Is Your House Making You Sick? How Indoor Air Pollution Can Trigger Illness
Everyone knows pollution is a big problem. However, most people associate pollution with outdoors and it is rare to find people who are aware of the indoor pollution. It is estimated that most people spend more than 90% of their time indoors and 65% of the time is usually spent inside the home. One of the biggest misconceptions people have is that indoor air is always pollution free but nothing could be further from the truth.
Indoor air pollution has become a hot topic of discussion in recent years. This trend is thanks to the wide availability of inexpensive indoor air quality testing devices that are now available. Before the advent of these devices, professional pollution monitors were sold for thousands of dollars and not everybody could afford them. However, now almost everyone can afford these indoor air quality monitors and it has brought about much-needed awareness regarding the quality of air inside homes and offices.
Common Symptoms of Indoor Air Pollution
One of the biggest issues with diagnosing the symptoms of indoor air pollution is that there are a wide variety of symptoms and they vary with the contaminant. More often than not, these symptoms are mistaken for various other illnesses such as a cold, stress, allergies and influenza among others.
Therefore, you should always listen to your body. If you spend time inside a building and you start feeling sick, it could be due to the pollutants or toxins in that indoor environment. The Environmental Protection Agency has also given it a name: Sick Building Syndrome. The EPA defines the syndrome as something that happens when the occupants of a building experience health issues which are apparently linked to the time they spend in that building; but they are not able to identify any specific cause or illness.
The common physical symptoms of a sick house might include sore throat, rashes, fatigue, muscle aches and stomach discomfort among others. If people inside a building feel depressed or agitated for no reason, it could be due to presence of toxins in the indoor environment. If you experience frequent headaches, sleep disturbance or you are unable to think clearly, these cognitive issues could be related to presence of pollutants in the indoor air. Some of the common respiratory symptoms associated with indoor air pollution include sinus infections, allergies, aggravated asthma and congestion.
Simply put, if you have a feeling that something is not right with you, you feel like you have the flu for an extended period of time, or you can’t seem to get restful sleep, it could be due to poor indoor air quality. If you suddenly feel better when you leave your house or you feel great when on vacation but the usual symptoms return when you get back home, it could be due to presence of toxins or pollutants inside your home.
Types of Contaminants Responsible for Indoor Air Pollution
One of the most common contaminants found in sick buildings is mold. Presence of mold in the indoor air can cause throat irritation, eye irritation, coughing, nasal stuffiness and skin irritation. If you don't have proper ventilation in your home including exhaust fans, or if your house has experienced water damage or flooding mold growth can occur and get out of control. Therefore, make sure your house is properly ventilated to prevent problems with mold growth.
2. Volatile Organic Compounds
You must have heard about volatile organic compounds in paints; thanks to increased awareness many companies have launched paints that are free of volatile organic compounds. Some of the commonly known VOCs include formaldehyde, toluene and arsenic. Benzene and xylene are also volatile organic compounds that vaporize into the air.
These are typically present in new wood flooring, new carpet and new cars. The common symptoms associated with VOCs include dizziness, headaches, sore throat and scratchy eyes among others. So, if you have just installed a new carpet or you have had some painting done,
you’ll want to make sure you ventilate your house properly, try leaving the windows open for a while.
3. Dust Mites
You can't really see them with the naked eye but these can cause a lot of problems. These mites leave feces and due to their small size, these feces become airborne whenever these are disturbed due to dusting or vacuuming. These can then be inhaled by people living in the home which may cause some health issues. Similar to mold, the presence of humidity is one of the major causes of growth of dust mites.
4. Air Fresheners
Many people do not know that those scented air fresheners as well as perfumes are full of chemicals that are capable of reacting with the small amount of ozone present in the ambient air. This reaction might lead to formation of secondary chemicals that are not good for your health. The common symptoms associated with these toxic volatile organic compounds formed due to air fresheners and perfumes include digestive issues, difficulty in breathing, nausea, dizziness, headaches, allergies as well as problems with nervous system.
Pests are a big problem in households and one of the ways many people try to control pest infestation is through use of over-the-counter pesticides. But these pesticides have the potential to make you sick.
However, you do need to get rid of the bugs. It is better to hire the services of professional exterminators who have access to powerful chemicals that can keep the pest population in check without causing any harm to the residents inside the home. Also, there are a number of natural options available for pest control.
6. Carbon Monoxide
Carbon monoxide is released from heaters, fuel burning stoves and various other appliances. One of the most interesting things about this gas is that it is odorless and colorless. You won't even know there is carbon monoxide present inside your home without a carbon monoxide detector. It can have a lot of ill effects on your health including dizziness, nausea, confusion, headache and extreme tiredness among others. Exposure to higher levels of carbon monoxide can even cause death. Therefore, it is important for you to have a carbon monoxide detector in your home to ensure that this colorless and odorless gas doesn't cause you any harm.
