Respiratory effects of organic solvent exposure

Marc B Schenker, J. A. Jacobs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


Organic solvents are widely used in industrial processes and found in many common household products. Exposures to solvents are common in both industrialized 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 studies 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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4-18
Number of pages15
JournalTubercle and Lung Disease
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1996
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine
  • Immunology
  • Microbiology


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