Common Fumes Cause Asthma?

Could it be that how you clean or how you decorate your home might influence whether your child develops asthma? Could the smell of new wall-to-wall carpets be linked to asthma risk? A provocative study in the September 2004 issue of Thorax suggests there is a strong connection. Researchers from Australia analyzed air quality inside children’s homes, including temperature, humidity, and the presence of chemicals in the air.

The young children exposed to high levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the air were four times more likely to develop asthma. VOCs are chemicals that release fumes. They are found in many solvents, cleaning products, air fresheners, polishes, adhesives, paints, and new fitted carpets (as well as in tobacco smoke). VOCs are also found in some new pieces of furniture. The ‘new’ smell may be a bad smell. The three VOCs with the biggest impact in the study were benzene (with the highest risk), followed by ethylbenzene and toluene. Every 10-unit increase of toluene in the home air doubled the risk of asthma; each similar increase in benzene tripled it.

We already knew that these fumes could trigger wheezing in people with asthma. This study goes further, suggesting that the fumes can cause lung damage resulting in asthma. Getting asthma depends on a combination of inheritance and exposures. While many diseases are becoming less common, asthma continues to increase each year. It has already become the most common chronic disease in children. Reducing exposure to VOCs in your home might be one way you can lessen your child’s risk of developing asthma.

Published on: August 26, 2004
About the Author
Photo of Alan Greene MD
Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
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