Indoor air pollution

Health effects

Acute lower respiratory infections

There is substantial evidence that exposure to smoke from the use of solid fuels in the home increases the risk of acute lower respiratory infections (ALRI) in young children, particularly pneumonia. Exposure to household air pollution accounts for more than half of deaths to childhood pneumonia in children under five years of age.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a progressive and incompletely reversible airflow obstruction. There is a substantial body of evidence showing that household air pollution is an important risk factor for such disease (and possibly the most important cause of COPD in non-smoking populations).

Lung cancer

Smoke from both coal and biomass contains substantial amounts of carcinogens (chemical substances known to increase the risk of cancer). A consistent body of evidence shows that individuals exposed to smoke from biomass and coal fires in the home have an elevated risk of lung cancer.

Cardiovascular Disease

Particulate matter is a health-damaging pollutant common to air pollution from different combustion sources including including ambient air pollution, second-hand smoke and active smoking. Recent epidemiological evidence from these combustion sources estimate the risk and mortality for ischaemic heart disease and stroke. These estimates have been applied to similar combustion sources from household energy use, to generate mortality estimates of ischaemic heart disease and strokes from household indoor air pollution.

Cataract

Cataract is the main cause of blindness of the adult population in developing countries. An increasing number of epidemiological studies and toxicological evidence provide good evidence that household solid fuel use for cooking is associated with cataract formation, especially among women.

Burns & poisonings

Fire-related burns from fuel use in low and middle income homes are an important cause of death, especially among children. Deaths are only part of the problem - for every child and adult person who dies from burns, many more are left with lifelong disabilities and disfigurements. A high proportion of these burns and scalds results from the dangers posed to children and women by solid fuel and kerosene stoves which are often located at floor level in poorly lit kitchens increasing the safety risk.

Poisoning is another previously underestimated health risk, which is posed by the unintentional ingestion of kerosene, particularly among young children. In low and middle-income countries kerosene is commonly bought and stored in soft drink or milk bottles, which explains this health risk and the need to protect children from this hazard.

Other health outcomes

There is emerging evidence which suggests that household air pollution in developing countries may also increase the risk of other important child and adult health problems, although this evidence is tentative and based on fewer studies. It includes conditions such as:

  • low birthweight and perinatal mortality (still births and deaths in the first week of life)
  • asthma
  • otitis media (middle ear infection) and other acute upper respiratory infections
  • tuberculosis
  • nasopharyngeal cancer
  • laryngeal cancer
  • cervical cancer
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