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Tips for Reducing Indoor Air Pollution

Did you know that most Americans spend an average of 90% of their time indoors?1  This percentage may be even higher if you have a chronic illness like COPD. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that indoor air pollutants such as radon, secondhand smoke, combustion pollutants, volatile organic compounds and mold may increase your risk for allergies, respiratory illnesses, cancer, heart disease and other serious illnesses.2  How can you protect your health and the health of those you love from sources of indoor air pollution?

What Is Indoor Air Pollution?

There are certain things that can pollute the air indoors, impacting Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) and affecting the health and comfort of people inside that space.[3] While many of the sources of indoor air pollution are caused by pollutants we bring into our own homes, some sources can be mitigated or eliminated altogether. Indoor air pollution occurs when the quality of the air inside is reduced due to biological, chemical or physical pollutants.

Indoor air pollution can cause a variety of health effects, depending on the type of pollutant and the length of exposure. You may experience brief and temporary symptoms, like irritation of the eyes, nose or throat, which disappear immediately after eliminating exposure to the source. Or, you may have long-term symptoms like asthma.3 Additionally, if you already have a lung disease or chronic lung condition, you may experience respiratory irritation and worsening symptoms with exposure to indoor air pollutants.

Because indoor air pollution can cause harmful effects, it is important to learn how to reduce indoor air pollution as much as possible. That begins with learning about the sources of indoor air pollution and what to do about them.

Sources of Indoor Air Pollution

People who are most susceptible to sources of indoor air pollution are infants and children, the elderly and people with heart and lung disease, such as COPD.1  Although there are a number of indoor air pollutants, the following list includes those that are most concerning:

Allergens

Allergens can vary from person to person, including animal dander, dust, mites, pollen or even debris left behind by pests. You may bring allergens inside from the outdoors, or they may come from an item you keep in your home. Allergens can build up over time if there is insufficient ventilation or cleaning.

Building Materials and Furnishings

Some building materials and furniture contain chemicals, glues or other elements including formaldehyde that can trigger respiratory irritation and problems. Things like insulation containing asbestos, new flooring or carpet, upholstery, cabinetry and furniture made with certain pressed wood products can all release harmful fumes.3

Combustion Pollutants

Gases and particles that are released from burning fuels are referred to as combustion pollutants. Sources of combustion pollutants inside the home include fuel-burning appliances that are either improperly vented or not vented at all. These include wood-burning or gas stoves, fireplaces, dryers, water heaters and space heaters. Even paraffin candles and other fragranced products can pose a hazard to your health.[4] Of the most common combustion pollutants found in your home, carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide are the most concerning.1

Mold

Mold is a living organism and it can reproduce and grow. Mold contains spores that float easily through the air searching for damp surfaces on which to land. Inhaling or touching these spores can cause irritating symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose, red eyes, and skin rashes. Exposure to mold can also trigger asthma attacks.1

Radon

Radon is a radioactive, cancer-causing gas that forms in the soil and enters your home through tiny cracks in your floors and walls that are in direct contact with the soil. Although you can’t see, smell or taste it, long-term exposure to this invisible gas can lead to serious health consequences. In truth, radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers and the second leading cause of lung cancer, overall.1

Secondhand Smoke

Secondhand smoke consists of gases and particles emitted from burning tobacco products. According to the American Lung Association, secondhand smoke is responsible for approximately 41,000 deaths every year.[5] In addition, secondhand smoke is particularly dangerous for children; it can cause or worsen breathing problems, including asthma symptoms, and is associated with an increased risk of ear infections and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).2

Volatile Organic Compounds

Paint, lacquer, paint stripper, cleaning supplies – each of these products contain volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. Not only are VOCs extremely irritating to the eyes, nose and throat, but they can cause breathing problems, headaches and nausea. Over time, they can lead to liver, kidney and central nervous system damage. Some may even cause cancer.1

How to Reduce Sources of Indoor Air Pollution

Whether you are struggling with allergens in your home, a source of lung irritants or a source of indoor air pollution that you were unaware was even there, there are steps you can take to reduce sources of indoor pollution. Learning how to reduce indoor air pollution starts with reducing your exposure to existing sources of indoor air pollution. Here’s how to improve indoor air pollution in your space.

Sources of indoor air pollution to reduce or eliminate in your home:

  • Allergens: Reduce clutter in your home so it’s easier to keep clean. Make sure you use mild cleaners, like vinegar and water, to reduce allergens without further irritating your lungs. Do your best to keep anything that bothers your allergies out of your home when possible.
  • Building Materials and Furnishings: Be conscious of the items you bring into your home and look for materials constructed with VOCs. Keep an eye out for warnings about formaldehyde or any other fumes or gases and avoid those products. If you have work done in your home, make sure everything is well-ventilated and avoid being home while work is being done.
  • Combustion Pollution: If your home is equipped with fuel-burning appliances, the EPA suggests that you make sure they are properly installed, used and maintained at all times. This is the most effective way to limit your exposure to them.[6]
  • Mold: Mold can grow virtually anywhere – including in your carpet and insulation. The best way to control mold is to control moisture. Remember to inspect your home frequently for mold and water leaks. Clean existing mold with detergent, bleach or vinegar and hot water and repair leaks as soon as possible. Allow areas in your home that have been exposed to water and/or moisture to dry completely.[7]
  • Radon: The EPA strongly recommends that you take measures to reduce radon levels in your home “if the results of one long-term test or the average of two short-term tests show radon levels of 4pCi/L or higher”.[8] If your home’s radon level exceeds this standard, the EPA suggests that you hire a contractor who specializes in radon reduction to fix it.
  • Secondhand smoke: The Surgeon General has concluded that there are NO safe levels of secondhand smoke exposure. To fully protect non-smoking family members and friends who spend time in your home, you MUST completely eliminate smoking in all indoor areas.[9]
  • VOCs: Avoid high VOC products whenever you can, opting for low-VOC options where possible. When using products that emit VOCs, the EPA recommends that you follow the manufacturer’s instructions precisely. Keep your home well-ventilated and never mix products together unless instructed to do so. Additionally, store and/or discard product containers safely, away from children and pets.[10]

How to Reduce Indoor Air Pollution

In addition to eliminating sources of indoor pollution whenever possible, you can also incorporate other strategies for improving your indoor air quality. IAQ can vary depending on a variety of factors, but with a little help, you can breathe easier. Try the following to improve your air indoors.

