Addressing the health effects of indoor air pollution

Addressing the health effects of indoor air pollution
© iStock/Drbouz

Did you know that indoor air pollution is a thing? Here guest author Jennifer Shawn covers hints, tips and tricks to make the air in our homes purer and cleaner.

We can control the air we breathe in our homes, a little better than we can control the air outside – after all, we’re at the mercy of smoke, fumes from fuel and all sorts of other pollutants once we step outdoors. What can we do to reduce indoor air pollution?

In 383 European cities spanning 10 different countries, 83% of people were exposed to particulate matter less than 10 micrometres in size. Particles at this size are so small they become trapped in the lungs and can cause serious health consequences. Sources of indoor air pollution, such as mould, increase the risk of respiratory disease in both children and adults by up to 50%. Smoke inhalation within the home also increases the risk of lung and cardiovascular disease, as well as cancer, and can dramatically reduce life expectancy. Making changes within your home can help ease the global burden of air pollution, and directly improve your family’s health and well-being.

Indoor air pollution: protecting air quality to prevent asthma

Asthma is a common respiratory condition, affecting 8.2% of adults and 9.2% of children across Europe. This condition causes the lungs to swell and produce excess mucus, making it difficult to breathe. To prevent the onset and progress of asthma, prioritising indoor air quality is key. Moisture levels in the air affect asthma in a number of ways. Air that is too damp creates an ideal environment for mould growth and dust mites, which can exacerbate symptoms of allergic asthma.

Proper ventilation, using a dehumidifier and remedying any leaks in your home can reduce moisture levels. In more arid climates, people who have asthma may have difficulty breathing as well, as cold, dry air constricts the airways and increases histamine levels in the body, contributing to lung inflammation. To put moisture back into the air, you can try keeping houseplants, using humidifiers and incorporating indoor water features.

Identifying and eliminating harmful chemicals to prevent cancer

Volatile organic compounds are harmful chemicals that vaporise at room temperature and linger in the air, causing a number of health problems. There are both organic and inorganic sources of VOCs found in your home. Cleaning and self-care products, as well as building materials, frequently emit VOCs. Formaldehyde, for example, can be found in bath soaps, air fresheners and cigarette smoke, and can be carcinogenic when inhaled at high levels over a long period of time.

Phthalates, which are a group of chemicals used frequently as plasticisers in detergents, aerosol sprays and cosmetics, can leach and cling to other airborne particulates, also affecting the quality of air in your home. Phthalates are categorised as an endocrine disruptor, which means they alter hormone levels in the body and have been linked with breast and thyroid cancer. Always read the ingredients in any commercial products you use and look for natural alternatives. Air purifiers can be used to target and remove small particulates from the air. A continuously running water source, like a water fountain or waterfall, generates ozone and emits negative ions, which attach to and weigh down VOCs, removing them from the air.

Combating dust to ease allergies

Dust mites are the most common cause of year-round allergies. The excrement and remains of these microscopic bugs can be found in household dust, triggering skin rashes, watery eyes and nasal congestion in many. Cleaning and changing your home’s HVAC air filters can help prevent the circulation of dust particles throughout your home. Removing shoes before entering the house, keeping your pets groomed and not smoking in your home can also help manage dust accumulation to prevent allergic reactions.

Poor indoor air quality accounts for a large percentage of diseases worldwide. Identifying and eliminating harmful particulates in your home is vital for your family’s health and reducing the global effects of air pollution. With increased awareness and a proactive approach, your family can enjoy cleaner air and better health.

Jennifer Shawn
Guest Author


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