Setting: Indoor air pollution from burning of biomass fuel in open fires is a known risk factor for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in developing countries.
Objective: To estimate the prevalence of respiratory symptoms and lung function among women in rural Guatemala and to describe the methods and practical issues associated with the assessment of respiratory health.
Design: Information about respiratory symptoms, lung function and individual measurement of exposure was collected cross-sectionally among 350 Mayan-Indian women aged 15-50 years who used traditional open fires.
Results: These women, exposed to indoor air pollution since birth, had a relatively high prevalence of cough (22.6%), phlegm (15.1%), wheeze (25.1%) and tightness in the chest (31.4%). Respiratory symptoms were positively associated with exposure levels. Lung function was higher than the most feasible reference population (average above predicted forced expiratory volume in 1 s [FEV(1)] +4.5% and forced vital capacity [FVC] +4.2%). Only one woman had a FEV(1)/FVC ratio lower than 70%.
Conclusions: According to the Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) guidelines, almost one third of these young non-smoking women were at risk (stage 0) of developing COPD. The methodological issues encountered during the study highlight the importance of standardising approaches to local adaptation of established questionnaires to study respiratory health in rural areas of developing countries.