Effects of nitrous acid exposure on human mucous membranes

Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 1995 May;151(5):1504-11. doi: 10.1164/ajrccm.151.5.7735607.


Nitrous acid (HONO) is formed both indirectly from the reaction of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) with water on indoor surfaces, and directly during combustion. This gaseous pollutant may be a previously unrecognized causal factor in assessments of nitrogen oxide exposure effects. The present study is the first attempt to evaluate exposure effects of HONO on the human airways and the mucous membranes of the eyes and nose. Fifteen healthy adult nonsmokers were exposed for 3.5 h in a double-blind, balanced protocol to clean air, 77, and 395 ppb HONO. Each exposure was preceded by a 1-h baseline measurement period, and exposures were separated by 1 wk. There was a 10-min exercise period during exposure. Effects measurements included assessment of bronchial reactivity, measurement of specific airway conductance, spirometry, acoustic rhinometry, nasal lavage, tear-fluid cytology, a CO2 eye-provocation test, evaluation of eye redness, and subjective sensations. Effects of HONO exposure on the eyes were found as exposure-related changes in tear-fluid cytology. In particular, the number of squamous cells increased by 20, 67, and 80% following exposure to clean air, 77, and 395 ppb HONO, respectively (p = 0.004). Possible indications of exposure effects on sensitivity to CO2 eye provocation and on specific airway conductance were also measured. For specific airway conductance there was an approximate 10% decrease in conductance following exercise in association with HONO exposure, compared with a 2% decrease with clean air (p = 0.038).

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Air Pollutants / adverse effects*
  • Airway Resistance / drug effects
  • Bronchi / drug effects
  • Bronchial Provocation Tests
  • Carbon Dioxide / pharmacology
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Eye / drug effects
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mucous Membrane / drug effects*
  • Nasal Lavage Fluid
  • Nasal Mucosa / drug effects
  • Nasal Mucosa / pathology
  • Nitrous Acid / adverse effects*
  • Respiratory Function Tests
  • Respiratory System / drug effects
  • Respiratory System / physiopathology
  • Spirometry
  • Tears / cytology


  • Air Pollutants
  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Nitrous Acid