A person sensitive to formaldehyde may display symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, nausea, skin irritation, and a burning sensation in the eyes, nose and throat when exposed to it, while another may not react at all, according to the National Cancer Institute. Prolonged exposure to formaldehyde may also cause cancer.
Formaldehyde is a colorless and flammable gas with a strong odor, explains the National Cancer Institute. Often used as a preservative in laboratories and mortuaries, it is also a component of certain fabrics, building materials, fertilizer, resins, and household products such a glues and paints. As a combustion byproduct, formaldehyde is found in cigarette smoke and emissions from unvented fuel-burning stoves and heaters.
Exposure to formaldehyde occurs primarily through breathing in air that contains the gas or vapor, though a person may also absorb formaldehyde through the skin from liquids that contain it, adds the National Cancer Institute. Some people are at a high risk of exposure to formaldehyde because of their work environment. These include industrial workers who produce formaldehyde products, mortuary employees, laboratory technicians and certain health care professionals. However, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has established a federal standard that limits the amount of formaldehyde such workers are exposed to in an eight-hour workday.