Childhood asthma linked to 2 common household exposures

A significant proportion of childhood asthma in Australia is attributable to damp housing and use of gas cookers, new research suggests.

Using data from several peer-reviewed studies and the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Census, Queensland researchers have estimated that exposure to damp housing is associated with 8% of asthma in children. The use of gas stoves was associated with 12% of asthma cases.

The findings had implications for asthma prevention given that 26% of Australian homes are affected by dampness, according to study lead author Dr Luke Knibbs,  Senior Lecturer in Public Health at the University of Queensland .

“Most parents of children with asthma are aware of ways to minimise exposure to dust mites, pollen and animal hair through vacuuming and replacing carpets with hard flooring, but other indoor exposures are not as well recognised,” Dr Knibbs said of the MJA study findings.

Simple ways to reduce dampness could include better ventilation by opening windows, using room dehumidifiers and limiting use of clothes dryers indoors, he said.

Likewise, with almost 40% of Australian households using natural gas for stovetop cooking, there is potential to reduce exposure to another common asthma trigger, he added.

“Cooking with gas releases chemicals such as nitrogen dioxide and formaldehyde, which causes inflammation in the airways and exacerbates asthma.

“Using high-efficiency range-hoods could reduce the amount of childhood asthma associated with gas stoves from 12% to just 3%.

Gas cooker range-hoods should be vented outdoors rather than recirculate the air, and opening windows during and after cooking may help reduce exposure in homes without a range-hood, Dr Knibbs suggested.

“Given the degree of exposure to dampness and gas stoves in Australia, a national approach in the context of asthma prevention is required,” the study authors concluded

In an accompanying editorial, respiratory physician Professor Peter Sly and asthma researcher Professor Patrick Holt said climate change would worsen household dampness triggers for asthma by expanding zones of high ambient humidity.

“The situation can only be expected to get worse if we accept the current business-as-usual attitude and do not tackle climate change seriously,” they wrote

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