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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?
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. 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.
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 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.
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
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. Of the most common combustion pollutants found in your home, carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide are the most concerning.1
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 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 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. 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
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
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.
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.
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
 “Indoor Air Quality.” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, 16 July 2018, www.epa.gov/report-environment/indoor-air-quality.
 “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.
 “Introduction to Indoor Air Quality.” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, 23 Mar. 2021, www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/introduction-indoor-air-quality.