Dampness in dorm rooms and its associations with allergy and airways infections among college students in China: a cross-sectional study

Authors

  • Y. Sun,

    1. School of Environmental Science and Technology, Tianjin University, Tianjin, China
    2. Texas Allergy, Indoor Environment and Energy Institute, College of Engineering and Computer Science, University of Texas at Tyler, TX, USA
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  • Y. Zhang,

    1. School of Environmental Science and Technology, Tianjin University, Tianjin, China
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  • J. Sundell,

    1. International Centre for Indoor Environment and Energy, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Technical University of Denmark, Denmark
    2. Texas Allergy, Indoor Environment and Energy Institute, College of Engineering and Computer Science, University of Texas at Tyler, TX, USA
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  • Z. Fan,

    1. School of Environmental Science and Technology, Tianjin University, Tianjin, China
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  • L. Bao

    1. School of Environmental Science and Technology, Tianjin University, Tianjin, China
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Errata

This article corrects:

  1. Dampness at dorm and its associations with allergy and airways infection among college students in China: a cross-sectional study Volume 19, Issue 2, 174–182, Article first published online: 28 January 2009

  • [This erratum is published to replace in full Sun, Y., Zhang, Y., Sundell, J., Fan, Z., and Bao, L. (2009) Dampness at dorm and its associations with allergy and airways infection among college students in China: a cross-sectional study, Indoor Air, 19, 174–182.]

Y. Sun
School of Environmental Science and Technology
Tianjin University
Weijin Road 92
Nankai District 300072
Tianjin City
China
Tel.: +86 22 27890131
Fax: +86 22 27890131
e-mail: syxczh@yahoo.com.cn

Introduction

During the last 30 years the indoor environment has attracted more attention as humans spend more than 80% of their time indoors (Klepeis, 2001). Great changes have taken place in building construction and in the use of buildings, as well as in life style and food habits. The prevalence of certain diseases like allergy and asthma has increased rapidly in the last decades, especially in western countries. In many countries allergies and asthma are affecting a majority of children (Rado and Eriksson, 1999; Sundell and Kjellman, 1995). For example, the prevalence of asthma in school children in Britain has increased from 5.5% in 1973 to 12.0% in 1998 and up to 27.3% in 2003 (Burr et al., 2006). This rapid increase must be due to environmental changes because the time period is too short for genetic changes.

Many international and multidisciplinary reviews have been carried out to identify associations between indoor environmental factors and allergies. A striking result is that dampness in buildings has been associated to health problems like asthma and respiratory symptoms all over the world (Bornehag et al., 2001). A survey among 1- to 4-year-old children in Sweden found that windowpane condensation tended to be most frequent in homes with children sensitized to cats and/or dogs (Lindfors et al., 1995). Pirhonen et al. (1996) found that reports of bronchitis, common cold and rhinitis were strongly associated with living in a damp home. In a Canadian study, the odds ratios in homes with reported moulds or dampness ranged from 1.32 (1.06–1.39, 95% CI) for bronchitis to 1.89 (1.58–2.26, 95% CI) for cough (Dales et al., 1991). A survey carried out in Sweden showed an association between mouldy odours along the skirting board and allergic symptoms, mainly rhinitis, among children, which indicates that hidden moisture problems in building structures should not be ignored (Hägerhad-Engman et al., 2009). However, knowledge of the causal factors for allergic disease in damp buildings and the biological mechanisms involved are missing.

China is a developing country with traditional eastern life style. Nowadays, the prevalence rate of asthma in China is low when compared with western countries, even though the prevalence rate of asthma among children in Beijing has been up to 2%. A few studies have been carried out in China on indoor environmental factors and occupants’ health. However, almost all of them either focused on chemical pollutants, such as volatile organic compounds (VOC) in homes/offices and its association with sick building syndrome symptoms (Xu et al., 2005), or on airflow pattern in hospital/operation rooms (Tu and Chen, 2005). A dormitory is a kind of home environment for students, and they are very crowded in China. On average, four people share one 20-m2 dorm room. Such crowded spaces may supply a ‘hotbed’ for microbial growth and infectious agents. However, until now, no studies on associations between the dorm environment and allergies and airways infections have been carried out in China, or even in the world.

