Can using a range hood decrease your chance of having an asthma attack?

By Adem Lewis / in , , , , , , , , , , /

In the United States alone roughly 24 million
people, including 6 million children, have asthma, and air pollution is a known trigger
for asthma attacks. That’s because microscopic particles, called
particulate matter, float around in the air, get breathed in and irritate the airways. The most obvious air pollution, like city
smog or wildfire smoke, is outdoors, and being exposed to higher levels of outdoor particulate
matter is known to cause higher levels of asthma. That said, on average, Americans are spending
over 80% of their day indoors. So indoor air pollution is important to consider
as well. The most obvious cause of indoor air pollution
is second-hand smoke from cigarettes—which is a major risk factor for asthma—but it
can also come from dust, mold, pet dander, air conditioners, and cooking. Now, cooking habits differ from one region
to another. For example, cooking over open fires indoors
is common in some parts of the world, and improving ventilation in those situations
can improve asthma. But what about cooking over modern stovetops? Well, it turns out that cooking over a stovetop
definitely produces airborne particles—just consider what it’s like to clean grease
off the stovetop after cooking bacon. But is it enough particulate matter to trigger
asthma? Well, a study was done that looked at household
behaviors, particulate matter levels, and asthma severity. The study included 35 low-income households
in the San Francisco Bay Area that had children, between the ages of 6 and 10 years old, with
asthma, but no other major illness. To measure particulate matter levels, particle
sensors were placed in the main living area of each home and they measured the air every
five minutes over the course of a month. A temperature sensor was placed next to the
stove, to know when the stove was on, so that air quality in the living area could be compared
to stove use. Asthma severity was measured using standardized
interviews and by doing a medical chart review, also with spirometry which measures how well
your lungs work. The study also asked each household other
questions like whether or not they turned on the range hood when using the stove. So what did they find out? Well, of the 35 households, 29 said that they
used the ventilation hood at least some of the time when cooking over the stove. The other six did not. There were a lot of ways that the data was
looked at, but there were two observations that stuck out. First, for all homes there was a modest increase
in concentration of particulate matter in the air of about 1 𝝻g/m3 when someone was
cooking on the stove. Remember the particulate matter was being
measured in the living area, which was likely separate from the kitchen, so the particulate
matter in the kitchen was likely quite a bit higher. Second, households that used the range hoods
only spend about 1% of the time during the month with more than 35 𝝻g/m3 of particulate
matter in the air. This is considered a high concentration of
particulate matter by the Environment Protection Agency’s ambient air quality standards and
could be problematic for people with asthma. This is compared to households that did not
use range hoods that spent 9% of the time with more than 35 𝝻g/m3 of particulate
matter in the air. That was a significant difference. However, when the researchers looked to see
if asthma severity was linked to increases in particulate matter inside the home, there
was a promising trend, but there wasn’t enough data to show statistical significance. So what does this study tell us? Well, one thing that’s striking about this
study is that it only included 35 households and it’s often hard to show significant
differences in small samples like that. But even with this small sample, it’s clear
that range hoods over the stovetop appear to decrease the concentration of particulate
matter significantly. Now, although this study didn’t show a link
between cooking, using the range hood and asthma severity, it’s well known that increased
exposure to particulate matter in other environments, like smog in the outdoors or open-fire cooking
indoors, do lead to worse asthma symptoms. Also, using a range hood is essentially risk
free, so it may be a simple and underappreciated way to decrease particulate matter in the

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