On Holiday Candles and Asthma


And now, in this series of posts about asthma during the winter holidays, we need to talk about candles. I took this photo last night after getting Asthma Girl and her erstwhile sidekick into bed last night and thought, *Maybe the Internet folks are not terribly interested in photos of Christmas stuff in your home.*

Then I thought, *Well, but I need to SHOW rather than TELL, according to all those middle school English teachers.*

And then I thought, *I have to stop thinking about this.*

Before we get into the links, the research, the discussion of trigger avoidance vs. sticking Asthma Girl in a bubble, let me note that part of the reason I’m so torn over all these issues is that, of everyone in my family, AG is the biggest sucker for ambiance, special occasions, and all things decorative.

Host a holiday dinner, birthday party, or other special event in my house and AG will try to fancy it up in some way, but since my extremely casual household lacks even a tablecloth, she is usually terribly, terribly disappointed in me. So when we do use the fireplace, she wants to light the candles as well. And play Christmas music. And possibly even change into a more festive outfit.

Isn’t it ironic and just like freaking life that the person who loves this stuff the most has the highest risk of health complications from it? Especially since I never want to say, *We can’t have that because of YOUR ASTHMA.*

And so, the candles. It’s not nearly as complex an issue as the fireplace one. There are three main points to remember about candles.

Unscented, Unscented, Unscented
Unless you are absolutely certain of each and every one of your kid’s triggers and/or allergens, you probably want to avoid scented candles. Even if your child doesn’t have allergies, remember that any strong smell innocuous to most people–perfumes, room fresheners, etc.–can irritate an asthmatic’s overly sensitive airways. Of course, if you burn scented candles all the time and your asthmatic never flares or experiences a reduced peak flow, you already know it’s not an issue. Remain observant, though, since adults and children can develop new allergies at any time in their lives.

Non-Lead Wicks
The U.S. banned lead-core wicks in 2003 according to the National Candle Association, but I can find no other evidence of similar bans in other countries (Non-U.S. readers, if you send me links of these, I’ll post them.)

Know why lead-core wicks are dangerous? Because lighting them emits lead fumes into the air. Nice, huh? Since we import many, many goods–including candles–from other countries, always double check your labels, no matter where you buy them.

No conclusive evidence proves the small amount of soot all candles produce as harmful to asthmatics. Still, the National Candle Association recommends that all people burn candles cleanly and efficiently by making sure the wick is only 1/4 inch long and only using candles in draft-free areas. You can tell your candle is burning properly if the flame holds a steady teardrop shape. Any flickering or sputtering indicates disturbance, meaning the candle is releasing soot.

Research does show a clear link between particle pollution and increased asthma attacks, and the EPA’s AIRNow site lists candles as a source of particle pollution.

Limiting overall particle pollution load in your home is the key here, so my solution is to burn my unscented candles sometimes, just not frequently.

Wanna read more in this holiday series? Check these out:

On Fireplaces, Christmas, and Asthma

Making my Fireplace Asthma-Friendly

17 responses to “On Holiday Candles and Asthma”

  1. Freadom says:

    I did not know that about lead in candles. I wonder how much lead we breathed in as kids.

  2. Asthma Mom says:

    It’s scary, isn’t it? All the stuff we know NOW about what we were exposed to as kids. On the other hand, overall pollution was lower for us than it is for children now—there’s always something to worry about, isn’t there?

  3. asthmagirl says:

    The candle thing is true for me, as is scent and all the other items you mentioned. I didn’t get asthma until I was 44, for which I’m grateful. But it has definitely changed my life.

  4. Maggie says:

    Just purchased UNSCENTED candle tapers Over the Internet. Stench triggered my asthma, spent last night in ED. US Candle claims its because they make scented & unscented candles in the same room. Hence the are not unscented & will trigger anyone sensitive.

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