There’s a saying that goes, ‘You are what you eat,’ but even more true for residents everywhere affected by poor air quality is, ‘You are what you breathe.’ The indoor air quality in your house is a major contributor to the status of your health and your home, yet it is too often overlooked by homeowners across the country. Clean air is considered practically a given for many Americans, as emission standards have kept the country’s outdoor air clean and healthy, an expectation they maintain within the walls of their own home.
Unfortunately, indoor air quality is seldom as clean as we’d like to believe, which can be detected through several signs of which everyone should be aware.
Monitor Your Home’s Indoor Air Quality
About Indoor Air Quality
Indoor air quality, as defined by the United States Department of Labor, describes how inside air can affect a person’s health, comfort and ability to work, including factors such as temperature, humidity, poor ventilation, mold from water damage, exposure to other chemicals, and more.
The effects of poor indoor air quality range according to the affected individual as well as the severity of the causes. Sometimes, immediate effects occur that can be either mild or severe, whereas other cases develop over time through repeated or consistent exposure to pollutants. As the EPA explains, the likelihood of an immediate reaction to poor air quality depends on subjective factors such as age, preexisting medical conditions, and individual sensitivity. Others may become sensitized to biological or chemical pollutants after repeated, high-level or sustained exposure, minimizing the types of immediate reactions that they would otherwise notice, but also increases the likelihood of far more problematic symptoms and signs.
The sooner you realize your home suffers from poor indoor air quality, the easier it will be to rectify the issues, sparing your health and your house from long-term damage.
What Affects IAQ
There are many things that may affect the air quality of your home, such as poor ventilation, a lack of outside air, inability to control temperature, high or low humidity, as well as activities in or near your home, such as recent remodeling. As the Occupational Safety and Health Administration explains, construction and renovation create dust that may cause poor indoor air quality. Cleaning supplies, pesticides, and other airborne chemicals are just as viable to contribute to declining air quality that may lead to a sick home.
A “sick house” is defined as a residence with poor air quality that may cause its inhabitants to become ill. Houses can become “sick” through a buildup of air pollutants from causes such as household products, building materials, formaldehyde, and respirable particles. Researchers at Georgia State University explain houses in cold climates are more prone to becoming “sick” during the winter because the cool air holds less moisture and replaces air with moisture and contaminants. Conversely, houses in warm or humid climates are more likely to become “sick” during the summer, as the moist outdoor air may increase mildew in the home.
Though the best cure for a sick house is proper ventilation with clean, outdoor air, if your home is not properly air-conditioned with sufficient dehumidification, the moisture outside may contribute to poor air quality inside.
Signs Of Poor Air Quality: Your Health
There are several signs that the air quality in your home is deficient, but your own body is the clearest indicator of any potential issues. Often, you’ll experience symptoms that mirror side effects of a cold, such as a runny nose, sore throat, sneezing, and coughing. If the air quality is severely poor, you may even experience more serious symptoms such as headaches, nausea, fatigue, and dizziness.
As the experts at Allergy And Air explain, preexisting allergies may flare up when exposed to irritants like pollen or dust that are contaminating the air quality of your home. These reactions may be signs of a less severe contamination, but if you notice new or unusual symptoms, there is probably a much more dangerous problem with your air quality. These may include dizziness, nausea, rashes, fevers, fatigue, or even vomiting, muscle pain, shortness of breath, or hearing loss.
Because a lot of these symptoms mirror effects of other common problems, it’s important to understand exactly how issues with air quality might affect your health.
As you inhale particles from the air, such as dust or pollen, you may become congested with a cough as your body combats the foreign agents; accordingly, if you frequently become congested after coming home, your air quality may need to be addressed. More alarming symptoms such as fatigue and dizziness are often signs of a more serious problem, such as fumes, carbon monoxide, or other chemical and gaseous air contaminants affecting your air quality.
The irritants in the air will affect the most sensitive and vulnerable parts of the body first, such as the eyes, nose, throat, mouth, and tongue. Your mucous membranes are the most susceptible to contaminants, so these areas may begin to itch, water, run or even burn when exposed to poor air quality in the home. The next most likely part of the body to be affected is the skin. When spending a prolonged period of time in a home with poor air quality, your skin may start to dry, peel or flake, as well as develop rashes or redness on sensitive areas of the skin. This is especially true for any who already struggle with skin conditions like eczema or acne.
Poor indoor air quality may lead to a myriad of health concerns, including a rapid, acute onset of symptoms that can act as signs that indicate a problem that needs to be addressed. Other symptoms may be slow and more difficult to detect, so it’s important to look for other signs beyond your health, too.
Signs Of Poor Air Quality: Your Home
In addition to health symptoms, there are signs around the home that may indicate a problem with the air quality. The odor is an important sign to pay attention to, as a bad smell around the house may suggest that a filter in your air conditioning unit needs to be changed. Other unpleasant odors like a musty, stuffy smell may be signs of a mold or mildew that has infiltrated the home and affected its air quality, as Georgia State University explains.
Oftentimes, there will also be visible signs of poor air quality, such as black or green spots to indicate a biological growth. Additionally, the EPA states that inconsistencies in air distribution through the home may indicate a problem with the air quality. If one area is colder or warmer than another, there is likely a problem affecting the purity of the airflow.
“Most of the things that cause [air quality] problems are odorless,” says Dr. Nicholas of Harvard-Medical School. “So, in many cases, there’s nothing to alert you to the problem.”
Because problems to air quality can be difficult to spot, it’s important to stay cognizant of these warning sign, and contact the professionals as soon as you notice them.