Health Risks of Diesel Exhaust Fumes

Updated February 21, 2017

Diesel exhaust fumes can pose certain risks to a person's health. Short-term health effects of diesel exhaust fumes are generally temporary as long as the exposure to diesel exhaust fumes is not constant. However, long-term health effects can cause serious complications that may even lead to deaths.


A short-term effect of diesel exhaust fume exposure is irritation. Some people will experience respiratory tract irritation, eye irritation or both. Those who experience this effect will typically notice that it will disappear once they are away from the diesel exhaust fumes. Those who spend a lot of time around diesel exhaust fumes may develop chronic eye or respiratory tract irritation.

Coughing, Heavy Chest and Shortness of Breath

Those who are often exposed to diesel exhaust fumes may experience coughing, a feeling of heaviness in their chest and shortness of breath. This can be a short-term effect as well in those who do not tolerate the fumes well. As a long-term effect, the coughing, heavy chest and shortness of breath can become a chronic problem.

Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is a type of cancer that affects the lungs. It can be life-threatening, especially in those who are older, have another lung condition or have a compromised immune system. Those who have been regularly exposed to diesel exhaust fumes for approximately 20 years or more are at risk for developing lung cancer.


Dermatitis is defined as a skin inflammation. It typically presents with reddened, swollen and itchy skin. This condition is not life-threatening, but it can be quite uncomfortable for some people. Those who already have skin conditions may find dermatitis more difficult to cope with. And if skin has come into contact with cold diesel, they at risk for developing dermatitis.

Other Cancers

Lung cancer is the most common cancer associated with exposure to diesel exhaust fumes. However, other cancers may develop as a result of exposure to diesel exhaust fumes, including cancer of the kidneys, larynx, bladder and pancreas.

Other Health Problems

Exposure to diesel exhaust fumes may lead to other health problems. These problems typically occur in those with high rates of exposure and long-term exposure. These health problems can include other lung diseases, headaches, heart diseases, asthma, lung damage and immune system problems. Those who already suffer from asthma may experience a worsening of their asthma symptoms.

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About the Author

Rose Kitchen is a freelance medical writer pursuing a bachelor's degree in sociology and education. She has a nursing background and is going back to nursing school in September 2011 for her R.N. Kitchen holds a certificate in anatomy and physiology and English and is pursuing certificates in natural and alternative medicine, fitness and nutrition and sports nutrition.