Formaldehyde is found in a number of products. While most of these products contain a relatively low amount of the compound, others have a fairly strong concentration of formaldehyde. This is particularly true with products used in the course of scientific research and other professions where tissue is preserved in some manner. Formaldehyde exposure can lead to side effects that range from mild to life-threatening.
Many experts choose to classify various types of formaldehyde exposure into two different categories. Acute exposure is understood to be limited exposure that results in side effects that are short-term and usually easy to treat. By contrast, chronic exposure to formaldehyde involves situations where the individual is exposed on a regular basis to the compound and has developed symptoms that are long-term and may even lead to permanent health issues.
Among the acute effects of formaldehyde are irritations of the eyes, the nose, and the throat. When exposed to the compound for an appreciable length of time, the throat may feel raw and sore. At the same time, the eyes may begin to feel as if there is something grainy resting against each eyeball. Like the throat, the interior area of the nose may begin to feel raw and somewhat sore. Coughing and some trouble breathing may also be present until the individual is removed from the area where the formaldehyde is in use.
With chronic formaldehyde exposure, constant exposure can lead to the development of all the effects of acute exposure, but go far beyond them. Along with irritation of the nose, eyes, and throat, the respiratory system may be negatively impacted, leading to pain when attempting to breathe. If not treated in a timely manner, the exposure can lead to the creation of lesions in the respiratory system and cause damage to the lungs that may or may not be reversible.
People with a formaldehyde allergy are also likely to develop severe skin rashes when coming into contact with the substance. The skin may appear burned, develop welts, or become dry and cracked, depending on the severity of the allergic reaction. Prompt attention to the reaction must take place in order to prevent the possibility of scarring.
There is also some evidence that constant formaldehyde exposure increases the chances of developing certain forms of cancer. In particular, the incidence of lung and nose cancer appears to be significantly higher among people who regularly come in contact with formaldehyde. This has led many countries to establish guidelines that set what is considered a maximum amount of exposure on a daily basis. At present, there is no universal maximum in place across the world, although many countries utilize a figure of 0.2 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day.
In some cases, formaldehyde exposure can lead to death. Professionals who make use of the substance as part of their work often wear protective clothing, including breathing masks, in order to safeguard against this possibility. Devices are used to monitor the indoor air quality in labs and other settings where formaldehyde is used regularly. When an unsafe level of formaldehyde emissions is found to be present, it is not unusual for the area to be vacated while the space is ventilated.