By: Lark Moderator / Knowledgeable Apr 21, 2013
Post # 2
Smoke from incense certainly can affect the respiratory system and some people who have respiratory problems such as asthma can't use incense at all.
To avoid problems as much as possible I would recommend using the best quality incense you can afford. The cheap stuff in the drug store, etc is full of chemical scents and is more likely to cause problems. Good grade incense that uses natural oils, etc is less likely (but still possible) to create respiratory issues.
Always use incense in a well-ventilated room. And if using loose incense only use a little at a time. The thicker the smoke from the incense the more likely it is to cause you problems.
There is some scientific evidence that long-term exposure to incense smoke (or any smoke for that matter) increases the chances of developing lung cancer. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/08/080825092345.htm
If the incense is too much for you or your respiratory system, you can get around the need for a "scent" in your practices by using warming oil or essential oils instead. Even fresh flowers work as a nice "scent" to put on your altar or to use in your practice. Depending on your path and how you prefer to practice, as well as your home situation, will depend on whether you would be better off with oils or flowers. If you have flowers nearby, they are the best to use, especially if you can grow them for this purpose. You can also extract the essential oils of the flowers you use and use them for different purposes.
Warming oil and essential oils are extremely easy to get a hold of, and can be found in places like Walmart, but they are fairly safer to handle than cheap incense, as they don't give off the smoke or the chemicals that the incense does. Essential oils used in a scentless warming oil or used in a small amount of water are perfect for use as a scent. Scentless warming oil is better, as the essential oil will sit on top of the water rather than mix within it, so it won't evaporate and scent the air as well.
I personally try to buy natural incense, however I use natural warming oil and essential oils far more often than incense, because it is more pure and therefore more "right" for my practice and path. What you do is up to you however.
I actually have asthma, and for the most part, unless I use too much or don't open a window, I'm generally unaffected by the smoke, though I do use higher grade, organic incense, like Lark pointed out.
But if you have sever respiratory problems, I'd go with Kebs advise. I've found that, not only do scented oils and warming oils give off a better smell with none of the smoke problem, the vapor of certain organically made ones(such as eucalyptus, honey suckle and sweet pea) actually help with my asthma.