Original article

Scand J Work Environ Health 2006;32(2):138-144    pdf

doi:10.5271/sjweh.989

Changes in ocular and nasal signs and symptoms among air crew in relation to air humidification on intercontinental flights

by Norbäck D, Lindgren T, Wieslander G

Objective This study evaluates the influence of air humidification in aircraft on symptoms, tear-film stability, nasal patency, and peak expiratory flow.

Methods Commercial air crew (N=71) were given a medical examination during eight flights from Stockholm to Chicago and eight flights in the opposite direction. Examinations were done onboard one Boeing 767 aircraft equipped with an evaporation humidifier in the forward part of the cabin. The investigators followed the air crew, staying one night in Chicago and returning with the same crew. Four of the flights had the air humidifiction device active in-flight to Chicago and deactivated when returning to Stockholm. The other four flights had the inverse humidification sequence. The humidification sequence was randomized and double blind. Hygienic measurements were performed.

Results The humidification increased the relative air humidity by 10% in the 1st row in business class, by 3% in the last row (39th row) in tourist class, and by 3% in the cockpit. Air humidification increased tear-film stability and nasal patency and decreased ocular, nasal, and dermal symptoms and headache. The mean concentration of viable bacteria [77–108 colony-forming units (cfu)/m3], viable molds (74–84 cfu/m3), and particulate matter (1–8 µg/m3) was low, both during the humidified and nonhumidified flights.

Conclusions Relative air humidity is low (10–12%) during intercontinental flights and can be increased by the use of a ceramic evaporation humidifier, without any measurable increase of microorganisms in cabin air. Air humidification could increase passenger and crew comfort by increasing tear-film stability and nasal patency and reducing various symptoms.