The Top 10 Pollutants That Cause Indoor Allergies

Household Cleaners Can Cause Indoor AllergiesWhen seasonal allergies bring on sneezing, coughing and nasal congestion you may be tempted to stay inside to avoid pollen and blooming flowers. However, that may not be the only thing that is aggravating your allergies. Did you know that the environment indoors may actually be worse for your allergies than the environment outside your door?

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently stated that a growing body of scientific evidence indicates that “air within homes and other buildings can be more seriously polluted than the outdoor air in even the largest and most industrialized cities.” That is troubling because according to the EPA, people in the United States spend “approximately 90 percent of their time indoors.”

Symptoms of harmful or bad indoor air quality

The most common reason that indoor air becomes polluted is lack of proper ventilation. As homes are built to prevent heat and air conditioning loss, they also prevent the exchange of air that pulls toxins out and brings clean air in. The result: pollutants are trapped inside the house. How can you tell if your indoor air quality is poor or harmful? These clues may help:

  • Unusual odors
  • Stuffy or stale air
  • No air movement inside the home
  • Dirty HVAC systems
  • Damaged chimneys (flues)
  • Over-humidification (levels of 30% – 50% are recommended)
  • Mold
  • Mildew

The Top 10 pollutants that cause indoor allergies

  1. Building materials and air fresheners that release gases and/or particles into the air
  2. Heating ducts from dirty central heating and cooling systems that release dust when air is forced through them
  3. Wood-burning stoves
  4. Organic sources, i.e., mold, mildew, dust mites, and cockroaches
  5. Carbon monoxide (emitted from gas-burning stoves, heaters, and some appliances)
  6. Sulfur dioxide (emitted in a space heater from burning kerosene)
  7. Nitrogen dioxide (results from natural gas and kerosene combustion)
  8. Second hand smoke from tobacco products
  9. Formaldehyde, a preservative in furniture, carpet, drapes, particleboard, and plywood panels
  10. Asbestos, a by-product of insulation, heating equipment, cement, floor tiles, and spackle

Additional pollutants that can lead to indoor allergies include:

  1. Lead
  2. A build-up of products used for household cleaning and maintenance such as personal care products and household cleaners as well as chemicals used for hobbies
  3. Outdoor sources of pollutants that come into the home including pesticides, outdoor air pollution, and naturally occurring radon gas found in rock beds and soil beneath the home

How do you know if you are allergic to the air inside your home?

Generally speaking, people who are most vulnerable to illness are most likely to be allergic to the air in the home like infants, small children and the elderly. The signs and symptoms of being allergic to indoor air can be similar to other allergies:

  • Irritated eyes
  • Irritated nose and throat
  • Fatigue, headache, nausea, and dizziness (triggered by carbon monoxide)

Indoor allergens, such as dust, mold, pet dander, and cockroaches can also worsen or even trigger asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (i.e., Nitrogen dioxide).
Sometimes it can be difficult to discern if allergic reactions are from outdoor pollen or indoor toxins. The EPA has a good rule of thumb to follow to figure that out. “Pay attention to the time and place the symptoms occur. If the symptoms fade or go away when you are away from the home and then return when you arrive home, then an effort should be made to identify indoor air sources…of the allergic reaction.”

What can you do to clean the air in your home?

  1. First remove the source that may be causing the toxic air. If you find asbestos in your home, you will have to hire a professional to seal it
  2. Remove all damp or moldy carpet
  3. Look for obvious signs/places of mold and seal them with special mold-sealing paint
  4. Improve the ventilation in the home by opening the windows and doors whenever the weather allows
  5. Run ventilation fans in the bathroom and/or kitchen to circulate air
  6. Clean the filters of all the fans and air conditioners regularly
  7. If you have central heating and air conditioning, hire a company once a year to clean the system and remove all pollutants that build up in the air ducts
  8. If you have new carpeting installed, ask the installer about the adhesives they will use during installation and what the emissions are from the carpet
  9. The EPA has published a Guide to Indoor Air Quality and has information on its website to help you clean the air in your home

The importance of seeing an allergist

It is estimated that 10-30% of adults and 30-60 million individuals in the US are affected by the symptoms of allergies each year.(inside page link, see below) If you are not sure whether your allergies are caused by polluted indoor air or outdoor pollens, or if you have chronic allergy symptoms, see an ENT. They are the experts who can diagnose the source of your allergies and determine the best treatment for them. There are many effective treatments ranging from nasal sprays and medication to minimally invasive surgery.

References
University of Rochester Medical Center: Indoor Air Can Cause Health Problems
EPA: Indoor Air Quality
EPA: The Inside Story: A Guide to Indoor Air Quality

 

 


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