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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    A , Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease), answered

    Open your home to the outside world as frequently as you can, since the inside of a home generally has three to four times the pollutants and particles that are most dangerous to us. If you don't air it out, you increase the chance that these pollutants will build up.

    Indoor air quality has plummeted because our homes are more airtight and we're using many more products to freshen the air, sanitize the home, and treat fabrics. And remember that your favorite "clean" smell is often caused by chemicals that are present to mask the noxious odor of other chemicals. Plus, 15 percent of us are allergic to the common fragrances.



    To compound the problem, we're spending more time indoors. So make sure to open your windows as often as possible and bring fresh air in (even once a week in the heat of summer or cold of winter).

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    A , Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease), answered
    Home air filters sound like they'd be the best things for your lungs since snorkeling tubes. After all, when used and maintained properly, they can filter allergens out of the air.

    Unfortunately, many people don't see big benefits after bringing an air filter home. Why? The primary reason isn't a mechanical malfunction, but an owner malfunction. Most people don't service the air filters regularly, so they're not that effective. They don't clean or change components as the directions recommend. If you stick to regular maintenance, however, air filters can be useful for taking allergens out of the air.
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    A , 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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    A , Internal Medicine, answered
    Molds produce mycotoxins, which weaken or kill the things they live on or compete with. Short-term exposure can cause breathing problems, and the research indicates that long-term exposure may also be linked to cancer.
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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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    A Nutrition & Dietetics, answered on behalf of
    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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    A , 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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    The percentage of oxygen is the same at sea level as it is at high altitudes, which is roughly 21 percent. However, because air molecules at high altitudes are more dispersed, each breath delivers less oxygen to the body. A breath at 12,000 feet (3,657.6 m), delivers 40 percent less oxygen to the body than it does at sea level. At 18,000, feet, a breath takes in 50 percent less oxygen. As a result of this difference, you should expect to feel short of breath during and shortly after physical activities, such as mountain climbing or biking,at higher altitudes.

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    A , Internal Medicine, answered
    Choose to live where pollution rates are low. When you're selecting a place to live or work, check the Web site for the Environmental Protection Agency. Its pollution ratings show the areas and cities that have excellent records for having the fewest very small (0.01 to 2.5 microns in size) particles in the air. This is important because it's the smallest particles that get farthest in our lungs and disable our immune system, increasing our risk of inflammation and subsequent cancer and arterial aging.
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    A , Allergy & Immunology, answered
    Gail Bost, an Allergy & Asthma Network Mothers of Asthmatics (AANMA) outreach service coordinator from Franklin, Tennessee with an asthmatic teenage son, offered some excellent advice on improving air quality.

    She initiated a pilot program for local schools using the "Indoor Air Quality Tools for Schools [IAQ TfS] Action Kit," which was developed by the Environmental Protection Agency. The program allows easy identification of problem areas, leading to low-cost strategies for many indoor air quality issues. The IAQ TfS kit includes a problem-solving wheel, renovation and repair checklists, a video on basic ventilation, and step-by-step instructions.

    Says Ms. Bost, "Since implementing IAQ TfS, I've seen changes in teacher and staff attitudes at the school where I work. When the staff learned that room air fresheners contained harsh chemicals and that natural alternatives were available, the air fresheners disappeared. Our teachers are much more understanding and aware of what can cause problems for students with asthma."

    The program has been such a success that it will be expanded into more schools. How to proceed? Ms. Bost recommends creating a committee of teachers, staff, and parents, using surveys and discussions to learn about air quality in the school, and a committee walk through of the school. It's important to remember that you can't fix every problem at once -- continual follow-up is imperative.