Indoor Air Pollution

man polishing furniture 2

If you have a lung condition such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), you might feel that certain things in your home can trigger your symptoms, leading to coughing,
wheezing or shortness of breath.

This could include cleaning products, paint or new furniture, for example. More research into this area is needed, and at the moment there is little scientific evidence that these things will make your symptoms worse if you have a lung condition. However, if you feel that anything in your home is causing your symptoms to flare up, then it is best to avoid them.

This information covers a number of things in the home that some people with a lung condition have found can trigger their symptoms. If you are experiencing similar issues, it will also explain how you can try to avoid these things. It is important to remember that not everyone reacts to things in the same way.

Cleaning and decorating

Many cleaning and DIY products such as furniture polish, air fresheners, varnishes, glues and paints have chemicals in them called volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Some people with a lung
condition say that these products can trigger their symptoms. However, there has been little research on this subject and scientific studies into whether VOCs can cause or exacerbate asthma have produced conflicting results.

What can I do?
If you feel that cleaning or decorating products trigger your symptoms, use solid or liquid cleaning products rather than sprays where possible, and use as little as you can. Always open a window when cleaning or decorating to make sure there is plenty of ventilation. Some people wear a mask while decorating and even when doing the cleaning, although there is currently no evidence to suggest this will reduce symptoms. Before stripping wallpaper, wash it down to help dampen down any dust.

Carpets and furniture

Formaldehyde is another VOC and can be found in furniture, flooring and shelving made from chipboard or MDF. There is little clear evidence to suggest that formaldehyde can trigger your symptoms, but some people with a lung condition report that the smell of new sofas and soft furnishings can make their symptoms worse.

What can I do?
If you are buying a new carpet, ask the shop if they can unroll and air it before you bring it home. If you are allergic to latex, avoid carpet with a foam underlay. Try airing new furniture before bringing it into the house and keep the windows open for a few days.

Tobacco smoke

If you have a lung condition you might find that other people smoking around you can trigger your symptoms and make you feel worse. The smoke you breathe in from someone else’s cigarette or pipe contains dangerous chemicals such carbon monoxide, as well as tiny particles that can irritate your lungs.

What can I do?
If you smoke, the most important thing you can do to help control your lung condition is to give up smoking. If you don’t smoke, but someone who you are close to does, explain to them the effect this can have on your condition and their health, and ask them to smoke outside. For more information on stopping smoking, call the BLF Helpline on 03000 030 555 or email You can also call the NHS Smokefree helpline on:

  • 0800 022 4332 (England)
  • 0800 1690 169 (Wales)
  • 0800 84 84 84 (Scotland)
  • 0800 85 85 85 (Northern Ireland)


Wood and coal fires

Smoke from fireplaces and wood-burning stoves can also trigger a flare-up of your condition. When wood burns, it gives off tiny particles. If you have a lung condition and you breathe in these particles, you might experience a sudden and continued worsening of your symptoms. If you have COPD, you might find you become more breathless and that you cough more and produce more phlegm.

What can I do?
Avoid smoky environments wherever possible. If you do have a fire, ensure that the flues are in good working order. Wood and coal fires without adequate flues can cause a significant worsening of breathing problems compared to central heating, as it is harder for smoke to escape. Gas heaters and cookers without a flue or chimney release water vapour during the combustion process and should be avoided.

Damp and condensation

There is evidence to suggest that dampness can be a cause of symptoms such as coughing and wheezing. It is important to make sure that your house is not damp, and has good ventilation and
adequate heating to prevent condensation.

What can I do?
Damp has been linked with lung problems, and you should seek professional help to deal with all damp, moulds and fungi. Keep rooms well-ventilated and wipe window sills daily to keep condensation at bay. A dehumidifier might also help.

Cavity wall insulation

Cavity wall insulation can help you stay warm and reduce your energy bills. Some forms of insulation, such as foam insulation, release VOCs. Although there is little clear evidence to show that VOCs trigger symptoms of COPD and other lung conditions, some people say that exposure to VOCs can make their symptoms worse.

What can I do?
There are several different types of cavity wall insulation. Talk to the manufacturer about what chemicals your chosen product contains. Make sure any insulation material is properly sealed after it has been installed so that no vapours, fumes or fibres leak into your home. There might be a lot of dust or fibres in the air while the insulation is installed, so if possible, stay somewhere else while the work is being done.

The BLF values feedback on all of its information. To let us know your views, please contact us.

Code: FL29
Last medically reviewed: May 2013
Due for medical review: May 2015
For references call 020 7688 5610

Download the
information sheet


Your home and your lungs (PDF)

Other tips

  • Strong scents such as perfume and aftershave can trigger respiratory symptoms. If this is the case, you could ask close friends, family or colleagues to avoid wearing them when they are with you.
  • Avoid perfumed air fresheners, scented products and generally anything that is sprayed where possible.
  • Wash your bedding often to get rid of house dust mites, which many people, especially those with asthma, are allergic to.

What about asbestos?

Asbestos is found in homes built before 2000, especially in insulation on pipes, tanks and boilers. If disturbed, asbestos can damage the lungs and lead to some very serious lung conditions.


Find out more.

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