The Impact of Home Air Quality on Your Lungs
Posted in Air Quality, on January 02, 2019
The organ that is most obviously affected by changes to your home air quality is your lungs. Having healthy indoor air is part of good overall health and is an important part of any safe home environment. While poor indoor air quality can affect many parts of your body (like the skin and eyes), and have a big effect on your day to day (for example, by increasing the severity and length of your sick days), your lungs receive a disproportionate part of the effects of indoor pollution.
Since we spend up to 90% of our time indoors, the most straightforward way to know if your home air quality is adequate is to have a professional air quality test performed. An indoor air quality test can pinpoint the concentration, location, and type of indoor air problems that may be present in your home, and what remedial steps may be needed. But before we get to the solution, let’s go more in depth with the problem of poor indoor air quality.
Why Adequate Home Air Quality is so Important
Today, we have a more in-depth and nuanced understanding of how our indoor and outdoor environments work together to support our health and wellness. Not so long ago, the attention was all focused on the outdoors and how, for example, something like a smog day would affect us. Today’s research and new technological focus, however, has zeroed in on the indoors and how the air quality of our homes affects our long and short term health.
Our neighbours to the south have looked at these effects in depth, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that indoor air pollution may be 2-5 times higher than outdoor levels, making the safety of our indoor air a paramount concern.
Indoor air quality at home is so important because it has wide-ranging effects on every other part of your life, from the health of your body to the number of sick days you take, to the level you can perform at work - and how well your children do at school. Indoor air pollution affects all of us regardless of age, and can be a pervasive and hard to diagnose problem.
Certain members of our family may be disproportionately affected by poor indoor air quality - especially the 1 in 13 kids who suffers from asthma. At home, the safety of our kids is a given - stairs and cupboards can be blocked from the littlest ones, and older children can, for example, be taught how to safely use the stove. But when it comes to air quality, we often don’t spend enough time thinking about how it is affecting the members of our families that are growing the fastest.
The lungs bring fresh oxygen to our blood cells, which in turn move throughout the body, enabling kids to continue running, playing, learning, and thinking. When poor home air quality is a factor, our children may not be able to do these things as well as other kids; indoor pollution can lead to problems like:
- low body weight
- recurring upper and lower respiratory problems
- childhood asthma
- food allergies
- learning challenges
- immune system problems
Our kids aren’t the only ones adversely affected - adults can have similar problems too, and find it difficult to concentrate or find focus during their work day. Fresh, clean air is the key to wellness for all members of your family.
Common Air Pollutants and Their Impact on Your Lungs
When thinking about indoor air quality and where you can start improving it, nothing is as precise as an indoor air quality test, which can tell you more about the unique air quality inside your home. But what if you’re not sure if you need a test? Paying attention to the different areas and places in your home can offer good clues and reveal common air pollutants that are present in many homes. The list below isn’t exhaustive, but offers a good place to start looking thoroughly at your home. If any of these things raise a red flag or are in your home, it may be a good time to give us a call and book an indoor air quality assessment.
Home Renovation Products
At SafeAir, we often do indoor air quality assessments right before or right after home reno projects. Regardless of the size of your project, any time there’s a disruption in your home, indoor air pollutants can be disrupted or brought in. For example, what if the dishwasher breaks? Let’s say there’s a flood, and you have to change out the linoleum and buy a new dishwasher - not a huge renovation, but a change in your home, and not one that obviously affects indoor air quality - or does it? Some of the ways a small change like this in your home can affect indoor air quality are:
- through the pipes. If your home is old, construction may affect old pipes insulated with asbestos, which is carcinogenic.
- water damage can cause mold growth, which can seriously affect the lungs and soft tissues.
- old flooring can also contain asbestos, and new floors may off-gas chemicals like formaldehyde.
- glues, paints, and solvents can all off-gas and release toxic vapours into your home.
An indoor air quality assessment can help you identify problems in your home, giving you and the technicians at SafeAir a place to start making improvements, even if your renovation has already been completed.
Cleaning Supplies and Household Chemicals
Cleaning is obviously a good thing, with a positive effect on our health, comfort, and wellbeing indoors. But it’s the cleaning products that often have a bad effect on our indoor environment and air quality, and can lead to respiratory issues, skin problems and inflammation. Cleaning products - even those marketed as ‘green’ - can still contain harmful chemicals, and many products are corrosive or flammable - there’s a reason that good housekeepers in old TV shows and movies are always wearing rubber gloves!
