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Is the inhaling of petrol fumes and paint thinner harmful for the fetus?

Tuesday, 21 December 2004
Answered by: Dr. Irwin Ziment
Professor of Medicine,
University of California Los Angeles (UCLA),
USA
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Q. What will be the adverse effects on the fetus if a 6 months pregnant woman was exposed to the fumes of paint thinner? What will happen if she inhales it very closely by mistake and it causes irritation in the nose and throat? Is the exposure to the fumes harmful for a 2-year-old child as well? Also, what if a few weeks pregnant woman is exposed to petrol fumes poured over the house to control insects? Will this affect the fetus?

A.  Strong smelling chemicals are a problem in the modern world and we do not know exactly how safe or harmful they could be in the long run following exposure. Obviously, delayed effects may take many years to become evident and it may then be very difficult to make a definite correlation with the earlier exposure. Again, it would seem obvious that if no immediate severe reaction (such as asthma) appears, it may take multiple repeat exposures to have a long term effect on susceptible people. Common odiferous chemicals that have been used for decades (such as turpentine and paint thinners) seem to be safe since many industrial workers have had long term exposure to these agents without severe consequences over many years. It may even be a possibility that some people benefit from them since they are similar to some cough medicines. In cases where an unpleasant sensation develops after immediate exposure the individual can be assured that no serious consequences will follow. However, that individual should avoid work or living conditions that require repetitive exposures in case the irritation leads to the development of asthma or other annoying respiratory symptoms. Pregnant women are advised to avoid as much chemical and drug exposure as possible simply because any potential risk, however remote, to the foetus should be considered as being inappropriate.

A.  Strong smelling chemicals are a problem in the modern world and we do not know exactly how safe or harmful they could be in the long run following exposure. Obviously, delayed effects may take many years to become evident and it may then be very difficult to make a definite correlation with the earlier exposure. Again, it would seem obvious that if no immediate severe reaction (such as asthma) appears, it may take multiple repeat exposures to have a long term effect on susceptible people. Common odiferous chemicals that have been used for decades (such as turpentine and paint thinners) seem to be safe since many industrial workers have had long term exposure to these agents without severe consequences over many years. It may even be a possibility that some people benefit from them since they are similar to some cough medicines. In cases where an unpleasant sensation develops after immediate exposure the individual can be assured that no serious consequences will follow. However, that individual should avoid work or living conditions that require repetitive exposures in case the irritation leads to the development of asthma or other annoying respiratory symptoms. Pregnant women are advised to avoid as much chemical and drug exposure as possible simply because any potential risk, however remote, to the foetus should be considered as being inappropriate.

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