With the aim to study associations between the dorm environment and health effects such as allergies and airways infections, the study ‘Dorm Environmental Factors and Its Association with Students’ Health’ was carried out in 2006 at Tianjin University campus, China. It was hypothesized that dorm dampness, substandard ventilation and microbiological exposures are risk factors for allergies and airways infections. The study consisted of two phases, i.e., phase I a cross-sectional study and phase II a case-control study. In the case–control study, target rooms were selected to measure the physical, chemical and biological parameters indoors, both in summer and winter. This paper only focused on the cross-sectional study.

Materials and methods

The dorm environment and occupants’ health were surveyed by questionnaires. Thirteen (out of a total of 25) dormitory buildings were selected to represent different ages of buildings, building locations and occupant densities. In total, 2117 rooms are located inside these 13 buildings.

At Tianjin University a room of 20 m2 is shared by six bachelor or four master or three Ph.D. students. A total of 2117 copies of the dorm environment (Part I) questionnaires were sent to the rooms, and 6500 copies of the student health (Part II) questionnaire to corresponding room occupants. The whole process lasted for 3.5 months, from February 21 to June 10, 2006. The questionnaire survey was anonymous. Project members visited dorm rooms, sent questionnaires and informed dorm members how to fill in questionnaires. The questionnaires were collected 2 days later. One copy of the dorm environment part was required for each room and completed by a ‘volunteer’ (one of the room members), while every member was required to answer the health part. The information on building construction period was obtained from the dorm management centre of Tianjin University.

Questionnaire

The questionnaire used in the cross-sectional study comprised questions on the dorm environment and the students’ health. The dorm environment questions included furnishing and furniture inside dorms, heating and ventilation systems, renovation and extension done to the dorm building, moisture problems, odours, pets indoors and passive smoking. The moisture problems of the dorm covered visible mould, damp stains, suspected moisture problems, water damage in the past or recent days, condensation on the inner windowpane in winter. The odour perceived by room members involved stuffy smell, pungent smell, mouldy smell, earthy smell, tobacco smoke, dry air, and other unpleasant smells. Regarding occupants’ health there were questions concerning asthma, rhinitis, eczema and airways infections. The questionnaire was mainly the same as that used earlier in Sweden and Bulgaria for homes (Bornehag et al., 2005; Naydenov et al., 2005), with minor changes because of the dorm environment. The medical part of the questionnaire followed the ISAAC questionnaire (Asher et al., 2006). The questions on dorm technical characteristics and moisture problems are described in a previous paper (Sun et al., 2007), while those on occupants’ health are summarized in the Appendix.

Statistical analysis method

Pearson Chi-square test was used to compare the frequencies of five dampness indicators (i.e. mould spots, damp stains, suspected moisture problems, water damage, condensation) between different building construction periods, as well as between different groups of window type (Rosner, 2000). A multiple logistic regression model with forward elimination model was used to associate these two building characteristics to dampness indicators. The criterion for significance in statistical analysis was P < 0.05. Wheezing, dry cough during night, rhinitis, and eczema in the last 12 months prior to this cross-sectional study were regressed to dampness indicators in the general estimating equation (GEE). In the GEE model, the clusters were defined as students living in the same dorm room within the same building. The working correlation matrix structure was chosen as independent. The link function was logit (Jin, 2003). Odds ratios were calculated with 95% confidence intervals, as well as the odds ratios adjusted for such confounding factors as subject’s gender, age, allergic disease of family member, whether the subject smoked in the last 3 month prior to the study, pets, passive smoking and building construction period. The GEE model was also used to test the association between dampness and common cold, with adjustment for subjects’ gender, age, whether subjects smoked in the last 3 months, passive smoking, building construction period and occupancy level of dorm rooms. The analysis was performed by using Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) software 15.0 (SPSS Inc., Chicago, IL, USA).

Results

Subjects and response rate

In total 3712 students responded to the health questions, resulting in a response rate of 57%. Data for 1569 dorms were collected, meaning a response rate of 74%. After coupling dorm environment with occupants’ health, 1511 rooms and 3436 students can be paired. These dorms and students were involved in the final analysis.

Subjects in this cross-sectional study were aged from 17 to 45 years. The group comprised 48.1% female and 51.9% male, among whom 67.8% were bachelor, 25.1% master and 7.2% Ph.D. students. The average age was 22 for bachelor, 25 for master and 29 for Ph.D. students. Subjects were born in places ranging across the whole Chinese mainland, and were studying in 18 different schools of Tianjin University. More than 60% of the subjects had lived in the dorm for at least 2 years.

