Ban perfume in hospital, urge doctors

Scents can cause asthma attacks, not just make them worse. Picture: Julie Howden
Scents can cause asthma attacks, not just make them worse. Picture: Julie Howden
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PUNGENT perfumes and whiffy aftershaves should be banned from hospitals because they can trigger asthma and allergies, according to doctors.

Three in ten people said they had some sensitivity to artificial scents worn by others and about quarter with asthma said that their condition was aggravated by exposure to such scents.

While many may be sceptical that such sensitivity exists, over half of asthma attacks were triggered by irritants which can include cigarette smoke, cleaning fluids, perfumes and strong odours.

But these irritants have been ignored as they were thought not to be disease-causing but rather disease-exacerbating.

In an editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, Dr Ken Flegel and Dr James Martin said: “A family of receptors has been identified on sensory nerves within the airways that react to noxious stimuli, causing cough and bronchospasm.”

They argued: “There are many practices that are acceptable outside hospitals – but not inside. One of these is the application of artificial scents to our bodies.

“While artificial scents are designed to make us more attractive, they may result in unintended harm to those who are vulnerable. There is emerging evidence that asthma in some cases is primarily aggravated by artificial scents. This is particularly concerning in hospitals, where vulnerable patients with asthma or other upper airway or skin sensitivities are concentrated.

“These patients may be involuntarily exposed to artificial scents from staff, other patients and visitors, resulting in worsening of their clinical condition.

“As patients, family members and emergency physicians will attest, the attacks can be quite sudden and serious. There is little justification for continuing to tolerate artificial scents in our hospitals.”

Other workers are protected against artificial scents and they added: “The high prevalence of asthma and its adverse effects on health and productivity argue strongly for greater consideration of the air we breathe in our healthcare centres.

“Hospital environments free from artificial scents should become a uniform policy, promoting the safety of patients, staff and visitors alike.

“As education and promotion programmes have some effect on this practice, these programmes too ought to be part of our accreditation standards.

“Until this happens, individual hospitals must take the lead.”