the corner of the shower where the steam will release it but that’s a short time of use and I’m worried it will aggravate my asthma again. I'd like to be able to plug something in and enjoy it for the evening for example.

If there’s no safe for me to use them I’ll give it all to a friend or offer it on freecycle, but I wondered if anyone has any tips for me before I do that. Alternatively is there any safe way for me to enjoy scents w/o compromising my health? I love the aroma but not the hacking cough.
posted by RichardHenryYarbo to Health & Fitness (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I get asthma from diffusers, oils, sprays. I find super-scented spaces unpleasant for any length of time. At one point, I had a beautiful blooming hyacinth whose aroma was so strong I had to give it away. When I want to scent my house I put aromatic baking spices* in water and simmer on the stove. You can also get small pillows of balsam fir needles.

*cinnamon, clove, allspice, nutmeg, ginger, dried orange, lime, and/or lemon peel
posted by theora55 at 10:52 AM on August 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

No. Oils do not belong in your lungs at all, and they cause interstitial lung disease, per my Pulmonologist some time back. If it hurts don't do it. Essential oils are a multi level marketing scheme, and dangerous to the health of those who inhale them.
posted by Oyéah at 10:55 AM on August 27, 2017 [13 favorites]

I know fragrance-induced asthma is awful, and I'm not advocating experimenting with such a high cost of discomfort, but this:

I bought ... a selection of inexpensive essential oils

stood out to me. I think, as you surmised, that buying pure organics that are considered skin-safe in high concentrations (lavendar comes to mind) would be your best chance.
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 11:41 AM on August 27, 2017

Alternatively is there any safe way for me to enjoy scents w/o compromising my health? I love the aroma but not the hacking cough.

I can't speak to the diffuser, as someone with asthma too, that kind of thing always sets me off and I avoid them like the plague, the same way I avoid incense. But the way I do enjoy scents is a few ways:

1) what theora55 said above, about aromatic baking spices. My go to is usually mulling spices or some variant of that.
2) some candles - I have to be very careful here as a lot of candles will set off my asthma, and I definitely don't get the petroleum-based candles as those are just bad for everyone. Some of the lighter-scented beeswax candles seem to work best for me so you might try that.
3) Fresh flowers that are not the really strong-scented kind. I tend to like lavender for example, but I also wouldn't be able to deal with the hyacinth theora55 mentioned. Everyone is different with this so maybe experiment with it.
4) Baking. If you like that kind of thing of course.
5) This may be a weird one, but I have this pillow spray that smells lightly of lavender. It makes my bed/bedroom feel more relaxing.
6) Also a weird suggestion but - we have a dehydrator and when we dehydrate fruit, it makes our apartment smell amazing.
posted by FireFountain at 12:13 PM on August 27, 2017

Have you tried the diffusers where you put some water above a tea light, and put a drop of essential oil in the water, and then the heat of the tea light makes the essential oil smell nice? That is, was it the cool mist + the essential oil, or was it the essential oil itself? (Also, I probably wouldn't start with citrus. Maybe rosemary.) It's easy to buy this kind of diffuser (I have this one) but before you do so, maybe you can fake one with a tea light and a custard cup or something. (Put water to cover the bottom of the custard cup, put one or two drops of essential oil, then somehow balance the cup over the candle.)
posted by leahwrenn at 5:07 PM on August 27, 2017

I have asthma and I never go near incense, oil diffusers, or people with perfume. Frying hot peppers can make my lungs hurt the next day. I would find some other comforting thing that doesn't have any risk. Do you appreciate texture or sound?

The entire idea of a scent is that some particles are being carried in the air which, when you breathe them in, are being filtered by your sinuses and bronchial tubes and all that so that you only take in the good parts of the air. The fact that you can smell them is actually a sign that those particles exist; the fact that you enjoy it is a just a side effect. If you have chronic lung illness your filters don't work well, so why make them work harder?
posted by epanalepsis at 5:49 AM on August 28, 2017

Essential oils are a multi level marketing scheme

Essential oils have been around forever, and are sold in a million places that don't have anything to do with MLM. I agree that DoTerra, for instance, makes all kinds of unproven claims and is an MLM, but essential oils by themselves don't have anything to do with MLM.
posted by fiercecupcake at 11:48 AM on August 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

Thanks for the helpful answers. I always have fresh flowers, but generally they're not heavily scented. I also use a lavender spray on a tissue then put that on my pillow before going to bed (removed at bedtime), it lends a nice scent. I occasionally burn a scented candle, a few times a year and only for an hour or so.

I will def. start simmering some baking spices in the kitchen, those are usually nice and strong smelling. Great ideas, thanks again.
posted by RichardHenryYarbo at 4:36 PM on August 31, 2017

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