Domestic fires can affect more than just kids’ breathing

Press Release – University of Auckland

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 19, 2018

Domestic fires can affect more than just children’s breathing

New Zealand research just published in the European Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (Allergy) has found that smoke from domestic fires may cause not only respiratory diseases in children, but skin conditions too.

New analysis of data gathered by the University of Auckland’s Growing Up in New Zealand study shows that children living in neighbourhoods where there are more wood or coal fire-heated houses may be at greater risk of skin diseases as well as respiratory diseases. This indicates a need for parents to think again about a wood or coal fire, especially if the neighbours have domestic fires too.

Researcher Dr Hakkan Lai examined data from nearly 3,500 of the more than 6,500 study children and led the analysis with guidance from Professor Cameron Grant, Head of the Department of Paediatrics at the University of Auckland’s Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences.

The investigators found children were more likely to be prescribed respiratory and skin medications if they lived in areas with a larger number of wood or coal fire-heated homes. They also found that it was smoke emitted from neighbouring chimneys, rather than from the chimney in the child’s own home, that posed the greatest risk – contributing more to the pollution of air in a child’s home.

“While it’s been known that respiratory diseases may be triggered by wood smoke, the concept that neighbourhoods with high emissions of wood or coal smoke might trigger skin diseases is relatively new to science,” says Dr Lai. “There have been limited studies about this internationally – around four – and their focus was on indoor wood or coal heating in the child’s own home, rather than their neighbourhood.

“But what we know is that the concentration of smoke tends to be very low below the chimney the smoke has come from, increasing the further you move away from that chimney. If you multiply the height of the chimney by ten and then move that distance horizontally, that’s where the smoke will actually be most concentrated.”

The research found that in their first four years of life, 40 percent of the children received respiratory medication prescriptions, 71 percent received skin medication prescriptions and 79 percent received either respiratory or skin medication prescriptions during the cooler season. Most of the skin medication prescriptions were for the treatment of atopic dermatitis, or eczema.

The findings suggest that high densities of residential fires could be creating significant health problems for children, particularly as housing density increases.

“It’s crucial for the health of our most vulnerable New Zealanders that we use wood burners responsibly and continue adopting cleaner forms of home heating in New Zealand, such as heat pumps and pellet burners,” says Dr Lai.

ENDS

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