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Effect of nitrous acid on lung function in asthmatics: a chamber study.

Publication Date
  • Research Article
  • Chemistry
  • Physics


Nitrous acid, a component of photochemical smog and a common indoor air pollutant, may reach levels of 100 ppb where gas stoves and unvented portable kerosene heaters are used. Nitrous acid is a primary product of combustion and may also be a secondary product by reaction of nitrogen dioxide with water. Because the usual assays for nitrogen dioxide measure several oxides of nitrogen (including nitrous acid) together, previous studies of indoor nitrogen dioxide may have included exposure to and health effects of nitrous acid. To assess the respiratory effects of nitrous acid exposure alone, we carried out a double-blinded crossover chamber exposure study with 11 mildly asthmatic adult subjects. Each underwent 3-hr exposures to 650 ppb nitrous acid and to filtered room air with three 20-min periods of moderate cycle exercise. Symptoms, respiratory parameters during exercise, and spirometry after exercise were measured. A statistically significant decrease in forced vital capacity was seen on days when subjects were exposed to nitrous acid. This effect was most marked at 25 min and 85 min after exposure began. Aggregate respiratory and mucous membrane symptoms were also significantly higher with nitrous acid. We conclude that this concentration and duration of exposure to nitrous acid alters lung mechanics slightly, does not induce significant airflow obstruction, and produces mild irritant symptoms in asthmatics.

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