Understanding Indoor Air Pollution


The main culprit of indoor air quality problems in homes are those that release gases and particles into the air. If there isn’t much ventilation, indoor pollutant levels increase due to lack of air circulation from the outside to dilute emissions from indoor sources and by not carrying air pollutants out of the home. Other factors that increase pollutant concentrations are high temperature and humidity levels.

Amount of Ventilation

If there’s lack of outdoor air circulation, pollutants reach a level where people can have health and comfort problems. Homes that are designed and constructed to minimize outdoor air circulation may have increased pollutant levels compared to other homes, unless built with special means of ventilation. However, pollutants can build up even in well-ventilated homes due to weather conditions that dramatically reduce the amount of air coming from the outside.

Immediate Effects

After a single or repeated exposure to pollutants, immediate effects may show up. Short-term effects include irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, dizziness, fatigue and headaches. Sometimes, eliminating the source of the pollution can treat such effects, if identified. Symptoms of other diseases, such as asthma, humidifier fever and hypersensitivity pneumonitis, may also show up immediately after exposure to some indoor air pollutants.

The chances of immediate effects to indoor air pollutants relies on several factors. Age and preexisting medical conditions are two important influences. Sometimes, unique individual sensitivity is also a factor to one’s reaction to a pollutant. Some people can become sensitized to biological pollutants after repeated exposures, and it appears that some people can become sensitized to chemical pollutants as well. Effects may be similar to those from colds and other viral diseases, thus making it difficult to pinpoint if those are the result of exposure to indoor air pollution.

Due to this, it is important to keep track of the time and place symptoms occur. If the symptoms disappear when someone is away from home, for example, an effort should be made to identify indoor air sources that may be possible causes. Some effects may be worsened by the lack of outdoor air supply or from the temperature and humidity conditions prevalent in the home.

Long Term Effects

Sometimes, other health effects may surface after more than a year of being exposed to pollutants; it may include respiratory diseases, heart disease and even cancer, which can be severely debilitating or worse, fatal. It is recommended to try to improve indoor air quality in your home even if symptoms never show up. While pollutants commonly found in indoor air are responsible for many harmful effects, there is an unknown certainty about what concentrations or periods of exposure are necessary to produce specific health problems. People also have individual reactions with exposure to indoor air pollutants. Case studies are needed to have a better understanding of which health effects occur after exposure to the average pollutant concentrations found in homes and which occurs from the higher concentrations that happen for short time periods.

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