Building characteristics

Thirteen buildings were selected as survey targets, with different building structures, construction periods, locations and occupancy levels. Four buildings were constructed during 19401960, with brick-stone structure and wooden frame windows; two buildings during 19771983, and three during 19931999 with brick structure and wooden/iron/PVC-frame windows; while four buildings constructed after 2000 had crawl-space foundations, concrete structure and PVC-frame windows. The ventilation systems of dorm rooms were all natural ventilation. Dorm rooms were simple bedrooms. Students on each floor shared two washing rooms and toilets.

Dampness problems indoors

12.2% of rooms had visible mould spots on walls, ceilings and floors, 18.9% had visible damp stains, 31.4% of rooms had suspected moisture problems inside walls, floors and ceilings that were not visible from the surfaces, and 11.9% of rooms had flooding or any other water damage inside dorm rooms, either in the past or recently. More than half of the rooms had condensation on the inner windowpane in winter. Less than 5 cm condensations at the bottom on the inner windowpane were observed in 22.4% of rooms, while 16.7% of rooms had 5–25 cm condensation, and 15.6% had more than 25 cm condensation. The frequencies of perceived odours are shown in Table 1. Dry air was the most common complaint.

Table 1.   Percentage of rooms with odours perceived by occupants
OdoursOften (Weekly), %Sometimes, %
Stuffy9.944.9
Pungent6.425.6
Mouldy8.025.1
Earthy7.517.7
Tobacco smoke9.316.4
Dry air31.342.3
Other unpleasant smell15.154.0

The association between the perception of dry air and condensation is shown in Figure 1. In rooms with a condensation of more than 25 cm, 37.6% of respondents assessed indoor air as often dry, while 29% perceived so in rooms that never had condensation (P < 0.012).

Figure 1.

 Perception of ‘dry air’ as compared with condensation on windows during winter

Frequencies of dampness indicators among different groups and Pearson Chi-square test results are shown in Table 2. The construction period was significantly associated with all dampness indicator except for water damage. Mould spots, damp stains and suspected water damage occurred more often in old buildings. Condensation on windowpanes was most commonly reported in buildings constructed after 2000.

Table 2.   Comparison of frequencies of dampness indicators among building age and window type groups
 Building construction periodWindow type
1940–19601977–19831993–1999After 2000P valueaWoodenPVCIronP valuea
  1. aPearson Chi-square test.

  2. bSuspected moisture problems that are not visible on walls, ceilings and floors.

  3. Bold values indicate statistically significant when P < 0.05.

Dampness indicatorsn (%)n (%)n (%)n (%) n (%)n (%)n (%) 
Mould spot43 (23.2)35 (19.0)27 (6.5)78 (11.0)0.00049 (14.5)131 (11.6)1 (5.9)0.142
Damp stain54 (28.9)51 (27.6)43 (10.4)136 (19.1)0.00071 (20.8)209 (18.4)1 (5.9)0.234
Suspectedb85 (45.2)74 (39.6)102 (24.7)209 (29.5)0.000127 (37.2)338 (29.9)3 (17.6)0.006
Water damage
 Recently11 (8.1)33 (20.9)16 (4.7)63 (9.9) 33 (12.2)89 (9.1)0 (0.0) 
 In the past5 (3.7)13 (8.2)11 (3.2)26 (4.1)0.19419 (7.0)35 (3.6)0 (0.0)0.001
Condensation
 <5 cm42 (28.4)40 (26.1)88 (27.8)160 (28.9) 63 (24.9)263 (29.3)4 (30.8) 
 5–25 cm22 (14.9)45 (29.4)60 (19.0)119 (21.5) 57 (22.5)185 (20.6)3 (23.1) 
 >25 cm19 (12.8)24 (15.7)54 (17.1)133 (24.1)0.00025 (9.9)203 (22.6)1 (7.7)0.000

It was found that PVC-frame windows were associated with more condensation, compared with the other two window types (P < 0.000). In rooms with six people, the frequency of more than 25 cm condensation on windowpanes was significantly higher compared with that of rooms with three people (P < 0.000). In the multiple regression models by forward elimination technique, as shown in Table 3, PVC-frame windows seemed to reduce the occurrence of suspected moisture problems and water damage. However, in a stratified analysis for building construction period, the significant relationship between window type and suspected moisture problem and water damage disappeared.

