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10 Serious Side Effects Of Burning Incense Sticks

Incense sticks come with a whole host of health risks such as genetic mutations, lung cancer, asthma and other respiratory diseases, leukemia, heart disease, skin irritation, and neurological problems. Other types of incense sticks such as citronella and sandalwood are just as harmful. Products marketed as "herbal incense" which are meant to be smoked, can cause adverse physical reactions.

If you use incense regularly to make your house smell better, for meditation, or for spiritual purposes, you might want to reconsider. While incense smells great and gives you a pleasant feeling, it’s not a great idea to use it excessively. Here are a few reasons why incense is bad for you.

1. Is Toxic To Cells

When incense is burnt, it produces a lot of air pollutants and harmful chemical substances. The most prominent among these is particulate matter, which is highly toxic to cells. It can change genetic material like DNA, which eventually leads to mutations.1 These mutations are largely responsible for the development of various kinds of cancer.

2. Affects The Respiratory Tract

A lot of people cough or sneeze when incense sticks are burnt. This is because incense smoke contains a lot of respiratory irritants that cause discomfort. Some types of incense have been proved to be more toxic for the lungs than cigarette smoke due to the higher amounts of particulate matter.2 Incense smoke can also make its way deep into your airways because it has finer particles than cigarette smoke.

3. Causes Lung Cancer

Many of the air pollutants produced when incense is burnt are cancer causing. These pollutants tend to cause irritation in the lungs and also affect health in general. Research suggests that exposure to them in close quarters for a long duration is likely to increase the chance of lung cancer.3 However, this has been confirmed only for Chinese men who are smokers.

[Also Read: Exercises To Increase Lung Strength And Capacity]

4. Increases Asthma Symptoms

Incense burning produces air pollutants and irritants, which are among the primary causes of asthma; the increase in exposure to these results in aggravated asthma symptoms due to the inflammation of lung cells. So, frequent exposure to incense smoke increases existing symptoms of asthma such as wheezing and cough.4

[Also Read: Cold Induced Asthma: Causes and Prevention]

5. Results In Contact Dermatitis

If you are allergic to pollutants and irritants in the air, chances are burning incense sticks will affect you. When incense is burnt, the particulate matter and other allergens produced interact with the skin and get dissolved in the sebum – an oily substance secreted by the skin for lubrication. This, in turn, results in skin allergies or contact dermatitis.5 The allergens produced also heighten the levels of blood immunoglobulin E (IgE) – antibodies produced by your body in response to allergens – which is also an indicator of contact dermatitis.

[Also Read: Home Remedies To Treat Skin Allergies]

6. Affects Babies And Children

In general, constant exposure to incense smoke is never a good idea. So, it’s definitely a good choice to stay away from it when you’re pregnant. Inhaling incense smoke is likely to put the health of your baby at risk. Research suggests a likelihood of children developing leukemia if their mothers were around incense regularly while pregnant.6 The possibility of gene mutations contributes to this.

7. Creates Nerve Problems

Studies show that burning incense indoors greatly increases the concentration of carbon monoxide. Chronic exposure to incense sticks could cause neurological problems. This means that it could result in memory loss and impaired learning abilities.7

8. Causes Headaches

Even with low concentrations of carbon monoxide, doctors note that exposure can result in headaches, nausea, dizziness, and general discomfort. That’s far from the peaceful, calming, spiritual effects that most people associate with incense.8

9. Can Cause COPD

Multiple studies note that women from cultures that regularly burn incense at home develop COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).9 This is a heart disease that normally occurs among smokers. This finding coincides with other studies which suggest that incense smoke is in fact as harmful, if not more, than cigarette smoke.10

10. Affects Cardiovascular Health

Research has confirmed that those who use incense sticks at home regularly are 12% more likely to die of heart problems. They were also 19% more likely to have a stroke and 10% more likely to develop coronary heart disease.11 These were mostly people who had burned incense at home every day for more than 20 years.