One of the ways that common cleaning products affect our lungs are through Volatile Organic Compounds, commonly known as VOCs. These are chemicals that are vaporized when they meet average air temperatures, and they are major contributors to respiratory issues, allergic reactions, and headaches in many people. Common cleaning products that have VOCs include:
- Air fresheners
- Chlorine bleach
- Dry cleaning chemicals
- Rug and textile cleaners
- Furniture polishes
- Oven cleaners
Most manufacturers are not required to list all of the ingredients contained in cleaning products, which can make it difficult to identify what’s the culprit. Reading all labels closely, as well as using and storing these materials carefully can reduce the impact caused by many cleaners, but many organizations are arguing for a return to good old fashioned soap, water, and elbow-grease (as long as the soap is scent-free, of course).
Undoubtedly one of the worst home air quality pollutants, mold is a dangerous problem that needs to be addressed immediately whenever it is found in your home. Besides the damage it can cause to your home, mold particularly targets the lungs, eyes, nose, and throat, and can trigger allergic reactions in people who are otherwise allergy-free. Mold affects the lungs first and foremost because it reproduces by sending out airborne spores, which we can then breathe in. Those spores get stuck in the tissues of our lungs and cause irritation and inflammation. Mold grows indoors when there is moisture present; watching out for areas in your home that are particularly prone to dampness or have experienced a recent water event can help you spot problems before they get out of control.
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that was extensively used for many years in the home construction business, since it has excellent insulating and fire resistant properties. However, it was eventually discovered that the microscopic fibres of asbestos were extremely hazardous to our lungs, and that exposure to the airborne mineral eventually caused a rare type of lung cancer, mesothelioma. Thankfully, asbestos is no longer used in home construction - but if you live in an older house, it may be possible that there are still asbestos-containing products in your home. Asbestos has no odour or taste, and complications generally develop decades after exposure.
Like carbon monoxide, radon is another naturally occurring gas that you can’t see or smell, but unlike carbon monoxide, radon is a trickier problem to solve, with a long term effect. Radon is created by uranium deep underneath our homes and cities. As it breaks down, it creates radium, which turns into radon gas and seeps out of the ground and it can easily enter homes through cracks in the foundation and other openings. Radon gas is the second most leading cause of lung cancer in the United States, and is so dangerous because it causes no immediate short term effects - it’s only after years of exposure to elevated levels that radon-related cancers rear their head.
Symptoms of Poor Air Quality
Most of the problems related to poor home air quality cause symptoms or have visible signs that suggest their presence - for example, asbestos insulation around pipes is easy to spot, as is mold growing along the baseboards. But many problems can develop unseen, and knowing what some of the common symptoms of poor air quality are can help you identify a growing problem in your home. Because your lungs are most affected by poor indoor air quality, some of the common symptoms we see are:
Persistent coughing: As tiny indoor air pollutants get breathed in, they can get lodged in the lungs, where they cause irritation and inflammation that can lead to persistent coughing.
Colds and flus that last longer, and are more severe: When your lungs are already having trouble with pollution, a cold and flu can take much longer to heal from, and it becomes much easier to develop more serious conditions, like pneumonia.
Asthma and lung disease: For those who are susceptible, indoor air pollution can lead people to develop asthma or worsen existing conditions. People suffering from lung diseases like COPD might experience a worsening of symptoms and have to visit the hospital more frequently.
While we’re focused on the lungs today, there are other symptoms of poor indoor air quality that you might experience above and beyond problems with your breathing. The tricky part of indoor pollution is that many of the symptoms resemble those of the common cold, flu, and seasonal allergies, which can make it difficult to differentiate from those illnesses. The easiest way to tell if indoor pollution might be the cause of your symptoms is to notice where and when they appear. Do you feel sick and develop a cough only when you enter the basement? Do your symptoms disappear when you leave the house and reappear when you get home? Other common symptoms of poor home air quality include:
- Shortness of breath
- Dry or watery eyes
- Skin irritation
How SafeAir Can Help
With many years of experience helping families across the GTA breath easier, SafeAir is one of the leading companies offering indoor air quality testing services. Good indoor air quality isn’t out of reach - making just a few small changes can have an overwhelmingly positive outcome on your indoor environment, and knowing just how and where to make those changes is only one of the benefits of a professional air quality assessment. Not only will our team help recognize some of the most common problems, but our specialized tools can give exact readings that help pinpoint problematic areas. We work with third party laboratories to provide you with objective test results that can be brought to insurance agents or other contractors, helping you bring about positive changes to your indoor environment that will have long term benefits to your health and wellness.
Give us a call at SafeAir for more information about how poor indoor air quality might be affecting your lungs, health, or home comfort. Safe home air quality is our priority, and we’ll work closely with you to resolve any problems or questions you may have - call us at 416-414-5690 or visit our services page at https://www.safeair.ca/iaq_quality for more information on what we offer.