Table 3.   Multiple logistic regression analysis of association between building construction period, window type and dampness indicators in dorm rooms
 Mould spotOdd ratios (95% CI)aCondensation
Damp stainSuspected moisture problemWater damage
  1. aBlank cell means that the factor was eliminated in the forward elimination process.

Construction period
 1940–196011111
 1977–19831.05 (0.71, 1.56)1.15 (0.82, 1.62)0.69 (0.51, 0.94)2.80 (1.74, 4.54)1.93 (1.35, 2.78)
 1993–19990.24 (0.16, 0.38)0.24 (0.17, 0.35)0.41 (0.31, 0.54)0.53 (0.31, 0.92)1.22 (0.89, 1.66)
 After 20000.61 (0.44, 0.85)0.70 (0.53, 0.93)0.61 (0.47, 0.80)1.84 (1.13, 3.00)1.67 (1.23, 2.27)
Window type
 Wooden   111
 Iron  0.27 (0.08, 0.90)0.000.82 (0.35, 1.95)
 PVC  0.80 (0.64, 0.99)0.51 (0.36, 0.73)1.80 (1.42, 2.28)

Allergy

In the last 12 months prior to the study, 552 (16.7%) students had wheezing or whistling in the chest, in which 522 reported under which circumstances such problems occurred. The most often reported circumstance (47.5%) was having a cold. A total of 300 (8.8%) students reported having dry cough during the night in the last 12 months. As for diagnosed asthma and croup, the percentages of students suffering were quite low, i.e. 1.8% for asthma and 2.1% for croup. 1675 (49.7%) students had sneezing or runny/blocked nose symptoms apart from having a cold/flu, while 631 (18.7%) and 378 (11.1%) had such symptoms when in contact with animals and plants, respectively. 220 (6.5%) students had ever been diagnosed with hay fever by the doctor. In the last 12 months, 310 (9.0%) students had eczema, while 53 (4.3%) students suffered from such skin problems at least one night per week. The prevalence of wheezing increased in buildings constructed after 2000.

The associations between allergic symptoms and dampness indicators were regressed in GEE models, as shown in Table 4. Dry cough during the night had a significant positive associations with condensation. Suspected moisture problems were associated with eczema.

Table 4.   General estimating equation analysis of association between dampness indicators and self-reported allergic symptoms
 WheezingDry coughRhinitisEczema
Damp indicatorsORAORaORAORaORAORaORAORa
  1. aAdjusted for gender, age, whether family members had allergy, whether the subject smoked in the last 3 months prior to the study, pets, passive smoking in dorms and building construction period.
    bSuspected moisture problems that are not visible on walls, ceilings and floors.

  2. **0.001 < P < 0.01, *0.01 < P < 0.05. Bold values indicate statistically significant when P < 0.05.

Mould spot1.39 (1.02, 1.90)*1.29 (0.90, 1.85)1.45 (0.99, 2.09)1.00 (0.62, 1.61)1.01 (0.80, 1.29)1.06 (0.87, 1.38)1.61 (1.10, 2.35)*1.29 (0.83, 2.00)
Damp stain1.11 (0.84, 1.47)1.08 (0.80, 1.47)1.34 (0.96, 1.85)1.09 (0.74, 1.63)1.07 (0.88, 1.30)1.07 (0.87, 1.32)1.43 (1.03, 1.99)*1.27 (0.87, 1.84)
Suspectedb1.14 (0.91, 1.43)1.20 (0.93, 1.54)1.10 (0.84, 1.44)1.04 (0.77, 1.43)1.09 (0.93, 1.27)1.05 (0.88, 1.25)1.35 (1.02, 1.80)*1.48 (1.07, 2.05)*
Water damage1.34 (0.98, 1.85)1.05 (0.72, 1.54)1.83 (1.28, 2.60)**1.55 (0.98, 2.46)1.20 (0.94, 1.52)1.28 (0.97, 1.70)1.46 (0.97, 8)1.40 (0.87, 2.24)
Condensation
 <5 cm0.88 (0.66, 1.18)0.78 (0.56, 1.08)0.92 (0.62, 1.36)1.02 (0.66, 1.58)0.94 (0.76, 1.17)0.89 (0.70, 1.12)1.05 (0.70, 1.57)1.23 (0.79, 1.90)
 5–25 cm1.07 (0.77, 1.48)1.10 (0.78, 1.57)1.31 (0.88, 1.95)1.64 (1.06, 2.54)*1.35 (1.07, 1.71)*1.25 (0.97, 1.61)1.17 (0.75, 1.81)1.23 (0.74, 2.05)
 >25 cm0.93 (0.67, 1.29)0.83 (0.58, 1.21)0.91 (0.60, 1.37)1.01 (0.63, 1.62)1.30 (1.02, 1.65)*1.18 (0.91, 1.52)1.44 (0.96, 2.17)1.38 (0.86, 2.23)

