Can Paint Fumes Cause Permanent Brain Damage?

Though years of improvement, there is still risk that exposure to paint fumes can cause permanent brain damage.

Since each individual's immune system is different, it is hard to determine how much exposure to paint fumes it takes to have damaging effects. In most cases, it takes years of exposure to affect the brain. But in some rare instances, a single exposure to paint fumes has left impairment, depending on the level of exposure, current health, and the solvents exposed to. And, of course, there are those who are never affected.

Compared to twenty-five years ago, the solvent emissions in a gallon of paint are up to ninety percent less. However, most paints still contain harmful fumes if inhaled or absorbed. In fact, most of us are unaware of the effects that one coat of paint may have. Low levels of vapors from either formaldehyde, benzene, butane, propane, and fluorinated hydrocarbons found in can or spray paints are released on a daily basis for the first thirty days after application. But even year's later small amounts of toxic fumes can continue to leak into the air. Over a period, exposure to these fumes can be harmful to the brain.

Another danger is exposure to lead-based paint. Although most lead-based paints have been pulled from markets, over eighty percent of homes built before 1978 still have lead paint in them. Lead is a poisonous heavy metal. If lead-based paint is disturbed by sanding, scraping, or abrading, fumes and particles may be produced. These fumes and paint chips, if inhaled or ingested over time, can cause lead poisoning and change brain chemistry. Lead poisoning can be contracted at any age but has a greater impact on children who can suffer learning disabilities, visual and hearing impairments, IQ deficiencies, and behavior problems. Keep in mind that the fetus of a pregnant woman can be affected as well. Lead poisoning may occur gradually with no obvious symptoms. If you suspect lead-based paint, have the paint tested. Other preventative measures are to have the paint removed or coated with a sealant or gypsum wallboard, but try not to stir up fumes or dust. Wiping the surface periodically with a high phosphorous cleaning solution can be helpful if no other alternative. Painting over the lead-based paint with non-lead paint does not prove to be effective since eventually the paint can wear off or produce a mixture of toxic fumes.

What happens to the brain with over-exposure to paint fumes is the destruction of brain cells and disruption in normal brain activity. When toxic paint fumes are inhaled (be aware that paint can soak into the skin and cause the same problems as inhaling the vapors), these toxins target fatty tissues such as the myelin sheath of the brain. Over time, this protective covering of the brain becomes removed, reducing brain cells and damaging axons. Presently, the process of demyelination is irreversible and decreases nervous system activity effecting neurological and behavioral functions. Abnormalities in brain areas are apparent such as, if there is damage to the cerebellum, involved movement can be affected, or if the cerebral cortex is damaged, cognitive dysfunctions can occur. Also, brain-imaging techniques, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), can detect lesions or size reduction in areas of the brain including the cerebral cortex, cerebellum, and brainstem.

Some common signs and symptoms of over-exposure to paint fumes is dizziness, headaches, frequent runny nose or eyes. In severe cases, you may experience difficulty breathing, tremors or shaky hands, irritability, memory loss, or slurred speech. If you experience any of these symptoms after exposure to paint fumes, consult your physician immediately.

A serious solvent abuse among teens, and some adults, is called "Huffing". This is where paint fumes, especially from spray paints, are deeply inhaled. The toxins enter the blood stream quickly and then are distributed throughout the brain and body. The fumes have a direct effect on the central nervous system consisting of the brain and spinal cord giving the person a high. Every huff is dangerous and can lead to brain damage, or worse Sudden Sniffing Death (SSD). SSD can occur when the inhaled fumes take the place of oxygen in the lungs and brain of the central nervous system.

Doctors have found correlations with over-exposure of paint fumes contributing to chronic or terminal illnesses related to the brain. One is called "the burning brain" effect, which is an exposure to a combination of toxic fumes or heavy metals found in a number of materials including lead-based paint or spray paint used for painting automobiles. When exposed to this combination of toxic fumes or solvents, over a period they may cause what doctors refer to as a synergistic effect, or greater effect than absorbing just one toxin. Since toxins in the brain cause free radical damage, inflammation occurs forming holes in the blood-brain barrier and stimulating a burning sensation. In order to relieve this inflammation and burning the toxins must be removed; however, there still may be some form of permanent brain damage afterwards, usually to the central nervous system. Other serious medical problems that can possibly develop from over-exposure to paint fumes are autoimmune diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis, brain cancer, and Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease.

Knowing the potential hazard of exposure to paint fumes, you'll want to take every precaution with your painting project, big or small. You should always use a respirator when painting and have proper ventilation. It is best to seal off the room or area you are painting to keep fumes from floating into other areas. Wearing thick chemical resistant gloves is a good way to prevent paint from getting on your hands and toxins absorbing into the skin. Also, you should wear full clothing to prevent further skin exposure, and change your clothes directly after painting. If possible, you should try to avoid the painted area for at least two days. One way to keep the air in your home or office clean is to buy some toxin absorbing plants. More than one hundred plants were tested and proved to purify toxins in the air at a slow rate.

Though not scientifically proven, physicians have noticed taking vitamins and herbs can help relieve some of the effects that toxins have on our body. There are supplements that can help remove toxins from the body, such as Milk Thistle supplement, and other needed vitamins are antioxidants such as vitamin C, zinc, selenium, and vitamin E.

With evidence that there is risk with exposure to harmful paint fumes, taking extra precaution, no matter the cost, is worth preventing life-long effects to the brain.

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