Study probes childhood asthma cause

gas burner alight on stove top

Childhood asthma in Australia is associated with gas stoves and damp houses, say University of Queensland researchers

Dr Luke Knibbs, from the Centre for Air Pollution, Energy and Health Research and UQ’s School of Public Health, led research that aimed to find the connection between childhood asthma and two common indoor exposures in homes.

“We found that 12% of childhood asthma is attributable to exposure to gas stoves used for cooking, and 8% is linked to household dampness,” Dr Knibbs says.

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

“With 38% of Australian homes using natural gas for stovetop cooking, this is a common problem.

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

“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.”

The study also identified the presence of dampness in 26% of Australian homes.

“Damp homes are quite common around Australia, and living in a damp home can adversely affect children’s lungs,” Dr Knibbs says.

“Simple ways to reduce dampness include better ventilating houses with fresh air (using open windows when conditions allow), using room dehumidifiers, and limiting use of clothes dryers indoors.

“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.

“The prevalence of asthma in Australia is among the highest in the world, and it’s a leading cause of illness in children.

“A coordinated national strategy is needed to increase awareness of indoor environmental exposures, such as gas stove emissions and dampness, and the different ways people can reduce exposure in the home.

The study, published in the Medical Journal of Australia, was partly funded by the Centre for Air Pollution, Health and Energy Research (CAR).

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1 Comment

  1. pagophilus

    I found this study interesting, however I do wonder how much we can generalize and apply from population-level data. If one reads the methods to see how prevalence of dampness and of gas stoves was determinde, it required a lot of data manipulation. Because raw data was not available (ie exactly how many houses were exposed and which of the houses exposed and not exposed had the outcome) estimating the Population Attributable Fraction was done by using summary statistics (eg mean, SD etc) and constructing a normal distribution and randomly drawing 10000 values from the distribution of the proportion of children exposed and combining it with a randomly selected value from the distribution of the effect estimate. Whilst this may be a neat mathematical procedure, how well does it relate to the underlying population and can we draw accurate conclusions from this? At best it gives us a staring point for further more accurate data collection.

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