Since most Americans spend so much time indoors (some say as much as 90%) the quality of our indoor air is crucial. However, recent studies have revealed the perilous effects of breathing in filthy air even when we’re at home. Up to 6 million babies are born prematurely each year due to exposure to air pollution, with almost two-thirds of that exposure occurring inside.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that common sources of indoor air pollution include cooking, cleaning, and even pets. Respiratory infections, heart disease, some malignancies, and even death can result from exposure to high levels of pollution over an extended period of time. Pollution poses the greatest threat to the health of infants and young children, the elderly, and those with preexisting health concerns.
In this article, we’ll look at the most prevalent causes of poor indoor air quality, discuss the effects that this can have on the health of our families, and then provide some suggestions for how we can all do our part to improve things.
Reasons Why You Should Care About The Quality Of The Air Inside Your Home
Carbon monoxide emissions from automobiles are more often thought of when we hear the word “pollution” than those from our own homes. However, the EPA estimates that interior air pollution levels might be up to five times higher than outside levels.
A representative from the EPA tells us that “the potential for and types of health impacts from indoor air pollution depend on many factors,” including the type and amount of pollutants, the health status and sensitivities of occupants, the characteristics of the building and the room, and the ventilation system.
“Exposure to certain indoor pollutants at unsafe levels, for extended periods of time, or on a regular basis has been linked to respiratory illnesses, heart problems, cancer, and even death. Pollutants in the home can also make preexisting diseases like asthma worse “claims the EPA’s official spokesman. The quality of the air we breathe is a serious issue, especially in light of recent research that has linked increased COVID-19 death rates to places with high pollution levels.
Effects of Indoor Air Pollution on Children
Children and infants, whose lungs are still maturing, are especially vulnerable to the adverse effects of subpar indoor air quality. The health of our children is negatively impacted by pollutants, allergens, and infectious microbes that can be found in indoor air, as explained by Elizabeth Matsui, MD, MHS, professor of population health and pediatrics and director of clinical and translational research at Dell Medical School in Texas.
Dr. Matsui warns that “indoor air can have a significant impact on our children’s health,” citing the prevalence of respiratory ailments including persistent nasal congestion, coughing, and sleeplessness as examples. Dr.
Matsui says indoor allergens like dust and pet hair play a significant role in the development of asthma in youngsters.
One study has connected early life exposure to high levels of pollution to lower adult mental health, adding to the list of long-term health hazards associated with poor air quality. At King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology, and Neuroscience, researchers found that prenatal exposure to specific pollutants raised the risk that a kid will have mood disorders like depression or anxiety by the time they turned 18.
The Effects of Indoor Pollution on Newborns and Expecting Mothers
Babies, even before birth, are vulnerable to the harmful effects of pollution. In 2019, 6 million babies will be born prematurely due to exposure to air pollution, according to a recent global study. Further, the research linked pollution to low birth weight among 3 million infants; this condition is defined as a birth weight of less than 2500 grams (5 lbs 5 oz).
According to the study’s principal researcher, Rakesh Ghosh, Ph.D., an epidemiologist at the University of California, San Francisco, “the indoor levels [of pollution] are much greater compared to the outside levels.” If at all possible, we would like to make it a standard element of prenatal care to warn expectant mothers about the dangers of being exposed to pollution. Pollution’s effects on unborn children’s health have been noted by scientists before. Polluted air contains microscopic particles that might cross the placenta and potentially harm the developing fetus, according to research published in 2020.
Fixing Bad Indoor Air Quality at Home
It’s normal to feel alarmed at the prospect of indoor pollution endangering your loved ones’ health. There are, however, a number of easily implemented adjustments that may be made to improve the standard of air within a given space.
Reducing pollution and its sources, ventilating with clean outdoor air, and supplementing with air cleaners are the best ways to enhance interior air quality, according to an EPA representative. Learn the steps here.
Strict Indoor Smoking Prohibition
Secondhand smoke, also known as environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), is just as dangerous to your health as smoking cigarettes, therefore the warning is crystal clear. About 7,000 compounds, including 250 recognized poisons and another 70 known carcinogens, are released into the air when ETS is in operation.
Dr. Matsui argues that eliminating house smoking and not permitting smoking anywhere would have a “huge impact” on children’s health.
Due to their still-developing lungs, infants and young children are especially vulnerable to the dangers of passive smoking. If you haven’t done so already, enforcing a no-smoking policy within your home is a great way to enhance the health of your family and your guests.
Let the Steam Out!
Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is emitted into the air when using a gas stove or furnace, and it can aggravate the respiratory symptoms of asthma in children. Dr. Matsui recommends using a vent or extractor fan while cooking and making sure the exhaust goes outside to prevent this and reduce indoor pollution.
Ventilate the space by opening a window, or use a more environmentally friendly energy source, such as electricity, to reduce N2O emissions.
Take Away Potential Allergens
The only effective treatment for children with a strong reaction to an indoor allergy, according to Dr. Matsui, is to eliminate the allergen itself.
Dr. Matsui explains, “There are a number of approaches that can assist limit exposure to that allergen/those allergens,” but it’s tough to significantly lower allergy levels without getting rid of the animal (or mold) that’s the source of the allergen.
Put in an air purifier.
Researchers have shown that asthmatics benefit from cleaner air since it contains less dust, pollen, and other allergens.
Dr. Matsui believes that air filtration can help reduce air pollution and virus levels. As long as a portable HEPA cleaner is used, it can be beneficial.
Dr. Matsui recommends selecting a HEPA cleaner with no extra features and maintaining it regularly.
Hang Your Clothes Outside to Dry
Many of us have to resort to drying our laundry indoors during the colder, wetter winter months. But specialists have warned that this could be having an effect on our health, citing research that shows that leaving wet laundry indoors encourages the growth of mold and dust mites.
Due to the high water content (2 liters per load), a Scottish research found that drying laundry inside significantly increased interior humidity by 30%. Dry your garments in a tumble dryer or keep doing so on sunny days to avoid this. Ventilate the room if you must dry clothes indoors.
Minimize the Spread of Dust and Pet Hair
People who are allergic to dust mites may have an exacerbation of their asthma symptoms if they are in the house. Regular use of an anti-allergen vacuum cleaner, weekly laundering of bed linens, and the use of anti-allergen pillows can all contribute to a cleaner and less dusty environment.
If you or a family member suffers from asthma, it is recommended that you do all you can to keep your house as dust-free and clutter-free as possible. As a reminder, dust mites thrive in high humidity, thus regular ventilation of the home is essential.
Let some fresh air in by cracking a window
Dr. Matsui recommends increasing ventilation by opening windows, provided that outdoor air is cleaner than interior air (which is the case for viruses like COVID-19). Reducing humidity and replacing it with outdoor air will help improve the quality of the air within your home, particularly if you frequently use volatile organic compound (VOC)-heavy goods like paint or cleaning supplies.
These vapors will be easier to dissipate if there is a breeze.