Air Quality

Air Quality

We hear about air quality from many sources, from the weather report to vacuum cleaner commercials. The air we breathe can carry many tiny particles that will affect your health, especially if you are an allergy sufferer. Common contaminants in the air include dust, pollen, and smoke. Air in well-insulated houses can concentrate not only these contaminants but fumes and vapors from household chemicals like chlorine bleach and cleaners. Getting enough fresh air where you live may be as simple as opening a window or as complex as filtering and ensuring proper humidity in an apartment or office HVAC (heating, ventilating and air conditioning) system. Use of smoke removers and air filters (either electrostatic or HEPA) may improve indoor air quality.

Recently Answered

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    AClifford Bassett, MD, Allergy / Immunology, answered
    Research done decades ago by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) found that certain house plants can actually "clean the air" of pollutants and dust. A growing amount of plant researchers are identifying various plants that will remove pollutants from your home or place of business. These plants are peace lily, English ivy, weeping fig, devil's ivy, flamingo flower and mother-in-laws tongue. It is estimated that the average size home will benefit from between 6-12 plants.
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    ARealAge answered

    Give your walking workout more green by hiking trails or parks instead of asphalt and concrete. You'll do your heart a huge favor.

    Car pollution in high-traffic zones isn't just bad for your lungs. It can really test your heart too.

    In a study, men who previously had heart attacks (but had stable heart disease) exercised while being exposed for short periods to traffic-equivalent levels of diesel exhaust. The result? Reduced blood flow to their hearts. This is not a good thing for anyone, but especially worrisome for people with heart problems.

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    Humidity can cause the temperature to feel warmer than it really is. Humidity can be harmful if the humidity level and the temperature are high. For example, if the temperature outside is 92 degrees F and the relative humidity level is 65 percent, then the temperature outside will feel like 103 degrees F.

    (This answer provided for NATA by the Washington State University Athletic Training Education Program.)
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    AHealthCorps answered
    Thanks to recent technology, the EPA and the National Weather Service have developed downloadable apps for smartphones that allow you to do just that. The AIRNOW app will let you check levels of pollutants and ozone by zip code. It now tracks more than 400 cities across the nation. The UV Index app offers ultraviolet (UV) radiation levels by entering your zip code as well. Having this information can be especially helpful to people who struggle with lung disease, parents who want to be cautious as far as safety outdoors, and for seniors who may be more sensitive to these variables. You might also motivate your teen to be more health conscious if you can impress him with an app!!
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    Air pollution can present a risk, particularly for those with respiratory conditions like asthma. There is an air quality index (AQI) that can be accessed through the National Weather Service and the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration. The AQI tells you how clean or polluted your outdoor air is and what associated health effects might be a concern for you. The AQI focuses on health problems that may be experienced within a few hours or days after breathing polluted air. If the index is between 101 and 150, it is considered unhealthy for sensitive groups. If it is 150 or greater, it is considered unhealthy for all. Those exercising outdoors during these conditions should be closely monitored for breathing difficulty and other problems with exertion, such as fatigue and light-headedness. An AQI greater than 200 is considered very unhealthy, and outdoor activities should be discontinued. (This answer provided for NATA by the Marist College Athletic Training Education Program)
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    AIntermountain Registered Dietitians, Nutrition & Dietetics, answered on behalf of Intermountain Healthcare
    Protect your health by following these tips:

    • From May to September, get your outdoor physical activity before noon or after 6:00 PM.

    • If you are physically active between noon and 6:00 PM, stay indoors or keep your physical activity light to moderate (walk instead of run).
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    AIntermountain Registered Dietitians, Nutrition & Dietetics, answered on behalf of Intermountain Healthcare
    Ozone is created when the sun’s heat and light act upon gases and pollution in the air. It’s bad to breathe -- especially for people with asthma, and especially during May to September, the “ozone season” when ozone levels are highest.
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    AMichael Roizen, MD, Internal Medicine, answered
    Research now indicates that indoor air quality could be five times more aging for us than outdoor air. The news regularly reports mysterious cases of "sick building syndrome" and the debate of indoor mold and mold toxins is front-page news. Unfortunately there is much still to be learned about the causes of indoor air pollution, but one thing is clear. Air pollution does not occur only outdoors. Particulates have a remarkable ability to go everywhere, especially the smallest that are very difficult to see and most dangerous for human aging. Indoor air quality can be worse since the indoors can, in some systems, not be diluted with the outdoor fresh air as well in some buildings.

    Watch out for toxic fumes that come from household cleaning fluids, laundry detergents, exterminator pesticides, garden sprays, dry cleaning and rug cleaning fluids, and other household products. And tobacco smoke can add particles in the 0.1 to 2.5 micron range. "Building sickness," essentially a malady caused by poor indoor air quality, is a real illness. Workers who work in poorly ventilated buildings have more respiratory infections and complain of fatigue, headache, and nausea. If you work or live in a building that could be causing health problems for you, have the building checked.
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    AMichael Roizen, MD, Internal Medicine, answered
    Particulate matter differs from ozone, carbon monoxide and other pollutants in that the term does not refer to a specific chemical but rather a very complex mixture of numerous particles of varying sizes and chemical properties. In general, the higher the concentration of particulate matter of a certain size, the more likely you are to have premature heart and lung disease. The smallest and midsized particles seem to be the most potentially injurious.

    Particles that are 10 microns or less in diameter (PM10) are the most easily transported via air (larger particles fall to the ground quickly) and therefore are the most commonly measured particles when analyzing air pollution. Of these, particles in the range of 0.1 to 10 microns are most readily breathed in and retained in the lungs. In fact, the most recent research is focusing upon particles in the 2.5 and smaller micron range (PM2.5) as being perhaps the most important for human disease.

    Particles that are smaller than 0.1 micron but greater than in the nanotechnology range are breathed in or out, thus, not retained in the lung. These sized particles do not seem to cause immune dysfunction in the lung, making them less of a problem. Particles greater than 10 microns rarely make it into the lungs -- your cilia in your airways block their entranced and clear them out.
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    AMichael Roizen, MD, Internal Medicine, answered
    Air pollution can aggravate arterial and respiratory problems. A report in the British Medical Journal found that changes in the level of air pollutants -- specifically, ozone and black smoke, a major source of PM2.5 (particulate matter, in the 2.5 micron range or smaller) -- led to an increase in the rates of deaths from all causes, primarily because of an increase of as much as 5 percent in cardiovascular and respiratory aging. Air quality may also have a significant effect on the development of asthma, a disease that affects as many as 20 million Americans.

    Recent data show how air pollution produces asthma, and it's quite surprising. Small air particles from the polluted air get deep into the lungs. Even though the immune system responds, the particles impair immune function. That impairment allows infections to occur, which results in asthma. So, pollution doesn't directly produce asthma but, instead, produces immune dysfunction that allows infections to succeed in damaging the lung, which in turn leads to asthma. Asthma rates are increasing in intensely urban areas, such as the inner-city areas of New York and Chicago, suggesting that poor air quality's ability to trigger the onset of asthma is a concern that actually can and does affect and age large numbers of us. Air quality also affects the number of sinus infections and respiratory illnesses that people suffer.