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Open Access Highly Accessed Review

Incense smoke: clinical, structural and molecular effects on airway disease

Ta-Chang Lin12*, Guha Krishnaswamy3 and David S Chi3

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Environmental Engineering, National Cheng Kung University, Tainan, Taiwan

2 Sustainable Environment Research Center, National Cheng Kung University, Tainan, Taiwan

3 Department of Internal Medicine, James H. Quillen College of Medicine, East Tennessee State University, Johnson City, TN, USA

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Clinical and Molecular Allergy 2008, 6:3  doi:10.1186/1476-7961-6-3

Published: 25 April 2008

Abstract

In Asian countries where the Buddhism and Taoism are mainstream religions, incense burning is a daily practice. A typical composition of stick incense consists of 21% (by weight) of herbal and wood powder, 35% of fragrance material, 11% of adhesive powder, and 33% of bamboo stick. Incense smoke (fumes) contains particulate matter (PM), gas products and many organic compounds. On average, incense burning produces particulates greater than 45 mg/g burned as compared to 10 mg/g burned for cigarettes. The gas products from burning incense include CO, CO2, NO2, SO2, and others. Incense burning also produces volatile organic compounds, such as benzene, toluene, and xylenes, as well as aldehydes and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). The air pollution in and around various temples has been documented to have harmful effects on health. When incense smoke pollutants are inhaled, they cause respiratory system dysfunction. Incense smoke is a risk factor for elevated cord blood IgE levels and has been indicated to cause allergic contact dermatitis. Incense smoke also has been associated with neoplasm and extracts of particulate matter from incense smoke are found to be mutagenic in the Ames Salmonella test with TA98 and activation. In order to prevent airway disease and other health problem, it is advisable that people should reduce the exposure time when they worship at the temple with heavy incense smokes, and ventilate their house when they burn incense at home.