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Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)


Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are chemicals found in many household products; examples of VOCs include acetone, formaldehyde, xylene, and toluene. Exposure to volatile organic compounds may cause symptoms such as headaches; nausea; and eye, nose, and throat irritation.

Products that may contain volatile organic compounds include:

  • New furniture and carpets.
  • Paints, paint strippers, and other solvents.
  • Wood preservatives, hobby supplies, and dry-cleaned clothing.
  • Aerosol sprays, cleansers, and disinfectants.
  • Moth repellents and air fresheners.

Volatile organic compounds may cause serious symptoms, such as loss of coordination, liver damage, and damage to the central nervous system. Some volatile organic compounds are suspected to cause cancer in humans and are known to cause cancer in animals.

The level and length of exposure to volatile organic compounds determine the health effects. Controlling exposure or only using household products with adequate fresh-air ventilation may prevent serious health effects.

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerSarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerPeter Rabinowitz, MD, MPH - Occupational and Environmental Medicine
Last RevisedSeptember 23, 2011

eMedicineHealth Medical Reference from Healthwise

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