Bukhoor, the Arabian incense used to perfume clothes and the house. Researchers cautioned residents, who burn incense, about the potential risk to the lungs. Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

Dubai: Residents who burn incense such as oud and bakhoor in their homes — a cultural practice — have been cautioned about the potential risk of inflammation of the lungs.

The warning is the outcome of a study released in August, which analysed pollutants from two kinds of typical incense — oud and bakhoor — used in homes in the UAE.

Experts in the UAE shared the concern with a senior official from the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) — urging improved ventilation when incense is burned, especially if exposure is longer than two to three hours per day.

The researchers of the ‘Hazard assessment of United Arab Emirates (UAE) incense smoke’ study analysed the smoke — both particulate concentrations and levels of gases such as carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen and formaldehyde were found.

After 24 hours the human lung cells showed an inflammatory response, a hallmark of asthma and other respiratory problems similar to that of lung cells exposed to cigarette smoke.

Researchers found that both types of incense emitted significant amounts of particles, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, and oxides of nitrogen, resulting in the cellular inflammatory response.

According to researchers, the results are worrying because about 94 per cent of households in the UAE burn incense (to perfume clothing and air and to remove cooking odours), and because people spend more than 90 per cent of their time indoors.

Indoor air pollution is a concern, said Dr Bassam Mahboub, consultant respiratory physician at Rashid Hospital under the DHA.

Speaking to Gulf News, Dr Mahboub said: “If the exposure of burning incense is longer than two to three hours per day, residents should take measures to increase ventilation in homes. Heavy exposure and for long durations can cause permanent damage. Our studies in the UAE found that bakhoor and other scents are irritants for asthmatic people.”

Lalit Uchil, specialist physician and medical director, Mediclinic, Al Sufouh, Dubai, told Gulf News that incense smoke is linked to various health hazards that affect the eyes, nose, throat and skin.

“The fumes can cause respiratory symptoms, including asthma, headaches and worsen symptoms for those who suffer from allergies.”

Indoor pollutants like dust mites, fumes from the kitchen stove and other household chemicals such as cleaning products can aggravate allergic symptoms in both children and adults, he added.