How to reduce indoor pollution safely:[11][12]

  • Avoid carpets: Carpets can hold onto animal dander, dust mites, dirt, mold and pollen. Consider hard-surface flooring where possible and clean any carpets regularly.
  • Change your air filters: A filter only works if it still filters! Replace air filters in your furnace and cooling system regularly to cut down on indoor air pollution. Change them more often during fire and allergy seasons. 
  • Don’t cover up odors: Air fresheners, candles, incense and other fragrances marketed to mask odors can also trigger lung irritation. Avoid them. If you must use candles, stick with soy candles which produce fewer irritants when burned. 
  • Get some plants: Studies show that plants are able to remove VOCs from the air, and while the amount is small, they can still help improve your air quality. Look into peace lilies, spider plants and snake plants.[13] 
  • Keep things tidy: Dust and vacuum regularly to keep irritants from building up. Wash bedding and other linens regularly in hot water, too, and use a mattress cover to reduce dust mites. If you have pets, keep them and their bedding clean, too, to reduce allergens. 
  • Open a window: If the outdoor air quality is good and the pollen count isn’t too high, open a window or two to get some fresh air and improve your indoor air. 
  • Store chemicals smartly: Keep any chemicals, cleaning products, glues or pesticides stored safely where they won’t spill and away from your daily living areas. Avoid using harsh products whenever possible, or use them in well-ventilated areas. 
  • Take your shoes off: Get used to taking your shoes off by the door to reduce the amount of outdoor pollution you bring inside. If you need to keep your shoes on, try designating a pair of house shoes or using a doormat ato wipe debris clean from the soles of your shoes.
  • Use house fans: Make use of the exhaust fans in your bathroom when you shower and in the kitchen when you cook. 
  • Use an air purifier: When all else fails, try using an air purifier if you’re still struggling with indoor air pollution. These can be particularly helpful in the bedroom or if you live in an area with frequent wildfires.

Get More Help to Improve Your Breathing

Still wondering, “what is indoor air pollution going to do to my health?” For more information about how to protect your home from indoor air pollution and decrease your chance of experiencing breathing problems, visit the Environmental Protection Agency.

If you have COPD or another lung disease that makes it difficult for you to breathe, talk to your doctor about oxygen therapy. If supplemental oxygen is already necessary for you, contact Inogen today. We can tell you more about how Inogen products can help improve your breathing and your quality of life by helping you maintain your freedom, mobility and independence. Breathing better shouldn’t hold you back. Inogen can help.

Oxygen. Anytime. Anywhere.

Author: Deborah Leader RN, BSN, PHN

Sources cited:
[1] “Indoor Air Quality.” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, 16 July 2018, www.epa.gov/report-environment/indoor-air-quality.
[2] “Care for Your Air: A Guide to Indoor Air Quality – Printable Version.” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, 29 Aug. 2019, www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/care-your-air-guide-indoor-air-quality-printable-version.
[3] “Introduction to Indoor Air Quality.” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, 23 Mar. 2021, www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/introduction-indoor-air-quality.

[4] Steinemann, Anne. “Fragranced Consumer Products: Exposures and Effects from Emissions.” Air Quality, Atmosphere, & Health, Springer Netherlands, 2016, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5093181/.
[5] “Health Effects of Secondhand Smoke.” American Lung Association, American Lung Association, Updated 13 July 2020, www.lung.org/quit-smoking/smoking-facts/health-effects/secondhand-smoke.
[6] “Sources of Combustion Products.” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, 5 Jan. 2021, www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/sources-combustion-products.
[7] “A Brief Guide to Mold, Moisture and Your Home.” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, 23 Nov. 2020, www.epa.gov/mold/brief-guide-mold-moisture-and-your-home.
[8] “Consumer’s Guide to Radon Reduction: How to Fix Your Home.” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, 14 Jan. 2020, www.epa.gov/radon/consumers-guide-radon-reduction-how-fix-your-home.
[9] “The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2006, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK44324/.
[10] “Volatile Organic Compounds’ Impact on Indoor Air Quality.” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, 10 Feb. 2021, www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/volatile-organic-compounds-impact-indoor-air-quality.
[11] Farrell, Mary H.J. “14 Ways to Reduce Indoor Air Pollution.” Consumer Reports, Consumer Reports, Inc., 18 Sept. 2020, www.consumerreports.org/indoor-air-quality/ways-to-reduce-indoor-air-pollution/.

[12] “17 Simple Ways to Prevent Air Pollution in Your Home.” Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic, Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic, 3 May 2021, health.clevelandclinic.org/17-simple-ways-prevent-air-pollution-home/.

[13] Knapp, Julie. “10 Air Purifying Plants for Your Home.” Treehugger, Updated 11 May 2021, www.treehugger.com/houseplants-for-improving-indoor-air-quality-4869342.

 
 

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