7. Dry Air
People who need to turn on the heat for a large part of the year due to extreme cold often have to deal with the ill effects of dry indoor air. The EPA recommends maintaining relative humidity level indoors in the range of 30 to 50% but homes that have constantly running heat are rarely able to maintain even 30% relative humidity.
If you continue breathing in dry air, it might lead to scaly skin and itchy scalp, and in some cases, frequent nosebleeds. Dry air can be a lot more dangerous than a nosebleed; dry air causes your body to dehydrate which can result in nausea, dizziness and headaches.
Also, influenza thrives in dry air and this is the reason flu epidemics typically happen a few weeks after a drop in the relative humidity levels. This is the reason that the virus is able to stay activated longer, it travels better in dry air.
Health Effects of Indoor Air Pollution
Even though EPA has listed indoor air pollution among the top 5 environmental risks to public health, not many people realize the sheer gravity of this threat. What is really frustrating is that the solutions to indoor air pollution are not that difficult or expensive. Here is a list of some of the common health effects of poor-quality indoor air. Also some information about why you’ll want to tackle the issue of indoor air pollution in your home and your workplace.
1. Weight Gain
It will come as a surprise to most people as not many people associate indoor air pollution with weight gain. If you have been following a diet and paying attention to your weight but you are still experiencing sudden fluctuations in your weight, it could be due to indoor air pollution.
Keep in mind that weight gain is associated with a number of factors including genetics, metabolism rate as well as the air you breathe. If there are toxins present in the indoor air, your natural detox pathways are unable to clear toxins from your body and that has a huge effect on your metabolism which leads to weight gain.
It is estimated by the World Health Organization that almost 30% of all the respiratory diseases are due to indoor air pollution. Poor indoor air quality can trigger asthma attacks, especially in people already suffering from some kind of respiratory issue.
Due to increased awareness about the importance of mental health, a lot of research is being done to study the factors that might be responsible for onset and aggravation of depression symptoms. Research studies have found that an increase in air pollution is associated with higher levels of depression.
While it may not cause depression, it has the potential to increase the intensity of symptoms associated with depression. Also, many research studies that have found a significant correlation between depression and long-term exposure to air pollution. Since most people spend a significant amount of their time indoors, breathing in polluted indoor air could aggravate their depressive symptoms.
It is estimated that one in five Americans has experienced some allergy-related illness and one of the main reasons for these allergy-related illnesses is the presence of allergens in the indoor air. Some of the common symptoms associated with allergies include sneezing, fatigue, swelling, runny nose, headaches and skin rashes among others.
What You Can Do to Improve Air Quality Indoors
Thankfully, it's not difficult or expensive to get rid of indoor air pollutants. Here is a list of some of the important changes you can make to improve the quality of air inside your home or your workplace.
1. Have Some Plants around You
One of the best ways to get rid of a majority of the toxins inside your home is to invest in some plants. Indoor plants can help in tackling indoor air pollution they are even capable of absorbing up to 85% of harmful pollutants inside your home. Common plants you can buy for your home include: spider plants, flamingo lilies, the golden lotus, philodendrons, peace lilies, chrysanthemums and bamboo palms.
2. Take Care of the HVAC System
It's recommended to get air ducts cleaned professionally at least once each year. Make sure the heating system is serviced regularly and it will operate more efficiently providing cleaner air for you to breathe in. Invest in high-quality HEPA filters for your HVAC system. These filters are capable of getting rid of volatile organic compounds as well as chemical odors from the indoor air along with dust and harmful bacteria.
3. Invest in an Air Purifier
Thanks to the increased demand and advances in technology, different types of air purifiers are available today at an affordable price. One of the best ways to make sure that you do not have any pollutants inside your home is to buy a high-quality air purifier.
The modern air purifiers are capable of getting rid of almost all the harmful bacteria, particulate matter, volatile organic compounds and other such things responsible for your ill health. Choose an air purifier that notifies you when it's time to clean or change the filters inside. Also, it should be of appropriate capacity for the size of the room where you are going to place it.
4. Stop the Mold
If you are dealing with mold growth, you will notice that it happens in places where there is excess moisture which is usually kitchen and bathroom. Therefore, you need to make sure that there are no leaks in your home and the appliances are completely dry after each use.
It is also recommended to cook with the overhead fan on in your kitchen. Needless to say, you also need to pay attention to the ventilation. To prevent mold growth in your bathroom, you should always turn on the fan every time you shower.
5. Vacuum Cleaner with HEPA Filters
Make sure the vacuum you use has HEPA filters and not a HEPA-like filter. If a vacuum does not have a HEPA filter, it could spew back all the household allergens collected from the carpets and floor, back into the air which will aggravate allergies and other health issues associated with indoor air pollution.
6. Green Cleaning Products
Stop using cleaning products that contain harmful chemicals. Stay away from products that contain pine or citrus oils, dyes or ammonium compounds. It is also important to choose cleaning products that are marked green. Everything marked natural doesn't mean it is safe to use. So, choose green products and if there is any doubt, use your favorite search engine to learn more about the health effects of chemicals in common household cleaning products.