Air Quality, Atmosphere & Health

, Volume 12, Issue 4, pp 371–377 | Cite as

Chemical sensitivity, asthma, and effects from fragranced consumer products: National Population Study in the United Kingdom

  • Anne SteinemannEmail author


Consumer products, such as those with a fragrance, can adversely affect air quality and health. This national study in the United Kingdom (UK) investigated the prevalence of chemical sensitivity, a condition associated with chemical pollutant exposures, and the medical diagnosis of multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS). In addition, it investigated the co-occurrence of chemical sensitivity with asthma and asthma-like conditions, and with fragrance sensitivity (adverse health effects from fragranced consumer products). Using a nationally representative population sample (n = 1100), an online survey was conducted of adults in the UK, comprising England, Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland. The survey found that, across the UK population, 16.3% report chemical sensitivity; 6.6% medically diagnosed MCS; 25.3% are asthmatic, diagnosed with asthma (17.1%), an asthma-like condition (9.0%), or both; and 27.8% are fragrance sensitive. The conditions frequently co-occur: among the chemically sensitive, 57.0% are asthmatic and 77.7% are fragrance sensitive; and among asthmatics, 36.7% are chemically sensitive and 54.0% are fragrance sensitive. Air fresheners and deodorizers trigger health problems for 15.5% of the general population, 52.5% of chemically sensitive, and 38.8% of asthmatics. Disabling health problems can result from exposure to fragranced products for 41.7% of the chemically sensitive and 37.3% of asthmatics. Further, 21.2% of the chemically sensitive and 14.0% of asthmatics lost workdays or a job in the past year due to fragranced products in the workplace. Results indicate that chemical sensitivity is widespread in the UK, affecting over 5.7 million adults, with over 2.3 million diagnosed MCS, 8.9 million asthmatics, and 9.8 million fragrance sensitive. Reducing chemical exposure to problematic sources, such as fragranced consumer products, is a critical step to reduce adverse health and societal effects.


United Kingdom Chemical sensitivity Asthma Fragranced consumer product Fragrance Fragrance-free policy Indoor air quality 



I thank the reviewers of this article for their very helpful comments.

Supplementary material

11869_2018_655_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (54 kb)
ESM 1 (PDF 54 kb)
11869_2018_655_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (119 kb)
ESM 2 (PDF 119 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Infrastructure Engineering, Melbourne School of EngineeringThe University of MelbourneMelbourneAustralia
  2. 2.College of Science and EngineeringJames Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia

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