What are the Symptoms of Formaldehyde Exposure?

by | Mar 14, 2024 | Chemical Injury, Formaldehyde Exposure, Personal Injury, Product Liability, Product Recall

Formaldehyde is a chemical compound with a pungent odor. It is widely used in various industries, including manufacturing, construction, and healthcare. Despite its common presence, formaldehyde exposure can pose significant health risks. Recognizing the symptoms of formaldehyde exposure is crucial for identifying potential health issues and taking necessary precautions.

In our guide below, the product liability lawyers at Kherkher Garcia offer guidance on how to recognize the symptoms of formaldehyde exposure, as well as the most common sources of exposure. If you believe that your illness is related to formaldehyde exposure, do not hesitate to contact us to learn more.

Understanding Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde, with the chemical formula CH2O, is a colorless gas at room temperature. It is highly soluble in water and flammable in its gaseous state. Due to its versatile properties, formaldehyde finds extensive use in manufacturing a plethora of consumer products, including:

  • Furniture
  • Textiles
  • Carpet and upholstery
  • Household cleaners
  • Building materials
  • Insulation
  • Paints and lacquers
  • Personal care products

Formaldehyde is also employed in medical laboratories as a preservative and disinfectant.

Symptoms of Formaldehyde Exposure

Recognizing the symptoms of formaldehyde exposure is essential for early detection and prevention of potential health risks. Here are some common symptoms to watch out for:

  • Respiratory Irritation: One of the most common symptoms of formaldehyde exposure is irritation of the respiratory system. This can manifest as coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, and difficulty breathing. Individuals with pre-existing respiratory conditions such as asthma may experience exacerbation of their symptoms.
  • Eye Irritation: Formaldehyde exposure can irritate the eyes, leading to symptoms such as redness, itching, tearing, and burning sensation. Prolonged exposure may cause conjunctivitis (pink eye) or other eye infections.
  • Nasal Irritation: Inhalation of formaldehyde vapors can irritate the nasal passages, causing symptoms like a runny or stuffy nose, sneezing, and nasal congestion. In some cases, individuals may also experience nosebleeds due to the irritation of the nasal mucosa.
  • Skin Irritation: Direct contact with formaldehyde or its solutions can irritate the skin, resulting in redness, itching, rash, and dermatitis. Sensitivity to formaldehyde can vary among individuals, with some people experiencing more severe skin reactions than others.
  • Headaches and Dizziness: Exposure to high levels of formaldehyde may trigger headaches, dizziness, nausea, and fatigue. These symptoms typically occur when individuals are exposed to formaldehyde in poorly ventilated spaces for an extended period.
  • Sore Throat and Hoarseness: Formaldehyde vapors can irritate the throat, leading to symptoms such as a sore throat, hoarseness, and difficulty swallowing. Persistent exposure may cause chronic throat irritation and inflammation.
  • Chest Pain and Respiratory Distress: In severe cases of formaldehyde exposure, individuals may experience chest pain, palpitations, and respiratory distress. These symptoms warrant immediate medical attention as they may indicate acute respiratory complications.

These symptoms may vary depending on the concentration of formaldehyde in the environment and the duration of exposure.

Common Sources of Formaldehyde Exposure

Formaldehyde exposure can occur through various sources, both indoors and outdoors. Here are some of the most common sources of formaldehyde exposure:

Building Materials

Formaldehyde is often found in building materials such as plywood, particleboard, fiberboard, and insulation foam. These materials may release formaldehyde gas over time, especially in poorly ventilated spaces or newly constructed buildings.

Household Products

Many household products contain formaldehyde or release formaldehyde gas as they degrade over time. Common examples include pressed wood products (furniture, cabinets), laminate flooring, carpets, wallpaper, paints, varnishes, adhesives, and sealants.

Tobacco Smoke

Cigarette smoke is a significant source of formaldehyde indoors. When tobacco is burned, it releases formaldehyde and other harmful chemicals into the air. Secondhand smoke exposure can be particularly concerning, especially for non-smokers who share living spaces with smokers.

Consumer Products

Formaldehyde is used in the manufacturing of various consumer products, including textiles (clothing, bedding), upholstery, cosmetics, personal care products (shampoos, lotions), and household cleaners. Residual formaldehyde can be present in these products, posing a risk of exposure during use.

Industrial Processes

Formaldehyde is widely used in industrial processes, including the production of resins, plastics, synthetic fibers, and agricultural chemicals. Workers in industries such as manufacturing, chemical production, textile processing, and healthcare may be exposed to formaldehyde during the manufacturing or handling of these products.

Vehicle Emissions

Formaldehyde is emitted from vehicle exhaust, particularly in areas with heavy traffic congestion. Although modern vehicles are equipped with catalytic converters to reduce emissions, formaldehyde can still be released as a byproduct of incomplete combustion of fuel.

Combustion Sources

Formaldehyde can be produced during combustion processes, such as burning wood, natural gas, or other organic materials. Wood-burning stoves, fireplaces, and gas appliances can release formaldehyde into indoor air if not properly vented.

