The Gulf countries are one of the world’s top importers of oud, the famous Middle Eastern incense perfume. Yet, the amount of money spent on these scents is not the only loss.
Recent studies warn that oud could cause asthma attacks and respiratory diseases, leading physicians to begin considering this incense a noxious substance for the health.
Statistics say that around 95 percent of oud is being burnt in the Gulf, with Saudis spending more than SR2.6 billion on this pungent perfume. Yet, experts warn, the pleasant smell could pose serious risks for those who enjoy its soft, but woody fragance.
A new Taiwanese study linked burning oud to children’s asthma and stated that a gene variant could be involved. The study pointed out that a genetic susceptibility and continuos exposure to incense burning may increase some children’s asthmatic risk.
The results stated that children whose parents burned incense, were 36 percent more likely to have chronic asthma, and that 64 percent were more susceptible to having breathing difficulties when they exercised.
Another study released in August 2013 about the dangers of oud scent in the UAE said that burning incense might lead to the formation of air pollutants indoors, thus causing lung inflammation.
To make matters worse, some oud merchants are cheating their clientele by mixing lead with oud to increase its weight, a practice specialists believe to be extremely dangerous for the health.
Experts told Arab News that lead is a toxic substance that could cause damages in the body and lead to nerve inflammation or paralysis, abdominal pain and blood poisoning. They explained that the duration of exposure is the important factor even if the percentage of lead was small because it could accumulate in the body and cause chronic poisoning.
Dr. Tarek Al-Azraqi, infectious diseases consultant at Asir Central Hospital, explained that there are some kinds of incense that contain chemical compounds and may cause serious pulmonary inflammation, particularly if these materials were adulterated. Some pollutants such as dust, chemicals and dirt can enter the body through the breathing air if these substances had a certain density and size and could harm the respiratory system, he said.
He added that oud burning is considered a social habit in the Kingdom, yet the burning process could result more than the desired scent. “Carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and many other components can emit from the fire similar to materials resulting from burning cigarettes and fires,” Al-Azraqi explained.
Dr. Wafa Al-Muraidef, expert in children’s respiratory diseases, has a slightly different opinion. She said that there are multiple types of incense that couldn’t be put under scrutiny, while according to her there aren’t any studies so far, linking oud burning to pulmonary fibrosis.
“These materials can have different influences on different people. In general those who suffer asthma or allergies and children are usually the most affected by environmental stimulus like oud and others,” she said, advising people who suffer from these problems to stay away from all things that might aggravate their system