Influence of indoor factors in dwellings on the development of childhood asthma

Int J Hyg Environ Health. 2011 Jan;214(1):1-25. doi: 10.1016/j.ijheh.2010.08.009. Epub 2010 Sep 18.


Asthma has become the most common, childhood chronic disease in the industrialized world, and it is also increasing in developing regions. There are huge differences in the prevalence of childhood asthma across countries and continents, and there is no doubt that the prevalence of asthma was strongly increasing during the past decades worldwide. Asthma, as a complex disease, has a broad spectrum of potential determinants ranging from genetics to life style and environmental factors. Environmental factors are likely to be important in explaining the regional differences and the overall increasing trend towards asthma's prevalence. Among the environmental conditions, indoor factors are of particular interest because people spend more than 80% of their time indoors globally. Increasing prices for oil, gas and other sources of primary energy will further lead to better insulation of homes, and ultimately to reduced energy costs. This will decrease air exchange rates and will lower the dilution of indoor air mass with ambient air. Indoor air quality and potential health effects will therefore be an area for future research and for gaining a better understanding of asthma epidemics. This strategic review will summarize the current knowledge of the effects of a broad spectrum of indoor factors on the development of asthma in childhood in Western countries based on epidemiological studies. In conclusion, several epidemiological studies point out, that indoor factors might cause asthma in childhood. Stronger and more consistent findings are seen when exposure to these indoor factors is assessed by surrogates for the source of the actual toxicants. Measurement-based exposure assessments for several indoor factors are less common than using surrogates of the exposure. These studies, however, mainly showed heterogeneous results. The most consistent finding for an induction of asthma in childhood is related to exposure to environmental tobacco smoke, to living in homes close to busy roads, and in damp homes where are visible moulds at home. The causing agents of the increased risk of living in damp homes remained uncertain and needs clarification. Exposure to pet-derived allergens and house dust mites are very commonly investigated and thought to be related to asthma onset. The epidemiological evidence is not sufficient to recommend avoidance measures against pet and dust mites as preventive activities against allergies. More research is also needed to clarify the potential risk for exposure to volatile and semi-volatile organic compounds due to renovation activities, phthalates and chlorine chemicals due to cleaning.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Air Pollution, Indoor / adverse effects*
  • Allergens / toxicity
  • Animals
  • Asthma / epidemiology*
  • Asthma / etiology*
  • Asthma / prevention & control
  • Child
  • Dust
  • Formaldehyde / toxicity
  • Fungi
  • Household Products / toxicity
  • Household Work
  • Humans
  • Hydrocarbons, Aromatic / toxicity
  • Incidence
  • Inhalation Exposure
  • Nitrogen Dioxide / toxicity
  • Nitrous Acid / toxicity
  • Pets
  • Phthalic Acids / toxicity
  • Prevalence
  • Pyroglyphidae
  • Risk Factors
  • Tobacco Smoke Pollution / adverse effects
  • Vehicle Emissions / toxicity
  • Volatile Organic Compounds / toxicity


  • Air Pollutants
  • Allergens
  • Dust
  • Hydrocarbons, Aromatic
  • Phthalic Acids
  • Tobacco Smoke Pollution
  • Vehicle Emissions
  • Volatile Organic Compounds
  • Formaldehyde
  • Nitrogen Dioxide
  • Nitrous Acid