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How to Improve Indoor Air Quality to Avoid Respiratory Diseases

Posted in Air Quality, on November 01, 2018

By now, you may have read that the most important place to improve indoor air quality is in the home - but why? Having good indoor air quality is a key part of having optimal overall health and can contribute to better skin, fewer sick days, increased indoor comfort, and fewer allergic reactions, among other things.

It’s hard to know what might cause poor indoor air quality - in any two homes on the same block, a laundry list of different products, construction methods, materials, and geographical features can cause or exacerbate different air quality issues around the home. We spend up to 90% of our time indoors, so it stands to reason that when it comes to the air we breathe, a better, healthier indoor environment is going to have positive effects on our wellness.

When looking to improve indoor air quality, there are a number of different things you can do to promote better indoor air quality. Today we’re going to focus on the link between respiratory diseases and poor indoor air quality, since the biggest thing that indoor pollution affects are your lungs.

Respiratory Diseases That You Can Get From Poor Indoor Air Quality

One of the biggest ways that poor indoor air quality contributes to illness is by increasing the severity of attacks of asthma or other lung conditions, and contributing to chronic and long term conditions like bronchitis, emphysema, and lung cancer. When you breathe in polluted air, our body’s natural filtration system - the nose, throat, and lungs - work together to capture unhealthy particles that come along with that air. Unlike the filter on your coffee machine that can be easily changed, exposure to airborne pollutants can cause irritation and exacerbate disease, and may even provoke or cause the development of conditions like asthma.

Regardless of whether or not you’re in good health to begin with, even a short period of exposure to airborne pollutants can negatively affect your health, which is why it’s so important to improve indoor air quality before you start feeling its effects. Some common respiratory diseases affected by poor indoor air quality are:

  • Asthma: Asthma Canada estimates that there are about three million people affected by this chronic lung condition across the country, which results in the narrowing and obstruction of airways. There are two types of asthma - allergic and non-allergic. When it comes to indoor air quality, either type of asthma can be affected by indoor air pollutants, but allergic asthma is more frequently irritated by indoor pollutants.
  • Lung diseases such as chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and COPD: These three lung conditions, often caused or exacerbated in part by smoking, are further provoked by indoor air pollution from other sources, and play an important role in the development of acute attacks and flare ups.
  • Lung cancer:  This type of cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer related deaths in North America, and while smoking is the number one risk factor, recent research suggests that exposure to air pollution and small particulate matter may play a bigger role than was initially thought, and may hasten the progression of the disease.
  • Ozone: While we all know of the ozone layer high above us, it’s not as well known as an indoor air pollutant. Caused by volatile organic compounds (VOCs) reacting with nitrogen oxides, ozone is a major lung irritant, and can particularly affect asthma sufferers and those with heart troubles like angina.

Sources of Poor Indoor Air Quality

To improve indoor air quality in your home, you first need to identify what the sources of poor indoor air quality may be. The following list and a quick visual sweep of your home should be enough to determine what needs further investigation, but the only way to truly know what’s in your air is to have it tested by a professional. Using sensitive tools and indoor air quality protocols, the professionals at SafeAir can offer you a comprehensive look at your indoor environment to determine what you can do to improve indoor air quality in your home.

  • Asbestos: One of the most dangerous indoor air pollutants that is found in older homes is asbestos. It was popular throughout the 20th century as a building material, and can be found in insulation, floor or ceiling tiles, pipe wraps and other home building materials. When it’s stable, asbestos is a safe material - but as it gets old or damaged the very fine particles of asbestos become airborne. The effects of inhaling asbestos take decades to appear, but when they do, they’re nearly always fatal.
  • Building Materials: Many common materials used in the construction trade can contribute to poor indoor air quality by emitting dust or chemical fumes, such as formaldehyde. Other products like paint, glues, and solvents also emit VOCs that may be causing lung irritation.
  • Carbon monoxide: We’ve recently written an article on this blog on the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning indoors - but it’s always worth mentioning again, since this odourless, colourless glass can’t be identified by the human senses and is toxic in even low amounts. Always ensure a carbon monoxide detector is installed on every level of your home!
  • Cleaning Supplies: While it may seem counterintuitive, the products you use to clean your house may actually be increasing your indoor air pollution! Cleaning is still an important step in ensuring a healthy home, but paying attention to the ingredient list of common household cleaners can have a huge affect on your wellness too. Some products have dangerous chemicals or release volatile organic compounds, while others contain synthetic fragrances and other ingredients that may be carcinogenic or irritating to the eyes, nose, and throat. By  changing your buying habits and choosing greener, unscented products, you can greatly improve indoor air quality in your home.
  • Dust and Dust Mites: Dust mites are very small pests present in our homes - they usually live on soft furnishings like beds, mattresses, and couches, and feed on the dead skin cells we leave behind as dust. They don’t bite, but their leftovers are a potent allergen, especially to asthma sufferers. Other household dust can be caused by activities like renovations or outdoor pollution sources.
  • Lead: While lead pipes get a lot of press, airborne lead caused by chipped or flaking paint is also a concern if you live in an older home. Because there is no safe exposure level to lead, it’s important to identify areas in your home that may have lead paint before beginning any remodelling or demolition.

