Background: Half of the world's population is exposed to household air pollution from biomass burning. This study aimed to assess the relationship between respiratory symptoms and biomass smoke exposure in rural and urban Nepal. Methods: A cross-sectional study of adults (16+ years) in a rural population (n = 846) exposed to biomass smoke and a non-exposed urban population (n = 802) in Nepal. A validated questionnaire was used along with measures of indoor air quality (PM2.5 and CO) and outdoor PM2.5. Results: Both men and women exposed to biomass smoke reported more respiratory symptoms compared to those exposed to clean fuel. Women exposed to biomass were more likely to complain of ever wheeze (32.0 % vs. 23.5%; p = 0.004) and breathlessness (17.8% vs. 12.0%, p = 0.017) compared to males with tobacco smoking being a major risk factor. Chronic cough was similar in both the biomass and non-biomass smoke exposed groups whereas chronic phlegm was reported less frequently by participants exposed to biomass smoke. Higher PM2.5 levels (≥2 SDs of the 24-hour mean) were associated with breathlessness (OR = 2.10, 95% CI 1.47, 2.99) and wheeze (1.76, 1.37, 2.26). Conclusions: The study suggests that while those exposed to biomass smoke had higher prevalence of respiratory symptoms, urban dwellers (who were exposed to higher ambient air pollution) were more at risk of having productive cough
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