Did you know that indoor air pollution can affect your health and cause everything from eye and throat problems to long-term respiratory disease and cancer? Indoor air is estimated to be 2-5 times more polluted than outdoor air, and most of us spend about 80-90 per cent of our life indoors, making us susceptible to these pollutants.
Research shows that indoor pollution is 1000 times more likely to reach your lungs than its outdoor counterpart. Products used for cleaning, hairspray and deodorants are estimated to be three times more likely to cause cancer as pollutants from outside. Tobacco smoke from passive smoking is one major indoor air pollutant and contains about 4000 chemicals, 200 known poisons, such as formaldehyde and carbon monoxide, as well as 43 carcinogens (cancer-causing ingredients).
Statistics go on to show that about 50 per cent of illnesses are caused or aggravated by indoor pollution.
People who spend a lot of time at home or indoors have a 55 per cent higher risk of cancer and lung diseases, and statistics show that over the last decade, the death rate for lung disease has risen faster than that of almost any other major disease, especially in America. This includes the increase in asthma, with Australia being one of the highest nations with asthmatic illness. Statistics also show that asthma sufferers and asthma-related deaths have increased by more than 30 per cent in the past 10 years. Also, don’t forget the problems caused by sinusitis (inflammation or infection of sinus passages). These results show that air pollution can be a major cause of illnesses.
Of course, you must remember that any such health problems depend on how much of a pollutant is inhaled, and how long you are exposed to the pollutant.
Pollutants such as moulds, bacteria, viruses, pollen, dust mites and animal fur make for poor indoor air quality. This is especially important for more susceptible people such as children, the elderly, those with heart and lung diseases, and people with asthma, sinus or allergies. Tobacco can cause respiratory irritation, bronchitis, pneumonia, emphysema, lung cancer and heart disease. Carbon monoxide found in poorly functioning gas and wood stoves and tobacco smoke can also cause headaches, nausea, angina, impaired vision and poor memory, and can be fatal if in high doses. Nitrogen from gas appliances can affect the eyes, nose, throat and is responsible for increased respiratory infections in children. Organic chemicals from aerosols, solvents, glues, cleaning agents, pesticides, paints, mothballs, air fresheners and dry cleaning can affect eyes, nose and throat, cause headaches and loss of coordination, damage your liver, kidney and brain, and even cause some cancers.
Formaldehyde is found in some wood products, furniture, wallpaper and permanent-press clothes and can irritate eyes, nose and throat, cause allergy reactions, headaches and some cancers. Particles from wood, cigarettes, sprays and dust mites can lead to respiratory infections, bronchitis and lung cancers.
Other indoor pollutants such as bacteria, viruses, dust mites and animal fur can clutter air conditioner filters and humidifiers, collect on moist bathroom walls and furniture, and cause allergic reactions to eyes and nose, throat, asthma, sinus, flu and fevers.
This is not to mention pollutants that are widely accepted to be a danger, such as asbestos, which causes lung cancer, mesothelioma and other cancers; lead, which used to be in a paint component and may be present in older houses; and even house dust, which affects the nervous system and brain, and can cause anaemia, kidney damage and retard growth. When you inhale these particles, they embed themselves deep in your lungs and can even pass into the blood stream. Studies link these particles to increases in asthma, heart attacks, strokes, lung cancer and premature deaths.
All this makes it seem that the indoors is not a very healthy place to be. (Don’t get too alarmed though: remember that any impact on your health depends on how much and how long you’re exposed to the pollutant.) So how do we fight this problem?
There are a few good air purifiers about and sometimes it’s a good idea to invest in one if there are health problems in the house. Other ways are to take care what you bring into the home: using roll on deodorants instead of sprays, limiting things such as hair sprays, and using some of the ‘greener’ products on the market. Maybe even try the ‘safer’ brand of toilet paper instead of the bleached one. It may make a difference, not only to you but to the pipes and sewerage system in your home.
Partial responsibility for indoor pollution also seems to lie with the lack of ozone in our air. Ozone is generated by short-wave solar ultraviolet radiation and appears in our upper atmosphere (ozonosphere) as a gas. Our abuse of chemicals has caused that huge hole up there. Couple that with the ‘greenhouse’ effect and our air is not exactly a healthy gas. I think we need more trees and open spaces with greenery, especially in city areas. Ever wondered why we all head to the mountains on our days off? Our bodies know what we need.
So the next time you get a runny nose or sore throat, why not take a look at what you are using in your house? If you want to be sure, perhaps head off for an allergy or sensitivity test to see, in black and white, what may be the cause.