Airways infections

A total of 249 (7.3%) students had suffered from a cold 6–10 times in the last 12 months, and 94 (2.8%) more than 10 times. 436 (12.8%) students had a cold usually lasting for 2–4 weeks, 65 (1.9%) lasting more than 4 weeks. 709 (20.8%) students reported ear inflammation more than once. 232 (6.8%) students were ever diagnosed with pneumonia. Tuberculosis is a kind of chronic infectious disease, and characterized by fatigue, cough and night sweats, even chest pain and haemoptysis. Students were required to state whether they had symptoms mentioned above in the last 3 month prior to the survey. In 3401 valid responses, 30% in the last 3 months (sometimes/often) reported early potential symptoms of tuberculosis, such as fatigue, cough, fever, and even night sweats, while 5.4% (sometimes/often) had more serious symptoms, e.g., chest pain or haemoptysis. 58 (1.7%) students had ever been diagnosed with tuberculosis.

Students who shared rooms with six people had more reported common colds than students in less occupied room (Figure 2). As seen in Table 5, the odds ratios of having common colds were significantly high in rooms with mould spots, damp stains, suspected moisture problems and water damage.

Figure 2.

 Comparison of cold suffering rate in rooms with different occupancy levels

Table 5.   General estimation equation analysis of association between dampness and self-reported common cold
Damp indicatorsCold (<6 times vs. ≥6 times)
ORAORa
  1. aAdjusted for gender, age, whether the subject smoked in the last 3 months prior to the study, passive smoking in dorms, building construction period and occupancy level of dorm rooms.

  2. bSuspected moisture problems that are not visible on walls, ceilings and floors.

  3. **0.001 < P < 0.01, *0.01 < P < 0.05. Bold values indicate statistically significant when P < 0.05.

Mould spot1.52 (1.06, 2.18)*1.72 (1.13, 2.62)**
Damp stain1.22 (0.89, 1.68)1.47 (1.03, 2.11)*
Suspectedb1.20 (0.92, 1.56)1.36 (1.01, 1.83)*
Water damage1.60 (1.11, 2.32)*1.70 (1.11, 2.62)*
Condensation
 <5 cm0.67 (0.46, 0.97)0.79 (0.51, 1.21)
 5–25 cm1.17 (0.82, 1.68)1.44 (0.95, 2.16)
 >25 cm1.13 (0.79, 1.62)1.17 (0.76, 1.81)

Dampness and health conditions among non-respondents

109 non-respondents were selected randomly to complete questionnaires involving eight questions on mould/damp spots, suspected moisture problems, recent/past water damage, condensation in winter, wheezing, rhinitis, and eczema in the last 12 months. The percentages of positive answers to each question among respondents and non-respondents, respectively are shown in Table 6. It was found that more damp spots, suspected moisture problems and water damage occurred in rooms of non-respondents, while the prevalences of wheezing and rhinitis among non-respondents were higher than among respondents. However, only the differences of damp stains and rhinitis between these two subgroups (non-respondent vs. respondent) reached significant levels (P < 0.05).

Table 6.   Comparison of damp and health conditions between respondent and non-respondent
 Respondent, %Non-respondent, %P valuea
  1. aPearson Chi-square test.

