Using charcoal and wood for cooking can cause blindness, study finds


Cooking with solid fuels such as wood or charcoal increases the risk of developing major eye diseases that can lead to blindness, according to a new study highlighting the dangers of long-term exposure to solid fuels.

Reportedly, half of the world’s population – more than 800 million people in India – are exposed to domestic air pollution from cooking fuels. According to a study from March this year, nearly half of poor urban households in India used traditional fuel sources like wood and charcoal.

Published in the journal PLOS Medicine Last week, the study was conducted between 2004 and 2008, where researchers assessed the impact of exposure to cooking fuels on 512,715 people aged 30 to 79 in China. Experts compared people’s cooking habits to their hospital admissions records for major eye diseases or health insurance reimbursements.

The results demonstrated a “clear association between cooking with wood or charcoal and an increased risk of significant eye diseases”, DownToEarth reported.

Over a 10-year follow-up period, the researchers found that people using long-term solid fuels had a 32% higher risk of conjunctivitis, 17% of cataracts, and 35% of other disorders of sclera, prostate. cornea, iris, and ciliary body (DSCIC) – compared to those who used clean fuels like electricity or gas.

“The increased risks may be caused by exposure to high levels of fine particles (PM2.5) and carbon monoxide, which can damage the surface of the eyes and cause inflammation,” Peter Ka Hung Chan, who studies population health at the University of Oxford, and co-author of the study, said in a press release. In other words, the small particles released by the vapors of burning solid fuel can cause physical damage to the interior.


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“[T]he general public must be informed of the potential risks of eye diseases, some of which are very disabling, linked to the use of solid fuels ”, noted Liming Li of the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at Peking University in China, co-author of the study.

Among solid fuels, researchers found no variety that increased the risk of conjunctivitis or cataracts more than another. However, using wood alone increased the risk of contracting DSCIC – than using a combination of wood and charcoal for cooking.

“Environmental factors and societal traditions, such as cooking with solid fuels, can have a significant effect on eye health and show the need to work at all levels of health systems to improve outcomes,” Imran Khan of Sightsavers , an international NGO working in developing countries to treat and prevent avoidable blindness, which did not participate in the study, commented.

The risk was found to be slightly less for those who switched from solid fuels to clean fuels. The study also found that ventilation mechanisms, such as chimneys, did not significantly reduce the risk.

“From government to communities, it is important to raise awareness of eye problems, reduce these preventable causes and provide accessible health services,” Khan added.


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