Damp housing, gas stoves, and the burden of childhood asthma in Australia

19 Apr Damp housing, gas stoves, and the burden of childhood asthma in Australia

Several indoor environmental risk factors can be associated with allergy and asthma prevalence. Combustion, the process of burning something, when done indoors produces the gases: nitrogen dioxide, and carbon monoxide. Investigations have shown the relationship between indoor combustion and the development or exacerbation of asthma. Sources of combustion in the home may include some heating devices and gas stoves used for cooking. A recent investigation by Dr Luke Knibbs of the University of Queensland aimed to determine the proportion of the national childhood asthma burden associated with exposure to dampness and gas stoves in Australian homes.

Dr Knibbs found that “12% of childhood asthma is attributable to exposure to gas stoves used for cooking, and eight percent is linked to household dampness”. He also says that cooking with gas releases chemicals such as nitrogen dioxide and formaldehyde, which causes inflammation in the airways and exacerbates asthma. “With 38 percent of Australian homes using natural gas for stovetop cooking, this is a common problem”.

Dr Knibbs says “Using high-efficiency range-hoods could reduce the amount of childhood asthma associated with gas stoves from 12 percent to just three percent”. “The preferred option is to make sure the range-hood is vented outdoors, rather than a hood that recirculates the air.  “Even in homes without a range-hood, opening windows during and after cooking can help reduce exposure”.

To help reduce the impact of damp environments he recommends more ventilation in houses (increasing fresh air), using room dehumidifiers, and limiting use of clothes dryers indoors.

The researchers concluded that the exposure to damp housing and gas stoves is common in Australia, and is associated with a considerable proportion of the childhood asthma burden. Strategies for reducing exposure to damp environments and gas combustion products should be communicated to parents of children with or at risk of asthma.