Nov. 1, 1999 (Chicago) -- A common household appliance may be hazardous the health of asthmatics. A new study suggests that daily use of a gas stove may trigger asthma attacks in adults with the disease. Cooking with gas was also associated with more frequent visits to emergency rooms, to physicians, and to the hospital. But Mark D. Eisner, MD, who presented the findings here Monday at a meeting of lung specialists, says that the results are preliminary, and that people with asthma should wait for more information before replacing their stoves.
The symptoms of asthma -- wheezing and difficulty breathing -- can be triggered by exposure to irritants that cause the airways of the lungs to become partially obstructed. Triggers include allergens, air pollutants and irritants, smoking, respiratory infections, physical exertion, and cold weather.
In the study, Eisner and his colleagues conducted telephone interviews of 539 asthmatic adults in northern California. The respondents were asked about the type of cooking appliance they had, how often they used it, and how often they had to go to the emergency department, or to see their physicians, due to acute asthma. Eisner is a post-doctoral fellow in pulmonary and critical care medicine at the University of California-San Francisco.
"A substantial proportion of adults with asthma reported daily gas stove use (15%)," write Eisner and colleagues. "Daily gas stove users were more likely to report ... asthma-related emergency department visits, urgent physician visits, or hospitalizations than less frequent users and nonusers."
Daily users were twice as likely to visit the emergency room for asthma attacks as those who used gas stoves less frequently or not at all. Urgent visits to the doctor and hospitalizations for worsening asthma were also increased, but not as much -- just one-and-a-half times more than less frequent users and nonusers of gas stoves. "Adults with severe asthma should avoid exposure to indoor pollutants, including gas stove usage," the authors write.
However, cautions Eisner, these findings are highly preliminary. Investigators cannot yet explain why asthma attacks and gas stoves are linked; in fact, not all studies about these issues have shown an association, he says.
"Nobody should be replacing their [gas] stoves right now," Eisner tells WebMD. "For now, the issue of asthma and gas stoves is a research question. The dozen or so studies about gas stoves and asthma have been mixed. Half have shown an association, half have not. ... The association could be due to something else related to both asthma and gas stove usage."
For example, people with lower incomes are more likely to live in houses with gas stoves, and older homes are more likely to have gas stoves, he tells WebMD. Renters typically have little control over the type of cooking appliance in their residence, and for most homeowners, a stove is a major purchase.
Before anyone can recommend that people with asthma make demands on their landlords or on their own wallets for an electric stove, more research needs to be done, according to Eisner. "Two or three studies shouldn't make people act," he says. "We need to know more about the characteristics associated with people's choice of cooking appliance. This is still an inexact science."
For now, people with asthma, and their family members, will benefit most by controlling the indoor air factors known to worsen asthma, says Eisner. These include house dust mites, cat dander, tobacco smoke, and mold.