How can cooking fires and smoke damage my health

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Most women spend many hours a day preparing food. This puts them at risk for health problems caused by cooking fires and smoke.

Kerosene and other liquid and gas fuels can cause explosions, fires, and burns.

Women who cook with fuels that produce a lot of smoke — such as wood, coal, animal dung, or crop remains — often have health problems. These fuels cause more problems when they are burned indoors where the smoke does not move out quickly. And if the fuel has chemicals in it — such as pesticides or fertilizers in the crop remains — the smoke is even more harmful.

Breathing smoke from cooking fires can cause chronic coughs, colds, pneumonia, bronchitis, lung infections, and lung disease. Breathing coal smoke can also cause cancer in the lungs, mouth, and throat.

Pregnant women who breathe cooking smoke can suffer from dizziness, weakness, nausea, and headaches. And because a woman’s body is less able to fight infection when she is pregnant, she is even more likely to get the lung problems mentioned above. Smoke can also make her baby grow more slowly, weigh less at birth, or be born too early.

Women are at greater risk for these health problems than men, because women spend more time breathing smoky air. Small children who spend much of their day playing near a smoking cookstove are at greater risk for colds, coughs, pneumonia, and lung infections.

  • Burns, A. A., Niemann, S., Lovich, R., Maxwell, J., & Shapiro, K. (2014). Where women have no doctor: A health guide for women. Hesperian Foundation.
  • Audiopedia ID: en030103