P.E.I. woman with asthma says scented cleaners, disinfectants make it worse

An Islander suffering from asthma says strongly scented cleaners make it hard for her to breathe and she's urging businesses to consider using fragrance-free products.

'They struggle to breathe and that is not something we want'

'You’re getting a stronger scent,' says Nancy Riley from Cornwall, P.E.I. 'Since everybody is using the antibacterial products and the scented cleaners over and over again.' (Submitted by Nancy Riley )

When Nancy Riley, who suffers from bronchial asthma, walked into an appointment earlier this month, the building was quiet and the room was still being sanitized.

All for her protection amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

"As I walked through, the person in the office where I was going was wiping everything down," she said. "The scent was just outrageous.

"I started choking and coughing and I couldn't breathe."

Whenever possible, just use good old fashioned soap and hot water.​​​​— Robert MacDonald, P.E.I. Lung Association— Robert MacDonald, P.E.I. Lung Association

Riley has had asthma for as long as she can remember, but she said this is the worst it's ever been because of the increased use of scented cleaners and antibacterial products.

"It takes my breath away," she said.

"Going into a store or a business that uses them constantly, that is what bothers me. I don't even like even leaving the house."

'Struggle to breathe'

Riley said for her, it's mostly the use of scented cleaners that make breathing difficult. The P.E.I. Lung Association said perfumes, air fresheners, deodorizers, candles and laundry detergents can also have an impact.

"When it comes to lung health, they can be triggers for people that are dealing with lung diseases such as asthma or COPD," said Robert MacDonald, president of the P.E.I. Lung Association. 

"Even prior to this pandemic, we've always strongly recommended that people, whenever possible, just use good old-fashioned soap and hot water."

'Less is more when it comes to scents,' says Robert MacDonald, the president of the P.E.I. Lung Association. (Nova Scotia Lung Association )

MacDonald said while he has not received much feedback about how people are handling the scents associated with extra cleaning, "it's extremely important" Islanders remain aware of the potential implications.

There are also websites that provide information on alternate solutions. 

"A trigger can cause a flare-up, an exacerbation," he said. "Or they struggle to breathe and that is not something we want lung patients to be dealing with when they are around scents."

Urging businesses to go scent free

Riley said she doesn't think she'll get used to the increase of smells anytime soon. She is still looking for solutions that could help, beyond carrying her puffer at all times.

"Well, I try to make myself cough or I just sort of try to hold my breath," she said.

"Sometimes I think, 'OK I know it's going to smell over there when I walk by again. I just won't breathe while I walk by.'"

The P.E.I. Lung Association says strongly-scented products can cause cause headaches, dizziness and flare-ups for people with asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. (CBC)

Riley said some stores are better than others when it comes to strong scents. By sharing her experiences, she is hoping it might convince more business managers to avoid highly scented products.

"Be cautious of, you know, overusing scented antibacterial products because of your customers and their breathing problems," she said.

"They have to realize some people can't handle that."

More from CBC P.E.I. 


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