Indoor air pollution can have adverse health effects and contribute to illnesses as the seasons change. Most people spend a significant amount of time indoors, making clean breathing air a must. Unfortunately, airborne dirt, dust, chemicals, and other pollutants can lead to allergies, eye irritation, headaches, and fatigue. Learn why people often get sick as the seasons change and what you can do to improve indoor air quality in your home.
Illnesses and the Seasons
If you have ever gotten a cold or the flu when the seasons change, know that it is no coincidence. You may associate your illness to temperature changes, but changes in temperature are not a direct cause. Instead, temperature shifts cause various groups of viruses to thrive, making people sick. This increase in cold viruses does not just affect the outdoor air, but can also occur in your home through the transmission of microbes.
Indoor humidity also plays a major role in the increase of illnesses during season changes, especially during cooler seasons like fall and winter. As the weather outdoors becomes wetter, the air loses moisture and becomes drier. According to BBC, dry conditions create the perfect environment for flu viruses to flourish. Humidity also affects the number of allergens found in an indoor environment.
Low humidity in the home can have direct effects on the skin and respiratory system. It usually begins with dry nasal passages that develop when moisture is drawn from the mucous membranes. You may then experience a scratchy or sore throat. Once the nasal passages are dried out, the body is unable to effectively filter viruses that cause illnesses. Microbes are then able to pass through the nose and into the bloodstream.
Importance of Indoor Air Quality
You may consider your home a safe haven, but studies have shown that the air quality in your home is often worse than outdoors. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, concentrations of some pollutants are often 2 to 5 times higher than average outdoor concentrations. Due to these common pollutants, poor indoor air quality can cause dizziness, fatigue, skin problems, nausea, and difficulty concentrating.
Poor indoor air quality can have a number of causes. Inadequate ventilation is a major source of pollutants indoors which can cause allergens and various microbes to build up. Contaminants can also be released from indoor sources like paint or carpeting, as well as outdoor sources like plumbing vents and vehicle exhaust. Your home is also at risk for biological contaminants like bacteria, viruses, and mold.
While most people do not think about the quality of the air in their homes, it is important to consider how pollutants could affect your short-term and long-term health. Taking the necessary steps to achieve good indoor air quality can provide a number of benefits, such as better breathing, improved sleep quality, reduction of allergies, reduced energy costs, and improved moisture control.
Improving Your Indoor Air Quality
If your indoor air quality is lacking, make some essential changes to better your health and reduce the frequency of illnesses. The first step to improving your indoor air quality is by altering your cleaning habits. Vacuum your floors more frequently to remove harmful chemicals and allergens that accumulate in household dirt and dust. A HEPA filter is recommended to prevent dirt and dust from getting blown out of the exhaust.
Place a floor mat at every entrance to your home. People walking in can track a variety of dirt and chemicals on their shoes. A doormat helps trap these pollutants before they are brought into your living areas. Even if the people that visit your home forget to wipe their feet, most floor mats will catch a large portion of dirt. To protect your family further, have family and guests remove their shoes before entering the home.
Also, make the decision to cut down on toxins in your home. Make the switch from more toxic cleaners like bleach and ammonia to more mild cleaners like vinegar mixed with water. Most natural formulas clean just as well if not better than chemical-based cleaners. Get rid of any toxic items you no longer need, such as old paint or adhesive removers, and buy new products in small quantities to avoid having to store chemicals.
Likewise, make the move to a healthier level of humidity. Mold and dust mites thrive on moisture so it is important to keep your home at the proper humidity level. By using an air conditioner during the warmer months and a dehumidifier the rest of the year, you can reduce moisture.
One of the biggest but most effective changes you can make in your home to improve air quality and reduce illnesses is to service or upgrade your HVAC system. The average lifespan of a central air conditioner is about 15 to 20 years, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Heating systems can last just as long but most homeowners choose to replace their HVAC systems after 10 to 15 years for efficiency.
Even newer models should be serviced at least once per year to prolong their life and to help you save on energy bills. Servicing your HVAC system can also improve indoor air quality and reduce cases of colds and the flu in your home caused by the spread of viruses. Much like a car, if you ignore your HVAC system and fail to have it serviced, you will likely experience more frequent breakdowns and repairs.
If your HVAC system has reached its life expectancy or requires frequent repairs, you may want to think about replacing it. Look for signs that could indicate the need for an HVAC replacement, such as weird smells or sounds, parts that have been phased out, or poor air quality in your home. Before making a decision, have your existing heating and cooling systems inspected by an HVAC professional.