Damp and mould in homes causes asthma

Researchers at the University of Birmingham's Institute for Occupational and Environmental Medicine are citing damp and mould in homes as a cause of asthma. The study is published in the Environmental Health Perspectives journal and links the University of Birmingham with the University of Helsinki, Finland and the Diwan College, Taiwan.

The 6 year study followed 1,984 Finnish children aged 1 to 7 years to see if they developed asthma. Researchers recorded if a child's parents had asthma or allergies, and looked at the condition of their houses, noting histories of water damage, presence of moisture and visible moulds, and perceived mould odour in the home. A total of 138 children developed asthma, 7.2% of the study, with mould cited as a contributing factor independent of parents' medical histories.

Professor Jouni Jaakkola, Director of the University of Birmingham's Institute for Occupational and Environmental Medicine explains: "These finding strengthen evidence that exposure to moulds increases the risk of developing asthma in childhood. They also show the importance of heredity - children of parents with asthma have a two-fold risk of asthma compared with children of non-asthmatic parents".

He adds: "The results of this study are of interest in every country where housing stock is prone to damp, and add to previous studies linking asthma with chemicals and cigarette smoke. Simple ways to protect children against developing asthma include keeping damp and mould at bay, exposing children to fresh air, and never letting them breathe second hand cigarette smoke".

The University of Birmingham started to work in this area 70 years ago with the establishment of the Department of Industrial Hygiene and Medicine, and has changed emphasis along with changes in working life from the industrial revolution to today's mobile and dynamic workplace. As we are interested in the how the environment as a whole affects human health there is now more synergy between occupational and environmental health in research and teaching.

A recent study led by Prof Jouni Jaakkola identified jobs that put people at higher risk of developing adult asthma. Asthma risk was increased consistently in heavy industries such as chemical, rubber and plastic, and wood and paper. More nonindustrial employees such as waiters, laboratory technicians and dentists are also at risk. This study was the first to identify an increased risk of asthma among waiters and waitresses, likely to be explained by exposure to environmental tobacco smoke.

National Asthma Campaign statistics state that over 5.1 million people in the UK have asthma -around 1 in 13 adults.

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