  2. Bold values indicate statistically significant when P < 0.05.

Dampness
 Mould spot12.211.90.921
 Damp stain18.929.40.008
 Suspected moisture problem31.438.90.108
 Water damage   
  Recent8.25.5 
  Past3.79.20.071
 Condensation   
  <5 cm28.227.5 
  5–25 cm21.019.0 
  >25 cm19.715.00.923
Health
 Wheezing16.720.20.340
 Rhinitis49.766.10.001
 Eczema9.07.30.815

Discussion

In this cross-sectional study, the response rate on dorm environment was 74%, which was close to the rate of 79% in the Swedish study (Bornehag et al., 2004), while the response on health questions was a bit lower. The eight-question survey among non-respondents showed a higher prevalence of damp stains. In China, the general public are not educated about, e.g. problems related to dampness. Moreover, the high environmental response rate supported that information bias cannot be a problem in the ‘dampness’ report. There were no significant differences of self-reported asthma and eczema prevalence between respondents and non-respondents. However, more non-respondents reported suffering from rhinitis. This is probably because of misunderstanding of this question in the ‘simple’ eight-question questionnaire among some non-respondents. Without the description and background information of rhinitis that was supplied in the cross-sectional study questionnaires, possibly some subjects treated ‘rhinitis’ as common sneeze or runny/blocked nose problem. In this study, the GEE model was used to eliminate the correlations within subjects of the same dorm.

Even though the cross-sectional study was carried out for a period of only 3.5 months, subjects were required to state dampness indicators in the last 12 months prior to the study. The validity of the dorm dampness obtained in this self-administrated questionnaire was discussed in another paper (Sun et al., 2007). The prevalence of dampness indicated by mould (12.2%) and water damage (11.9%) in buildings at Tianjin was a bit lower than the prevalence rate of 23–79% in a tropical monsoon climate, e.g. Taiwan (Li et al., 1997), while it was near to the typical rate of 4–25% in cold areas like Nordic countries (Forsberg et al., 1997).

Condensation on inner windowpanes in winter had significant associations with occupancy level and window type. More condensation was perceived in buildings with PVC-frame windows and rooms with six people. This is probably due to the fact that PVC-frame windows make the building tighter and thus less ventilated and therefore more humid. The student dorms at Tianjin University were simple bedrooms, and the moisture load indoors was mainly from occupants’ respiration. Thus, the condensation was more often observed in rooms with six people than other less crowded rooms.

In this study, dry air was perceived more often in rooms with more than 25 cm condensations on windowpanes. Condensation is often associated with a lower ventilation rate, consequently more pollutants. This finding is in agreement with what was found in the previous Swedish study (Sundell and Lindvall, 1993), i.e. dry air perception was rather due to pollutants than physical dry air.

Among all subjects who were on average 23 years old, the diagnosed asthma/croup was 3.9%, which was much lower than that in Swedish adults (8% asthma in 1999). Students living in buildings constructed after 2000 suffered from breathing difficulties/whistling often. In such buildings, no dampness problems (except for water damage and condensation) were significantly evident. On the other hand, in such ‘new’ buildings, six people shared one room and major rooms had more than 5 cm condensations. Condensation indicates lower ventilation rate, higher RH, consequently house dust-mite growth. It was also found that 13 rooms (in total 29 rooms had pets) in buildings constructed after 2000 had pets indoors, while only one room in buildings constructed during 1940–1960 had pets. The GEE analysis indicated that the odds ratio of exposure to pets was 4.28 (2.35–7.80, 95% CI) for wheezing. Thus, the wheezing problems in this study may rather be due to more allergens together with lower ventilation rate than to dampness in old buildings.

Dry cough had a significantly positive relationship with condensation, as well as an association between eczema and suspected water damage. Dry cough occurred more often in old buildings with a mouldy and pungent smell (data not shown).

In Sweden, typically adults had one to two infections per year, and children had three to six infections per year (Rado and Eriksson, 1999), while in this study 10.1% of young students suffered from the common cold more than six times in the last 12 months. Students suffered from the common cold more often in rooms with dampness indicators after adjustment for confounders.

In some previous studies, more allergic sensitization was found in individuals living in heavily polluted urban areas (Krämer et al., 2000; Nicolai et al., 2003). There is also evidence of an association between allergy and increased atmospheric concentration of PM2.5 (particles with aerodynamic diameter ≤2.5 μm) (Annesi-Maesano et al., 2007). However, such associations are lacking consistency in population level studies. In the case–control study, concentrations of respiratory particles were measured. Further analysis is needed to clarify the association between air particles (especially PM2.5) and allergic symptoms.

