Do Holiday Candles Make You Miserable?

Do you love candles but not the way they make you feel? Many people burn scented candles this time of year to fill their homes with the essence of pine trees, pumpkin pie, cinnamon, or gingerbread. And while the smells evoke the holiday spirit, they make some people miserable.


(Pixabay / GregMontani)

Negative Reactions to Candles

If candles irritate your health, you are in good company. Roughly 20 percent of people report negative reactions to scented candles. For those with asthma, that figure jumps to 30 percent. The most common symptoms associated with candles include:

  • Allergic rhinitis
  • Sinusitis
  • Irritated eyes
  • Headaches
  • Rashes (eczema, hives)
  • Coughing and labored breathing

Synthetic smells from candles are composed of a variety of chemicals. Some scents comprise literally hundreds of chemicals. Certain chemicals can stir up allergic reactions in some people.

A safe bet is to avoid holiday candles altogether. This can be tricky, though, if you end up at holiday parties where candles are burning strong. You may choose to leave the gathering or to alert your host about your aversion to candles.

If you enjoy candles yourself, consider the following options. With proper precautions, there may be a way to burn your candles and feel good, too.

  • Avoid paraffin candles, opting for soy candles instead. (Soy candles are often free of allergy-causing chemicals.)
  • Buy unscented or flameless candles. This will enable you to enjoy the ambience that candles bring without compromising your health. You might decide you like flameless candles better anyway. They’re safer and less messy.
  • Choose candles perfumed by essential oils rather than manufactured chemicals.
  • Choose “one-scent” candles. The big question is exactly what chemicals you are allergic to. In mixed-scent candles with dozens of chemicals, it’s virtually impossible to narrow that down. Single-scent candles, on the other hand, make it easier to use the process of elimination to figure out which chemicals are making you feel bad.

If you have ongoing allergic reactions to scented items, consider consulting an allergist for an allergy test. Your doctor may recommend an allergy treatment program using immunotherapy, a treatment to desensitize your body to environmental allergens and minimize your allergic reactions.

Doctors may prescribe sublingual immunotherapy (under-the-tongue drops) or subcutaneous immunotherapy (allergy shots). Both have been shown to be effective, but oral allergy drops are safer and often more convenient than allergy shots because they can be dosed at home.