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Common Household Cleaners Can Trigger Asthma

Fume-Emitting Heaters Also Cited as Asthma Risks
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Aug. 25, 2004 -- Two new Australian studies show that many common household cleaners and appliances give off fumes, which can potentially increase the risk of developing asthma in children.

Asthma is the most common chronic childhood disease in the developed world. It has become more common in the last 30 years.

Most children who develop asthma have symptoms before they are 5 years old. It results in narrowing and inflammation of the airways in response to a trigger, which makes breathing difficult.

Public health professor Krassi Rumchev of Curtin University of Technology in Perth, Australia, and colleagues, conducted the first study.

Rumchev's team studied 192 children aged 6 months to 3 years; 88 had asthma and 104 did not.

The children's parents answered detailed questions about their children's health and allergy tests were done on the children.

At the children's homes, researchers measured levels of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, which are fumes that can be found in items such as cleaning products, paint, furnishings, polishes, and room fresheners. These fumes can irritate the airways causing narrowing and difficulty breathing.

The researchers also recorded indoor temperature and household humidity, which can affect asthma-triggering dust mites. Some children with asthma have "allergic asthma" meaning that allergens such as household mites or mold can make symptoms worse. Measurements were taken twice -- once in winter and once in summer -- to account for seasonal changes.

Levels of indoor VOCs were significantly higher in the children with asthma. Three VOCs in particular stood out: benzene, which had the highest risk, followed by ethylbenzene and toluene.

"For every 10-unit increase in the concentrations of toluene and benzene, the risk of having asthma increased by almost two and three times, respectively," write the researchers in the journal Thorax.

"Domestic exposure to VOCs at levels [even] below currently accepted recommendations may increase the risk of childhood asthma," write the researchers.

It's not that easy to get VOCs out of your house because they're found in many household products. VOCs may also be embedded in the house itself as part of the paint, flooring, or furniture.

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