The demographic information and living condition of the subjects in the present cross-sectional study are typical for students in Chinese universities.

Conclusions

  • • Condensation on inner windowpanes during winter had significant associations with PVC-frame windows and occupancy level. The PVC-frame windows made buildings tighter compared with wooden and iron frame windows, and moisture from occupants will not be removed efficiently. Thus, mechanical ventilation is needed.
  • • Dry air was more often perceived in rooms with more condensation. The condensation is an indicator of high RH in the room air and of poor ventilation. This finding shows that the perception of dry air is not only due to physically dry air, but also due to insufficient ventilation resulting in more polluted air.
  • • Buildings constructed after 2000 and/or rooms with pets had a higher prevalence rate of wheezing than other buildings and rooms. Dry cough during the night had a significantly positive association with condensation on inner windowpanes during winter. Eczema was often reported in rooms with suspected moisture problems. The prevalence of the common cold was significantly increased in rooms with dampness indicators.

Acknowledgements

We appreciate all the participating students at Tianjin University, and Dr. Linda Hägerhed-Engman, SP Swedish National Testing and Research Institute, for her assistant and communication in the cross-sectional study.

Appendix

Appendix: Questions on allergy and airways infections used in this cross-sectional study

Allergic diseases

1. Have you had wheezing or whistling in the chest in the last 12 months?

• Yes • No

If Yes, under which circumstances? (more than one alternative possible)

• When having a cold • During exercise • When laughing or weeping • When playing or being outdoors • In contact with furred animals

2. In the last 12 months, have you had a dry cough at night for more than 2 weeks, apart from a cough associated with a cold or chest infection?

• Yes • No

3. Have you been diagnosed with asthma by a doctor?

• Yes • No

4. Have you had croup (breathing difficulties with severe (dry) cough)?

• Yes • No

5. In the last 12 months, have you had a problem with sneezing, or a runny or blocked nose when you did not have a cold or flu?

• Yes • No

6. In the last 12 months, have you had a problem with sneezing, a runny or a blocked nose, or itchy-watery eyes after being in contact with furry animals?

• Yes • No

7. In the last 12 months, have you had a problem with sneezing, a runny or a blocked nose, or itchy-watery eyes after being in contact with pollen?

• No • Yes, only at leafing (when the trees are leafing) (May) • Yes, only with grass (July–August) • Yes, both at leafing and with grass

8. Have you been diagnosed with hay fever or allergic rhinitis by a doctor?

• Yes • No

9. Have you had an itchy rash (eczema) at any time in the last 12 months?

• Yes • No

10. In the last 12 months, how often, on average, have you been kept awake at night by this itchy rash?

• Never • Less than one night per week • One or more nights per week

Airways infections

1. In the last 12 months, how many times have you had a cold?

• Less than 6 times • 6–10 times • More than 10 times

2. How long does a cold usually last?

• Less than 2 weeks • 2–4 weeks • More than 4 weeks

3. Have you been diagnosed with pneumonia by a doctor?

• Yes • No

4. Have you ever had inflammations of the ears?

• No • Yes, 1–2 times • Yes, 3–5 times • Yes, more than 5 times

5. In the last 3 months, have you suffered from fatigue, cough, fever or night sweats?

• Yes, frequently (weekly) • Yes, sometimes • No, never

6. In the last 3 months, have you suffered from chest pain and haemoptysis?

• Yes, frequently (weekly) • Yes, sometimes • No, never

7. Have you been diagnosed with tuberculosis by a doctor?

• Yes • No

Abstract

Abstract 

Abstract  A cross-sectional study was carried out at Tianjin University campus, China, from February 21 to June 10, 2006, to survey the association between dampness in dorms, and allergy and airways infections among college students. The health and dampness conditions were self-reported by 3436 students living in 1511 dorm rooms located in 13 buildings on the campus. The buildings were selected according to their positions, construction periods and occupant densities. The symptoms involved wheezing, dry cough during night, rhinitis, eczema, cold/flu, ear inflammation, pneumonia and tuberculosis. The indoor moisture signs were mould/damp spots on walls, ceilings and floors; suspected or ever happened water damage; condensation on windowpane in winter and odours perceived by subjects themselves. There was a significant positive association between condensation and dry cough. Eczema was often reported in rooms with moisture problem. Dampness was a significant risk factor for common cold.

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