How Does This Affect My Kids?

One of the groups most disproportionately affected by indoor air pollution are our children. We all want to give our children the best possible start in life and providing a healthy indoor air environment will aid in their cognitive and physical development. Children are particularly sensitive to pollutants like:

  • Smoke from cigarettes, e-cigarettes, and marijuana
  • Bacteria, mold, and dust mites
  • Natural and artificial scents and VOCs

Many different allergens and indoor air quality pollutants may be affecting your kids, and can lead to problems like low weight, upper and lower respiratory tract problems, the development of childhood asthma, food allergies, learning difficulties, ADHD, and immune system problems, among other things.

If you’ve cleaned up your home environment but your child still has ongoing respiratory problems, it may be beneficial to ask about indoor air quality testing or reports at your daycare, aftercare, or school. Many school boards are wise to the effects of poor indoor air quality and are taking steps to improve their learning environments to help prevent sick days, increase attendance, increase comfort and performance of students and teachers, and reduce the number of school closures.

How Does This Affect My Pets?

Your two or four legged friends are as equally affected by poor indoor air quality as you are.  Pets can suffer respiratory trouble from second hand smoke, incense, paint, and cooking fumes, which may disproportionately affect them due to size and weight. Dogs and cats who were part of  a study on indoor air pollution in Taiwan were found to suffer more frequently from upper and lower respiratory tract infections, pneumonia, and other respiratory diseases.

Ways to Improve Your Indoor Air Quality

There are a number of steps you can take to improve indoor air quality in your home without investing in expensive filtration systems or doing major renovations.

  • Stop smoking indoors: Whether its tobacco or marijuana, taking your smoking out of doors (and out of enclosed spaces like the garage or your car), is essential for indoor air quality health. Above and beyond the health effects associated with the material, any combustion, whether it be from a cigarette, joint, fireplace, incense, or even candle, can add airborne particles to an indoor environment and should be carefully considered.
  • Avoid aerosols: It may take time or be impractical for you to stop using all of your favourite cleaning sprays or polishes - but the first step should be anything that comes in an aerosol can. Not only do aerosols contribute to climate change, they are also usually made of extremely toxic chemicals that can cause eye, nose, skin, and even heart problems.
  • Have adequate ventilation: One of the best ways to improve indoor air quality is to bring in fresh air or simply move the air in your home around. Opening the window or keeping your furnace fan running can help cycle air around your home and ensure that unwanted pollution is encouraged to move on.
  • Get a plant: There are a handful of plants that can help clean your indoor air - they’re so good at it that NASA devoted research time in the 1980’s to studying them! A number of very common house plants, like spider plants and ficus varieties were found to help reduce toxins such as formaldehyde and benzene.
  • Get a rug/clean a rug: A rug placed by the front or back door to your house can help prevent outdoor pollutants like pollen from entering your home environment on your shoes. On the other hand, dirty rugs, wherever they may be, can be harbouring a lot of allergens. Give your rugs thorough, regular cleanings with soap and water (try to avoid harmful chemicals!) to help reduce indoor air quality pollutants.
  • Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors: By law in Ontario, every home needs a smoke detector and a carbon monoxide alarm. These alarms will help alert you and your family to potential fire risks and a buildup of the odourless, colourless carbon monoxide before they start adversely affecting your health.
  • Choose low VOC products: Whether you’re cleaning, renovating, or just having fun, look for products that advertise low VOCs to reduce indoor air pollution. Paint, disinfectant sprays, and kids’ markers are all products you can commonly find with reduced VOCs or in scentless formulations.

Healthier Indoor Air

Choosing to test your indoor environment can give you valuable information on your air quality and the pollutants and allergens present inside your home. While making positive changes to your purchasing habits, cleaning routines, and increasing ventilation may have a large effect on your indoor environment, many indoor pollutants are difficult to detect using your eyes or nose, and require more specialized equipment and professional experience.

SafeAir has been providing indoor air quality assessments for over 15 years across the GTA. A full evaluation of your home’s indoor air quality will include steps such as:

  • Testing for mold growth behind walls or in the attic
  • Dust particle counts
  • Temperature and humidity readings
  • Carbon monoxide and dioxide levels
  • Thermal imaging

Detailed samples can help further pinpoint the type of allergen or pollutant in your environment and lead to practical, long term solutions to alleviate and eliminate the problem. Booking an indoor air quality assessment to improve indoor air quality is easy - give us a call at 416-414-5690 or visit our services for more information.

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