Indoor air quality might not be a part of your daily conversation but it sure needs your attention. It refers to the level of pollution present indoors (homes, offices, and other buildings). Indoor air pollution could be a new term to a few of you because we are more engaged in reducing the outdoor air pollution that indoor air pollution does not even cross our minds. But the truth is that the air inside our homes and offices is even more polluted than the air outside. This reduces the indoor air quality and adversely affects people breathing the polluted air.
Harmful Effects of Poor Indoor Air Quality
Some health effects may show up shortly after a single exposure or repeated exposures to a pollutant while other health effects are seen long term. Short-term exposure to poor indoor air quality can lead to irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, headaches, dizziness, and fatigue. Although the short-term effects of exposure to polluted indoor air can be easily treated but if the source of exposure (to polluted indoor air) is not identified soon and the exposure is continued for a long period of time, it could lead to serious health problems.
Long-term exposure to poor indoor air quality can lead to respiratory diseases, heart problems and even neurological problems. Inhaling the polluted indoor air can even trigger asthma, lung cancer and heart attacks. Poor indoor air quality especially affects the sensitive individuals; that include children, elderly and individuals with preexisting diseases. But continued exposure to the poor indoor air can equally affect healthy individuals and that is why it is important to take preventive measure.
- Impact on pregnancy- Studies support the hypothesis that childhood allergic diseases originate in fetal life. Exposure during the trimesters increases the risk of developing asthma, rhinitis, and eczema in children. It may also affect the respiratory health and has been linked to decreased lung function in infancy and childhood. Exposure to high concentration can also lead to stillbirth.
- Cardiovascular diseases–
Short-term effects– Short-term elevations in ambient particle levels are capable of evoking cardiac arrhythmias, worsening heart failure, and triggering acute atherosclerotic/ischaemic cardiovascular complications.
Long-term effects- Long-term exposure to air pollution increases an individual’s lifetime risk of death from coronary heart disease. It has also been observed that people residing in locations with higher long-term average PM levels are at a greater risk for cardiovascular mortality and morbidity.
- Impact on respiratory symptoms- The exposure to harmful air pollutants is associated with a higher incidence of upper airway symptoms, such as rhinorrhea, nasal obstruction, cough, laryngospasm, and vocal fold dysfunction, and lower airway symptoms, such as cough, dyspnea, and wheezing, especially in children. Air pollution has led to an increase in symptomatic asthmatic attack, chronic lung diseases in healthy adults and is also partly responsible for cancer.
- Impact on pulmonary function- Observations show that due to air pollution there is a decrease in the vital capacity (maximum air expelled from the lungs after maximum inhalation) of people. This occurs due to a decline in the pulmonary or lung function resulting from airway obstruction caused by air pollutants.
- Impact on Asthma- Air pollution causes numerous respiratory disease including asthma. Individuals with pre-existing asthma, have a greater health risk of air pollution health hazards than healthy individuals. Other pollutants like dust, soot, and diesel fumes are very small particles that travel right into the lungs and cause irritation and inflammation. Small airborne particles, (found in haze, smoke and dust) when inhaled pass through the nose and mouth and enter the lungs. Exposure to these particles can cause damage to the lung function and also trigger asthma attacks.
- Impact on lungs- The following symptoms are observed in a person who has (or is developing) lung cancer-
- Respiratory symptoms- Coughing related to cold or respiratory infection will go away in a week or two but a persistent cough that lingers could be a sign of lung cancer. Changes in coughing and breathing like shortness of breath or coughing up blood can also be signs of lung cancer. Wheezing can also be a sign of lung cancer.
- Systematic symptoms- An unexplained weight loss could be indicating towards lung cancer. Sometimes weakness and fever are also signs of lung cancer.
- Symptoms due to cancer mass pressing on adjacent structures- Headaches due to pressure on superior vena cava, bone pain or chest pain whether it’s sharp, dull, constant, or intermittent, can all be signs of lung cancer.
How to improve the indoor air quality
- Add natural air purifiers- Several products can be added to your home or office that act as natural air purifiers. Houseplants are known to be great for purifying poor indoor air as they produce fresh air.
Beeswax candles and salt lamps are also known natural air purifiers. They release negative ions when lit that attract the positive ions of the air pollutants and remove them from the indoor air making the indoor air quality a lot better.
- Ventilate– Ventilation can be a good practice as it allows the fresh air to come in and the polluted indoor air to go out. Opening the windows and doors in your building early in the morning can help you improve your indoor air quality.
- Control humidity- Monitoring humidity is very important as high level of humidity leads to the formation of molds (a type of fungal air pollutant that grows in wet and damp places). Along with monitoring and maintaining an ideal humidity level (usually between 30-50%), you should also fix any pipe leaks or lose taps that may further increase the humidity in your building.
- Cut out cigarette smoke- Cigarette smoke not only affects the person smoking the cigarette but also everyone around them. You might already be aware of the hazards of smoking but passive smoking also has its numerous side effects. If you cannot quit smoking altogether, the least you could do is to do it outside. Smoking inside the house should be strictly discouraged as it pollutes the air inside the house and reduces the air quality.
- Non-scented paints- Paints contain a harmful chemical, VOCs (or volatile organic compounds) that can cause considerable damage to one’s health when inhaled even at low concentrations. This chemical is also present in other common household products like hobby supplies, deodorants etc. These reduce the indoor air quality and their use should be limited. Products containing VOCs should be replaced by products containing no or a very limited number of VOCs. Use of unscented paints, candles, and air fresheners can further help in reducing their content in the indoor air.
- Keeping yours and your pet’s feet clean- You don’t want to bring your shoes inside the house after you’ve walked outside for some time. Your shoes have pollutants like dust, pollen etc. stuck to them; that’s why taking them off before you enter the house can be a good practice. In the same way, cleaning your pet’s paw after they have taken a walk outside will eliminate the entry of dust and dirt in the house.
Written by Poorvi Naithani, Content writer at Kaiterra | Smart Air Quality Monitors | I write about health, lifestyle, environment, and fitness.