Health Risks Associated With Poor Indoor Air Quality

Isn’t it fair enough to say that the air we breathe inside our homes is cleaner than what we breathe outside?

Think about it: the harmful carbon dioxide and chemical emissions, chocking smog, waste from manufacturing companies and toxic petrol fumes. Is that not enough to make you want to stay indoors?

Most people think it is only outdoor air that is polluted and tend to ignore the health risks associated with poor indoor air quality.

However, what might come as a shock to many people is that much of the toxic and air polluting substances found outdoors are equally indoors. In fact, according to EPA, the concentration of indoor air pollutants can be 2-5 times higher than the outdoor air pollutants.

For that reason, it is fair to say that health risks associated with indoor air pollution are much higher than outdoor.

To put that statement into perspective, let’s discuss the World Health Organization (WHO) report about household air pollution and its effects on health.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over 4 million people worldwide die prematurely each year from illnesses linked to indoor air pollution. In another sturdy, about 7 million death cases are reported every year from illnesses attributed to air pollution.

What do you make of the two reports?

Air pollution is one of the greatest environmental health risks on Earth. It has been associated with the increase in respiratory ailments, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer.

Indoor air pollution on the other hand has become a public health priority. It has been linked with several lifestyle diseases including stroke, ischemic heart disease, acute lower respiratory diseases in children, and lung cancer.

That means, the air you breathe inside of your home can have a drastic effect on your overall health. If you don’t take it seriously, you might end up destabilizing your daily functioning. Even worse, you might end up dead.

Therefore, if you haven’t put much thought into what you may actually be breathing into your lungs inside your home, understanding the health risks associated with poor indoor air quality can encourage you to prioritize and make your indoor environment as clean and healthy as possible.

But first, what are the sources of indoor air pollution?

Sources of Indoor Air Pollution

sources of indoor air pollutionIf you are like most people, you probably spend a good portion of your time indoors, with little exchange of air. And as we have learned, indoor air is notoriously worse than the outdoor air, which poses serious risks to your health.

To improve the quality of air in your home, you have to keep it clean and fresh at all times. That not only includes cleaning your households regularly but also identifying the various sources of air pollution in your home and taking the necessary measures to eliminate them, and make sure the air you and your family breathes is clean and healthy.

Indoor air pollutants can be traced to various sources. While one of the common causes of household air pollution is cooking with solid fuels, the list of possible indoor air pollutants that you may find in your home is relatively endless. Therefore, dealing with one source alone won’t be enough to improve the quality of air in your home.

Here are some of the top sources of indoor air pollution to watch out for in your own home:

  • Combustion sources (oil, gas, coal, wood, kerosene, and tobacco products)
  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) (formaldehyde and other chemicals in furniture or finishes)
  • Personal care products (perfumes, hairsprays)
  • Central heating and cooling systems and humidification devices – when they are not well-maintained.
  • Carbon monoxide and other gases
  • Radon and other noxious agents
  • Chemical agents (nitrogen and sulfur oxides, ozone, pesticides)
  • Biological agents (microbial organisms, mold, dust mites)
  • Lack of ventilation
  • Building materials – asbestos
  • Household cleaners
  • Water infiltration or leakage
  • Excess humidity
  • carpets

This list has probably opened your eyes, and you hate yourself for ignoring some of these indoor air pollutants. As I mentioned, this list can be endless, but it includes some of the common sources of air pollution in your home that you need to start watching out for.

When the air in your house is contaminated, it might be difficult to identify the sources, leave alone identify with your own senses whether the air you’re breathing is clean or not.

Just because you feel comfortable in your home doesn’t mean air pollutants doesn’t exist. That’s why you need to invest heavily in reliable filtration and ventilation system that can dilute any contaminated air particles, consistently removing polluted air from inside and bringing in cleaner air from outside.

If you don’t have high-efficiency air filters and proper ventilation to ensure healthy air flow, those contaminated air particles can’t find their way out, and this can drastically reduce the quality of air in your home.

Symptoms of Indoor Air Pollution

health effects of indoor air pollutionNow that you know continuous accumulation of toxins and contaminants can reduce the quality of air in your home, it’s equally important to be aware of the symptoms likely to indicate that your home is polluted.

Recognizing these symptoms can help you be alert when your indoor air quality is polluted. Many times, people ignore these symptoms and link them to other issues.

However, if these symptoms persist over a long time, that’s a clear indication that you need to address air quality in your home.

