Incense burning indoors increases respiratory problems

incense burning health issues.

Burning incense, a common practice in many Middle Eastern homes, can cause health problems.

Incense is a common sight in many houses, particularly in the Middle East and parts of Africa. The custom of burning it at home may smell great, but the indoor pollutants it generates could cause lung inflammation, say researchers.

A new study, Hazard assessment of United Arab Emirates (UAE) incense smoke, published this month, links indoor incense burning with lung irritations and other health problems.

Previous studies have associated incense smoke with a number of health problems, such as eye, nose, throat and skin irritation, respiratory illnesses, asthma, headaches, exacerbation of cardiovascular conditions and changes to lung cell structure.

The World Health Organisation has declared indoor air pollution a global health concern, estimating more than one million people die each year from chronic obstructive respiratory disease (COPD), primarily a result of exposure to pollutants from cook stoves and open hearths. Burning incense releases similar pollutants, including carbon monoxide.

In this most recent study, scientists measured the particles and gasses emitted from two of the most common types of incense used in UAE homes (Oudh and Bakhoor). The inflammatory response of lung tissue exposed to incense smoke, a hallmark of asthma and other respiratory conditions, is similar to lungs exposed to cigarette smoke.

Incense is burned weekly in around 94 percent of households in the UAE to remove cooking odours and to perfume clothing and air. It is estimated that people in the UAE spend around 90 percent of their time indoors, meaning indoor air pollution is becoming a growing concern for authorities.

In addition, researchers noted the common practice of using charcoal briquettes to light incense further increase carbon monoxide concentrations.

If you do use incense in your home, the study authors recommend better ventilation when burning incense, for example, opening a window or a door to improve airflow. Using an alternative ignition source rather than charcoal, will help reduce carbon monoxide levels.

Image: Cary Bass (Self, own camera) [GFDL (