Terpenes, sometimes spelled as Thymes, is an aromatic group of organic substances consisting of aromatic chemicals having the structure molecule of cationic aromatic hydrocarbons. Comprising more than thirty thousand different aromatic chemicals, these organic substances are made primarily by aromatic plants, particularly coniferous plants. In recent years, the use of terpenes has been widely used as an antiseptic and as an antimicrobial and has proved very useful in the treatment of infectious diseases. This natural substance can also be found in some cosmetics, including shampoos and conditioners for hair. However, it is unknown whether these products are acting as allergens or if they are causing irritation.
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Terpenes play an important role in the aromatherapy, the discipline concerned with identifying the essential scents of plants and determining that they are and their components. The role of terpenes in the aromatic chemistry and the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) of plant aromatic chemicals is being investigated intensively both in terms of the chemistry of their compounds and in terms of their action on biological entities. Terpenes have proved to be potent allergens and provoke allergic reactions in some people. Studies indicate that exposure to minute quantities of terpenes results in a strong sensitizer reaction that is characterized by sneezing, itchy eyes, a scratchy throat, difficulty in swallowing and increased pulse rates.
This is the first study to link terpenes with human allergic behavior. The researchers found that the essential oils of Eucalyptus that are released in the essential oil of this tree trigger the immunosuppression factor that causes sneezing when these oils are inhaled by humans. The level of immunosuppression induced by the oil reduces the chances of airborne bacteria adhering to the skin surface. It seems that the volatile oil component of the Eucalyptus, responsible for causing the allergic symptoms is responsible for triggering the hypersensitive response. Further studies are underway to determine whether other plants in the same family may also elicit similar allergic responses.