Some people are far more sensitive to contaminants and would be affected immediately (begin to notice symptoms immediately after a single exposure or repeated exposures to a pollutant). Others might take time, but it won’t take long before you develop a cough, realize that your nose is becoming stuffy or have difficulty breathing.

So, here are common symptoms you are likely to experience when your indoor air quality is poor.

  • Sneezing or coughing
  • Irritated or sore throat
  • Itchy or runny nose
  • Itchy or watery eyes
  • Dizziness or nausea
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Inability to concentrate.

Remember, these early and relatively minor symptoms are often easy to eliminate. All you have to do is allow some fresh air into your house, and you’ll immediately notice some symptoms subsiding. If you don’t realize any major changes, you can visit a doctor and treat specific symptoms.

While the best thing to do would be to clean your home or hire an HVAC technician to test the quality of air in your home, avoiding any affected rooms within your house that may be making you sick can help a great deal decreasing the symptoms.

Health Risks Associated with Poor Indoor Air Quality

While the symptoms mentioned above tend to be quick and immediate, they are entirely treatable or disappear after some time if you avoid the polluted area.

But we all know poor indoor air quality does not affect us the same way. Some people may not notice these symptoms until some time has passed. This is very dangerous because the continuous flow of contaminated indoor air can cause or contribute to the development of some deadly diseases.

Moreover, being that we are uncertain about what concentrations or periods of exposure are necessary to produce specific health problem, it is prudent to try to improve the quality of air in your home even when symptoms are not noticeable.

With all that in mind, here are the life-threatening health risks associated with poor indoor air quality.

Asthma

Asthma is a chronic disease that is characterized by shortness of breath, and trigger coughing, wheezing and chest tightness.

The best ways of keeping asthma under control are maintaining a healthy lifestyle and working closely with a health professional. More importantly, you have to avoid asthma triggers, which are some of the common sources of air pollution in your home. They include pollen, mold, dust mites, animal dander, and fragrances, etc.

When exposed to the above pollutants, asthma symptoms usually tend to worsen. In fact, asthma exacerbation is 40 percent higher during summer, when the quality of air takes a turn for the worse, than on days with average pollution levels.

As you can imagine, people who spend most of their time indoors, especially asthmatics, are more likely to suffer if their indoor air quality is poor. Over time, their immune system weakens, making them susceptible to other heart diseases.

Chronic respiratory infections

Apart from allergic disorders like asthma, another health risk associated with poor indoor air quality is chronic respiratory infections.

Some of the common chronic respiratory infections that develop as a result of poor indoor air quality are chronic respiratory failure, chronic sinusitis, chronic bronchitis, rhinitis, pneumonia, and influenza.

Source of indoor air pollution that causes chronic respiratory infection are smoking, cooking, home renovations, and the use of cleaning disinfectants or air-fresheners.

Chronic respiratory infections repeatedly occur over time. Disease severity increases in the fall and winter seasons when people are spending more time indoors and in groups. This is because there is a high number of contaminants in the air which makes it easy for the virus to spread.

All these diseases are characterized by difficulty in breathing, coughing, chest problems, sore throat, and mucus production.

Chronic lung infections

Chronic lung infections are some of the common debilitating health conditions in the world. In the US alone, all chronic lung infections were linked to the death of 1 million Americans in 2010.

While lung cancer might be the first condition to come to your mind when you hear the word chronic lung infection, there are actually other diseases too. They include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), interstitial lung disease, pulmonary hypertension, cystic fibrosis, and chronic pneumonia.

Several risk factors can contribute to chronic lung infections. However, the most common indoor air pollutants come from cigarette smoking and cooking using polluting open fires or simple stoves fueled by kerosene, biomass, and coal.

Because these diseases progress slowly over a period, continuous exposure to indoor air pollutants their diseases severity which can lead to premature death.

If you experience symptoms such as shortness of breath, wheezing, or feeling of not being able to get enough air, you need to visit a doctor for examination and treatment.

Last Words

A clean indoor environment is all we need for a healthy, disease-free lifestyle.

If you thought that outdoor air pollution is worse, it’s high time you focus on indoor air because now you know that the opposite is true.

However, what’s important to note is, unlike outdoor air, which you don’t have total control over, you have all the power over what happens in your home, and you can use it to remove allergens and pollutants regularly.

Continuous build-up of contaminants will increase your chances of getting sick. And since there is uncertainty about what concentrations or periods of exposure are necessary to produce specific health problems, cleaning your home and maintaining an efficient flow of air in your home are your best solutions.

All these health risks associated with poor indoor air quality, whether short-term or long-term, are preventable if you give the air inside your home the attention it deserves.