Medical Resource: FAQ About Indoor Air Pollution and Women's Health
When thinking of air pollution, many people would say that it exists outdoors. Think again. Air pollution can also be present in our homes, offices, schools and cars. There are many different causes of indoor air pollution and some of these can even cause allergies or diseases in women, especially seniors and new mothers. It is crucial to be aware of these pollutants and remember than an indoor environment is as troublesome as the outdoor environment.
Q: What counts as indoor air pollution? How are people exposed to it?
A: Indoor air pollution is made of pollutants that are commonly found outdoors. Several exist indoors such as; dander from household pets, mold and mildew and gases released from large appliances. People can be exposed to it simply by breathing in the air and spending large amounts of time within this environment. In unmaintained indoor environments, the amount of pollutants in the air is often much higher than those found outdoors.
Q: How does indoor air pollution affect my health?
A: The health effects caused by indoor air pollution can vary quite drastically. On the milder side, irritating allergy symptoms such as fatigue, coughing, sneezing, itchy or teary eyes and skin irritations are very common. More serious health effects can come in the form of respiratory diseases such as asthma or bronchitis, wheezing and recurring headaches.
Q: What are the main ways to improve the quality of air at home?
A: Proper ventilation is the key to improving indoor air quality. Use a highly filtered screen on open windows to clean the air coming into the house. Air conditioners produce a drier atmosphere, so turning on the A/C can help to reduce moisture in the air. If the humidity is very high inside the home, consider using a de-humidifier along with an air filtration unit. Make sure that any exhaust pipes and vents are routed to the outside of the building. Use a high-powered vacuum with a strong filter and vacuum often to prevent the build-up of pollutants.
Q: How do combustion products affect my health?
A: Combustion products are commonly emitted from heaters, stoves and fireplaces. The gases that are produced include carbon monoxide as well as nitrogen dioxide. Smoke resulting from cigarettes and other tobacco products also falls into this category. Carbon monoxide is undetectable to humans but it can be fatal. Carbon monoxide poisoning can cause nausea, giddiness and migraines as well as more severe symptoms since it affects our intake of oxygen. Pregnant women, seniors and infants are especially susceptible. All homes should have a carbon monoxide detector installed in a few locations. It looks similar to a smoke detector and emits a loud alarm when a carbon monoxide leak is detected in the air. Nitrogen dioxide is a brown-colored gas that causes irritation in the sinuses and eyes as well as respiratory problems and severe lung problems. Children and anyone suffering from asthma should be especially careful.
Q: How does radon affect my health and where does it occur?
A: Radon is another gas that is undetectable to humans. It is formed naturally in the ground and can enter the home through cracks in the walls or floors, as well as through gaps in pipes or the water. Higher radon levels are most often found in basements since they are nearest to the ground. Radon can cause high rates of lung cancer. Since it is so dangerous, households are advised to test their homes for radon and to fix any detected leak areas.
Q: How can I be exposed to asbestos and what exactly is it?
A: Asbestos is a mineral that is incorporated into fibers to create a heat-resistant material that can be used for insulation. It can be found in tiles, furnace rooms, insulation materials (especially those that are damaged) and some types of paints. Asbestos exposure is typically acquired in jobs that deal with constant handling of asbestos materials or in homes with deteriorating asbestos-based insulation.
Q: What impact does asbestos have on my health?
A: The microscopic asbestos fibers are carried in the air and breathing them in over a long period of time can have negative effects on people. Acquiring large amounts of asbestos in the lungs leads to lung and chest irritations and cancer. It is common for people to breathe in minute amounts of asbestos in their daily lives and at this minor scale, it typically does not cause adverse health effects.
Q: What are some of the main biological pollutants indoors? How can I come in contact with them?
A: Biological pollutants stem from living organisms. Primary examples include pollen, animal fur and dander (skin flakes), bacteria, dust, mildew, dust mites, various types of viruses, as well as waste products from vermin, cockroaches and other bugs. Humidity breeds the increase of biological pollutants and a central air conditioner may repeatedly circulate pollutants throughout the house. Warm, damp areas quickly promote the growth of mold, and it is easy for dust, skin flakes, hair and bacteria to collect in areas like carpets, beds, pillows and curtains. Many of these pollutants affect people’s health simply by being inhaled or through skin contact.
Q: How do biological pollutants affect my health?
A: Biological pollutants very often cause allergic reactions and breathing difficulties such or lung irritations. Other symptoms may come in the form of fever, viral illnesses, listlessness, or dizziness. Asthma is one of the most common conditions caused by indoor biological pollutants.
Q: How can I avoid the buildup of biological pollutants at home?
A: One of the easiest ways to minimize biological pollutants within the home is by maintaining a clean environment. Frequent vacuuming, cleaning bed linens and dusting surfaces helps to reduce the buildup of dust and microscopic organisms. Brush pets outdoors so that they shed less inside the home. Reducing humidity through proper ventilation is another important step. Make sure any damp spots behind toilets, air conditioners or in the kitchen are fixed, cleaned and dried. Carpets and rugs with water-damage should also be thoroughly disinfected and kept dry, or replaced altogether. Keeping a dehumidifier in the basement is a great way to reduce ambient moisture in an area where it tends to collect the most.
Q: How are women affected by indoor environments?
A: Stay at home mothers as well as women who work from home are usually exposed to higher levels of indoor pollutants than the rest of the family who may be out of the house for longer periods of time. This is even more true for women who do the majority of cleaning within the house. Vacuuming and dusting tends to stir up pollutants and particles, making women more susceptible to allergies and health issues.
Q: How are pregnant or breast-feeding women affected by indoor environments?
A: Poor indoor air quality can negatively affect pregnant and nursing women as well as the unborn baby. Pollutants can accumulate in breast milk or even in the blood. Later, they are passed on to the baby, either in the womb or while nursing. This can cause allergies and other complications for both the mother and child. In pregnant women, it can also cause pre-term deliveries or miscarriages.
Q: How are older women affected by indoor environments?
A: Older women tend to be more sensitive to pollutants and poor indoor air quality. Constant buildups of pollutants within the body may not show immediate effects in younger people, but instead may only develop in later years. Some of the most common environmentally caused health problems that affect senior women include senility, high blood pressure, cancer, asthma and other lung diseases, osteoporosis and kidney deterioration.
Q: How are children affected by indoor environments?
A: While children are still growing, they can often be much more sensitive to external and air-borne pollutants than healthy adults. Toddlers crawling on the floor usually disregard any rules on cleanliness and often put just about anything into their mouths. Even slightly older children inevitably get dirty from playing and may rub their eyes or nose and handle food without washing their hands. These are all extremely easy ways to transfer germs, particles and bacteria to the respiratory system. This can lead to early onset childhood allergies, asthma and more serious diseases.