Risks Of Using Different Types Of Incense Sticks

  • Citronella Incense Sticks: While incense sticks like those of citronella are recommended as mosquito repellents, it is best not to use them in excess. Citronella incense sticks have the highest amount of suspended particulate matter and are hence likely to contribute to respiratory disorders.12
  • Sandalwood Incense Sticks: Incense containing sandalwood is as harmful as regular incense sticks. They contain the same cell-damaging substances which cause genetic mutations.13
  • Herbal Incense Sticks: There is a market that sells “herbal incense” meant for smoking. These drugs are sold under the pretense of having the same effects as marijuana but on a legal market. These drugs, however, are not regulated and users have reported palpitations, panic attacks, paranoia, psychosis, and loss of consciousness. It’s strongly recommended that you stay away from any kind of drug marketed as herbal incense.

Frequent exposure to any kind of incense stick for long durations can affect your health, so it’s best to avoid the use as far as possible. If you have lung problems, avoid using incense. It is also recommended that you reduce the amount of time you’re exposed to incense and ensure sufficient ventilation while burning incense at home.

References   [ + ]

1. Lin, Ta-Chang, Guha Krishnaswamy, and David S. Chi. “Incense smoke: clinical, structural and molecular effects on airway disease.” Clinical and Molecular Allergy 6, no. 1 (2008): 3.
2. Zhou, R., Q. An, X. W. Pan, B. Yang, J. Hu, and Y. H. Wang. “Higher cytotoxicity and genotoxicity of burning incense than cigarette.” Environmental Chemistry Letters 13, no. 4 (2015): 465-471
3. Tse, Lap Ah, Ignatius Tak-sun Yu, Hong Qiu, Joseph Sui Kai Au, and Xiao-rong Wang. “A case-referent study of lung cancer and incense smoke, smoking, and residential radon in Chinese men.” Environmental health perspectives 119, no. 11 (2011): 1641
4. Wang, I-Jen, Ching-Hui Tsai, Chang-Hao Chen, Kuan-Yen Tung, and Yungling L. Lee. “Glutathione S-transferase, incense burning and asthma in children.” European Respiratory Journal 37, no. 6 (2011): 1371-1377
5. Hayakawa, Ritsuko, Kayoko Matsunaga, and Yaeno Arima. “Depigmented contact dermatitis due to incense.” Contact dermatitis 16, no. 5 (1987): 272-274.
6. Lowengart, Ruth A., John M. Peters, Carla Cicioni, Jonathan Buckley, Leslie Bernstein, Susan Preston-Martin, and Edward Rappaport. “Childhood leukemia and parents’ occupational and home exposures.” Journal of the National Cancer Institute 79, no. 1 (1987): 39-46.
7. Penney, David, Vernon Benignus, Stylianos Kephalopoulos, Dimitrios Kotzias, Michael Kleinman, and Agnes Verrier. “Carbon monoxide.” (2010).
8. Lin, Ta-Chang, Guha Krishnaswamy, and David S. Chi. “Incense smoke: clinical, structural and molecular effects on airway disease.” Clinical and Molecular Allergy 6, no. 1 (2008): 3.
9. Al-Kassimi, Feisal A. “The dangers of incense burning: COPD in Saudi Arabia.” International journal of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease 8 (2013): 251.
10. Cohen, Rebecca, Kenneth G. Sexton, and Karin B. Yeatts. “Hazard assessment of United Arab Emirates (UAE) incense smoke.” Science of the total environment 458 (2013): 176-186.
11. Pan, An, Maggie L. Clark, Li-Wei Ang, Mimi C. Yu, Jian-Min Yuan, and Woon-Puay Koh. “Incense use and cardiovascular mortality among Chinese in Singapore: the Singapore Chinese Health Study.” Environmental health perspectives 122, no. 12 (2014): 1279.
12. Kumar, Raj, Nitesh Gupta, Deepak Kumar, Anil Kumar Mavi, Kamal Singh, and Manoj Kumar. “Monitoring of indoor particulate matter during burning of mosquito coil, incense sticks and dhoop.” Indian Journal of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology 28, no. 2 (2014): 68
13. Zhou, R., Q. An, X. W. Pan, B. Yang, J. Hu, and Y. H. Wang. “Higher cytotoxicity and genotoxicity of burning incense than cigarette.” Environmental chemistry letters 13, no. 4 (2015): 465-471.

Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.