Respiratory effects of organic solvent exposure

Tuber Lung Dis. 1996 Feb;77(1):4-18. doi: 10.1016/s0962-8479(96)90069-6.


Organic solvents are widely used in industrial processes and found in many common household products. Exposures to solvents are common in both idustrialized and industrializing countries. While organic solvents exposure is well known to produce central nervous system toxicity, hepatic, renal and dermatologic injury, the respiratory effects of solvent exposure are poorly documented. Several recent population-based epidemiologic studies have found an independent association of occupational solvent exposure with respiratory symptoms, impaired pulmonary function or respiratory disease, but interpretation of these studies is limited by self-reported exposure data. Animal studies have demonstrated adverse effects in both the conducting and the respiratory airways, although often at very high exposure levels. Human chamber studies have most consistently reported irritation of the eyes, nose and throat without evidence of airway hyper-responsiveness. Case series have observed obstructive and restrictive effects in patients with high level inhalational exposures to solvents, particularly formaldehyde, but occupational epidemiologic studies have not consistently demonstrated changes in pulmonary function. Finally, mortality studied have not found increased mortality rates from respiratory disease in occupations associated with solvent use. In general, solvents have been demonstrated to cause mucosal irritation of the eyes and upper airways, but studies of pulmonary impairment following exposure have been limited and inconsistent. Solvent-mediated respiratory toxicity is biologically plausible, but further research is needed to better characterize exposures and to elucidate the specific mechanisms associated with injury.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Guinea Pigs
  • Humans
  • Occupational Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Occupational Diseases / epidemiology
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects
  • Rats
  • Respiration Disorders / chemically induced*
  • Respiration Disorders / epidemiology
  • Solvents / adverse effects*


  • Solvents