For the Gazette
JAMESTOWN — A person’s greatest health risks from air pollution may come not from the outdoors, but from within their own four walls.
A growing body of scientific evidence now indicates that air within homes and other buildings can be more seriously polluted than the outdoor air found in even the most industrialized cities, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Such research can be alarming considering the average person spends up to 90 percent of their time indoors.
Poor indoor air quality kills more than 4 million people around the world, and it disables millions more with chronic illnesses such as COPD, cardiovascular disease, stroke and lung cancer, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Research now shows exposure to poor indoor air quality can trigger heart attacks, stroke, and cardiovascular deaths, the American Heart Association (AHA) says.
Poor indoor air quality, also known as indoor air pollution, has many sources. Biological sources include mold, pet dander, pollen and dust mites. It also comes from second-hand smoke, combustion from wood-burning sources, chemicals such as formaldehyde, products containing asbestos and naturally occurring gases such as radon, according to the American Lung Association (ALA).
“Awareness of the effect indoor air quality can have on someone’s health is an important first step,” said Angelia Mickle, a certified nurse practitioner at Jamestown Family Medicine. “Identifying the symptoms that tell us it is a problem is another hurdle. There can be the assumption that the symptoms of poor indoor air quality are related to outdoor allergies and, therefore, overlooked.”
Symptoms that come from poor indoor air quality mimic those from outdoor allergens. These include a runny, irritated or stuffy nose, irritated eyes, sore throat; cough, phlegm, decrease of energy, respiratory symptoms, chest heaviness, diarrhea and nausea, and cognitive problems, says Ms. Mickle, who practices with Premier HealthNet.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends individuals take the following steps if they suspect indoor air quality may be the source to their health issues:
Be mindful of symptom’s timing – Certain immediate effects of poor indoor air quality mimic those from colds and other viral infections making it difficult to determine if the symptoms are a result of indoor air pollution. It’s important to note the time and place symptoms occur. Investigate poor indoor air quality in a home if a person’s symptoms fade while they are away, but re-emerge once they return to the house.
Consult with your physician – Consult your physician or local health department if poor indoor air quality is suspected, especially if symptoms begin after moving into a new residence or after a home undergoes remodeling, or is treated for pesticides.
Look for potential sources – Proper awareness of poor indoor air quality makes an individual better able to identify potential sources. Poor ventilation in a home can lead to the presence of many sources. Signs of this include condensation on windows or walls, smelly or stuffy air, dirty central heating and air, cooking equipment, and areas where items like books or shoes become moldy.
Keep biological agents in check – Take steps to reduce the presence of mold in the home and to keep things such as pet dander under control. Simple steps include washing bedding each day, vacuuming carpet to clean pet dander and dust, and regularly monitoring moisture buildup. Most importantly, prohibit the smoking of any tobacco products inside a home.
Have a home tested for the right pollutants – The federal government recommends that all Americans have their place of residence tested for radon, an odorless, radioactive gas that has been proven as a source of many serious health problems including lung cancer. Testing for other pollutants can be helpful if symptoms or signs of poor ventilation are present, but should otherwise be carefully considered since having it done can be costly.
For more information on indoor air pollution or to find a Premier HealthNet physician near you, visit www.premierhealthnet.com/doctor