Purpose of review: An estimated 3 billion people (about half the world's population) burn biomass fuel (wood, crop residues, animal dung and coal) for cooking and heating purposes exposing a large population, especially women and children, to high levels of indoor air pollution. Biomass smoke comprises gaseous air pollutants as well as particulate matter air pollutants, which have significant harmful effects.
Recent findings: Exposure to biomass smoke is a major contributor to morbidity and mortality. Children, women and the elderly are most affected. Apart from poor lung growth seen in growing children, the risk of developing respiratory tract infections (both upper as well as lower) is greatly increased in children living in homes using biomass. Women who spend many hours cooking food in poorly ventilated homes develop chronic obstructive lung disease (COPD), asthma, respiratory tract infections, including tuberculosis and lung cancer. It has been argued that exposure to biomass fuel smoke is a bigger risk factor for COPD than tobacco smoking.
Summary: Physicians need to be aware about the harmful effects of biomass smoke exposure and ensure early diagnosis and appropriate management to reduce the disease burden. More research needs to be done to study health effects due to biomass smoke exposure better. Reducing the exposure to biomass smoke through proper home ventilation, home design and, if possible, change of biomass to cleaner fuels is strongly recommended in order to reduce biomass smoke-induced mortality and morbidity.