Medical and Laboratory Settings

Formaldehyde is commonly used in medical and laboratory settings as a preservative for biological specimens, as well as a disinfectant for equipment and surfaces. Healthcare workers, laboratory technicians, and pathologists may be exposed to formaldehyde vapors during the handling and processing of specimens.

Environmental Pollution

Formaldehyde is released into the environment through industrial emissions, vehicle exhaust, and natural processes such as forest fires and vegetation decay. Outdoor air pollution can contribute to overall exposure levels, particularly in urban areas with high industrial activity or traffic.

It is important to note that the level of formaldehyde exposure from each source can vary depending on factors such as concentration, duration of exposure, and ventilation. Minimizing exposure to formaldehyde often involves implementing proper ventilation strategies, using low-formaldehyde or formaldehyde-free products, and adopting practices that reduce emissions and indoor air pollution.

Health Effects of Formaldehyde Exposure

Exposure to formaldehyde can lead to a range of health effects, depending on the duration and concentration of exposure.

  • Short-term exposure to low levels of formaldehyde may cause symptoms such as irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, coughing, and difficulty breathing. These symptoms are typically mild and reversible once the exposure ceases.
  • Prolonged or high-level exposure to formaldehyde can result in more severe health problems. Long-term exposure has been linked to respiratory issues such as asthma and bronchitis.

Additionally, formaldehyde is classified as a human carcinogen by several health organizations, including the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), with evidence suggesting an increased risk of nasopharyngeal cancer and leukemia associated with prolonged exposure.

When is Formaldehyde Exposure a Product Liability Matter?

Formaldehyde exposure can lead to product liability claims under certain circumstances, particularly when individuals suffer harm or injury due to the use or exposure to products containing formaldehyde. Product liability claims arise when a product is deemed defective or unreasonably dangerous, and its use results in injury or damage to the user or consumer. Here are some situations where formaldehyde exposure may give rise to a product liability claim:

Defective Product Design

If a product containing formaldehyde is defectively designed in a way that poses a foreseeable risk of harm to consumers, it may give rise to a product liability claim. For example, if a manufacturer designs furniture using materials known to emit high levels of formaldehyde and fails to provide adequate warnings or safety measures, consumers exposed to harmful levels of formaldehyde may have grounds for a claim.

Failure to Warn

Manufacturers have a duty to warn consumers about any known risks associated with their products, including the presence of formaldehyde. If a product containing formaldehyde does not carry sufficient warnings or instructions regarding the potential health hazards of formaldehyde exposure, and consumers suffer harm as a result, the manufacturer may be held liable for failing to provide adequate warnings.

Misrepresentation or Fraud

Product liability claims may also arise if manufacturers misrepresent or conceal information about the presence of formaldehyde in their products. For example, if a company falsely advertises its products as “formaldehyde-free” or claims that they meet certain safety standards when they do not, consumers who are harmed by exposure to formaldehyde may have grounds for a claim based on misrepresentation or fraud.

Breach of Warranty

Product warranties, whether express or implied, provide consumers with certain assurances regarding the safety and performance of the product. If a product containing formaldehyde fails to meet the standards outlined in its warranty and causes harm to the consumer, the manufacturer may be held liable for breach of warranty.


Manufacturers, distributors, and retailers owe a duty of care to consumers to ensure that their products are reasonably safe for their intended use. If these parties fail to exercise reasonable care in designing, manufacturing, testing, or distributing products containing formaldehyde, and consumers are injured as a result, they may be found negligent and held liable for damages.

Strict Liability

In some jurisdictions, product liability claims involving defective products may be subject to strict liability, meaning that the injured party does not need to prove negligence or fault on the part of the manufacturer or seller. Instead, liability is imposed simply because the product was defective and caused harm when used as intended.

It is important to note that the success of a product liability claim involving formaldehyde exposure will depend on various factors, including the specific circumstances of the case, the applicable laws and regulations, and the availability of evidence linking the product to the plaintiff’s injuries.

Learn More about Formaldehyde Exposure and Product Liability

If you believe you have been harmed by formaldehyde exposure, consult with a qualified lawyer to assess your legal options and determine if your situations constitutes a product liability claim. At Kherkher Garcia, our product liability lawyers will listen to your story, determine if you have a claim, and carefully assess your needs, goals, and best options for success.

With more than 30 years of experience winning product liability claims for clients, we have what it takes to fight for your rights. To learn more about formaldehyde exposure and product liability claims, contact our team for a free consultation. You can call us at 713-333-1030, or submit our online contact form.

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Steve Kherkher

Steve Kherkher

Founding Partner and Trial Lawyer

This article was written and reviewed by Injury Trial Lawyer and Founding Firm Partner Steve Kherkher. Steve has been a practicing injury lawyer for more than 30 years. He has won $300 Million+ in Settlements and Verdicts for his clients. He is a force to be reckoned with in the courtroom and the trial lawyer you want on your side if you or a loved one have been catastrophically injured.

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