Improve Your Home’s Indoor Air Quality

You might assume your sore throat, itchy eyes, headache, or fatigue are the signs of yet another cold. But they could also be the symptoms of something more serious: indoor air pollution. In fact, the American College of Allergists says that half of all illnesses are caused or aggravated by polluted indoor air.

Air pollution is not just a problem that occurs outdoors. A study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) showed that indoor pollutants can be two to five times higher than the levels outside. Sometimes these levels can reach up to 100 times higher. And since most people spend up to 90 percent of their time indoors, inside pollution can pose serious risks.

There are a number of factors that can lead to poor air quality. Check out the following sources of pollution and how you can prevent them from building up in your home:

Radon is a colorless, odorless radioactive gas that enters a home from underneath as uranium in the soil or rock naturally breaks down. Prolonged exposure to high levels of radon can cause lung cancer—and if you smoke, your risk of cancer is even greater when you’re exposed to radon. Do-it-yourself tests for radon are easy to use and you can buy them at hardware stores or other retail outlets. If you have questions about radon in your home, call the National Radon Hotline at 1-800-SOS-RADON.

Tobacco Smoke
Secondhand smoke is made up of more than 4,000 compounds, including at least 40 that are known to cause cancer. Exposure to these chemicals can irritate eyes and lungs, but can also be a major threat to those suffering from allergies or asthma. Try to avoid smoking inside, but if it’s not possible, make sure there is ventilation in the area where you are smoking. Open a door or window, or use a fan.

Stoves, Heaters, Fireplaces, and Chimneys
Gases such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide along with other particles can be released into the air, irritating your eyes, nose, throat, and lungs. Using an exhaust fan over your stove will help eliminate some of these fumes. Also have your fireplace, chimney, and furnace checked each year for damaged parts.

Household Products
Fumes from household products such as paint, cleaning solution, wax, and disinfectants can build up, causing irritation, dizziness, headaches, and other symptoms. Make sure you follow product instructions and increase ventilation when working with chemicals. Only keep on hand the products you need and dispose of products you no longer use.

Biological Contaminants
Bacteria, mold, mildew, dust mites, and pollen can build up in your home causing symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, dizziness, fever, or shortness of breath among others. And as moisture builds up in your home, these contaminants grow. Be sure your attic and crawl spaces have proper ventilation to keep the humidity level down. Also, remember to follow manufacturer instructions for cleaning and upkeep when using a humidifier. If your basement is damp, use a dehumidifier to keep it as dry as possible.

For more information on improving the quality of your indoor air, contact the EPA’s Information Clearinghouse at 1-800-438-4318.

* Some of the above information is from the United States Environmental Protection Agency.