Does Incense Affect Asthma

Although various indoor pollutants have received significant attention from the research community in general, this cannot be said for the effects of incense on human lungs and airways. However, recently two studies came out to suggest that burning incense may be related to a larger risk of getting asthma and may even be harmful for the lungs. Here we consider the implications of those findings.

The first study, which was a survey by Chest Research Foundation in India, included a total of 50 priests. The priests filled out a questionnaire and were given a spirometry test. According to the researchers nearly a quarter of the priests had obstructive airway diseases. In order to be more certain of these findings the researchers used a machine to capture the smoke from the incense stick. To their surprise the bottle was full of tar rather than dust. Based on this, the team urged for more research to be conducted to assess the effects of incense on lung health.

The second study, which was conducted by a team in the University of North Carolina, provided more robust evidence. In that study, the researchers put human lung cells in a chamber full of incense smoke. After that the lungs were incubated for 24 hours. The key findings indicated that the lung cells had an inflammatory response that is similar to the one found in lungs of individuals with respiratory problems. The researchers also analysed the smoke from the incense they had used in their study and suggested that carbon monoxide, formaldehyde and oxides of nitrogen were likely to have affected the inflammatory response of the lung cells.

Although the full details of both studies have not yet been published, the findings are intriguing. Given that incense is used more in some environments than others, we are not confident the researchers’ conclusions are telling the whole story. If the smoke from incense were directly related to poorer lung functioning, then individuals in countries such as United Arab Emirates would show a higher prevalence of respiratory illnesses. However, this is not the case. Moreover, it is likely that different types of incense contain different ingredients that may affect respiratory health in various ways. Having said this, we still feel that research could be useful to fully understand the potential relationship between lung health and incense smoke.

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