The science behind air fresheners and coughing

Air fresheners are widely used to enhance the scent of indoor spaces and create a pleasant environment. However, there is growing concern about the potential health effects of these products, including the possibility of causing coughing. To understand whether air fresheners can actually cause coughing, it is important to examine the science behind their formulation and the chemicals they contain.

Air fresheners typically contain a combination of synthetic fragrances, solvents, and other additives. These fragrances are designed to release pleasant scents into the air, but they can also emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can have respiratory effects. Common VOCs found in air fresheners include formaldehyde, benzene, and toluene. These compounds can irritate the respiratory system, causing symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath.

Common coughing triggers in air fresheners

While air fresheners as a whole can potentially cause coughing, certain ingredients or components are more likely to be the culprits. Understanding these triggers can help individuals make informed choices when selecting air fresheners for their home or workplace.
A common trigger is the presence of artificial fragrances. Synthetic fragrances often contain a mixture of chemicals, some of which may be respiratory irritants. These irritants can directly stimulate the cough reflex in individuals who are sensitive or have underlying respiratory conditions.

In addition to fragrances, other ingredients such as solvents and propellants may contribute to coughing. Some air fresheners use aerosol sprays or contain volatile solvents to disperse the fragrance. These substances can release fine particles that irritate the respiratory system, causing coughing or other respiratory symptoms.

Individual sensitivities and pre-existing conditions

It is important to recognize that individual sensitivities and pre-existing respiratory conditions play a significant role in determining whether air fresheners will cause coughing. People with asthma, allergies or other respiratory conditions may be more sensitive to the irritants in air fresheners.
In addition, some people may have specific sensitivities to certain fragrance ingredients or chemicals commonly found in air fresheners. For example, studies have shown that formaldehyde, a common VOC found in air fresheners, may cause respiratory symptoms in sensitive individuals.

Individuals with pre-existing respiratory conditions or sensitivities are advised to consult a healthcare professional before using air fresheners. Identifying potential triggers and taking appropriate measures can help minimize the risk of coughing or other adverse reactions.

Tips to minimize coughing from air fresheners

If you enjoy using air fresheners but want to minimize the risk of coughing or respiratory discomfort, here are some tips to consider:

  1. Choose natural or fragrance-free air fresheners: Look for products that use natural fragrances derived from essential oils or those labeled as fragrance-free, as they are less likely to contain respiratory irritants.
  2. Use alternative air freshening methods: Consider using natural alternatives such as opening windows, using houseplants to purify the air, or using baking soda to absorb odors.
  3. Provide proper ventilation: When using air fresheners, make sure the room is well ventilated to allow fresh air to circulate and reduce the concentration of potentially harmful compounds.
  4. Read labels and choose wisely: Look for ingredient lists and choose air fresheners that disclose their ingredients and avoid those with known irritants or allergens.
  5. Do a patch test: When trying a new air freshener, do a patch test by spraying a small amount in an inconspicuous area of the room and observe if it causes coughing or respiratory symptoms before using it extensively.


Air fresheners have the potential to cause coughing, particularly in individuals with sensitivities or underlying respiratory conditions. The presence of synthetic fragrances and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in these products can irritate the respiratory system and cause symptoms such as coughing or wheezing.
However, by understanding the science behind air fresheners, identifying common triggers and considering individual sensitivities, it is possible to minimize the risk of coughing and respiratory discomfort. By opting for natural or fragrance-free alternatives, ensuring proper ventilation, and making informed choices, individuals can create a comfortable indoor environment without compromising their respiratory health.


Can air fresheners cause coughing?

Air fresheners have the potential to cause coughing in some individuals. While not everyone may experience this reaction, certain ingredients commonly found in air fresheners, such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and fragrance chemicals, can be irritants to the respiratory system and trigger coughing in sensitive individuals.

What are volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in air fresheners?

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are chemicals that easily evaporate at room temperature. They are commonly found in many household products, including air fresheners. VOCs can be released from air fresheners and contribute to indoor air pollution. Some VOCs, such as formaldehyde and benzene, have been associated with respiratory irritation and can potentially cause or exacerbate coughing.

Are there specific air freshener ingredients that can cause coughing?

Yes, certain ingredients commonly found in air fresheners can be potential triggers for coughing. These include fragrance chemicals, formaldehyde, benzene, toluene, and limonene. Fragrance chemicals, in particular, can be a major source of respiratory irritation for some individuals and may lead to coughing.

Can individuals with respiratory conditions be more sensitive to air fresheners?

Yes, individuals with pre-existing respiratory conditions such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) may be more sensitive to the irritants present in air fresheners. Their airways are already inflamed or compromised, and exposure to the chemicals in air fresheners can further exacerbate their respiratory symptoms, including coughing.

What steps can be taken to reduce the risk of coughing from air fresheners?

To reduce the risk of coughing from air fresheners, consider the following steps:
– Opt for natural alternatives such as essential oils or homemade air fresheners.
– Choose air fresheners labeled as “fragrance-free” or “unscented” as they may contain fewer irritants.
– Ensure good ventilation by opening windows or using ventilation systems to improve air circulation.
– Limit the use of air fresheners in closed spaces, especially those inhabited by individuals with respiratory conditions.
– If you experience persistent coughing or other respiratory symptoms, consult a healthcare professional for advice.