Can poor Air Quality cause Allergies? 

The below article talks about how poor air quality could trigger allergies, why it is important to protect yourself from long-term exposure to air pollutants to reduce the impacts it could have on your health, and what are the next steps to do so. 

Does poor air quality affect allergies, what do I do about it?

Poor air quality triggers allergies due to the presence of different types of contaminants and pollutants that are present in the air. The variety of toxic particles that have been released into the air have varying effects on different people across different living conditions, and the most observable trend is that it presents as an allergy attack and respiratory difficulties.  

The best solutions are to avoid the usage and storage of chemical compounds that trigger the allergies, install an air purifier or a dehumidifier, wear masks, clean and maintain HVAC systems, chimneys, etc. avoid smoking and second-hand smoke, avoid exposure to burning wood, coals or other fuel sources, avoid burning waste, etc. 

Air-borne allergens and air quality 

An allergy attack can commence regardless of whether the individual spends time at home or outside in heavily congested areas. Many people tend to stay indoors to avoid the allergens that are highly prevalent outdoors, it is however rarely that people take the measure to protect themselves from poor indoor air quality. With the presence of dust, mold spores, pollens, dust mites, pet dander, etc. indoor air quality can be a challenge to address, especially in highly industrialized countries. 

US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) puts pollutants in 5 categories, namely:

  • Ground-Level Ozone
  • Particulate Matter 
  • Carbon Monoxide (CO)
  • Sulfur dioxide (SO2)
  • Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2)

These are the most common pollutants that have significant impacts on allergies. However, they cannot be solely blamed for allergies as pollen counts, mold spores, pet dander, vehicular emissions, wildfires, etc. can also cause inflammation and irritation to lung tissue that could trigger allergies. 

What are you breathing in?

Mold: 

Mold thrives and grows in damp environments leading to infestations that could have dire effects on health. 80% of Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) is contributed to mold infestations, the most common form being the black mold (RTK, n.d.). 

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs): 

Various old buildings have been found to use unsafe paint and asbestos, while this is being rectified in the larger common areas; they are usually ignored in the lesser-visited spaces like a basement. Therefore, particles like lead dust, radon, other carcinogens, etc. would be present along with other particles originating from old upholstery, adhesives, paints, carpeting, varnishes, old furniture, pesticides, cleaning products, gym machines, gardening equipment, etc. 

Fiberglass particles

Fiberglass insulation is commonly used and is one of the major contributors to poor indoor air quality. Since fiberglass is present all across ceilings and walls, there is very little effort made to reduce the impact caused by breathing in small glass particles. It is also used in the manufacture of piping, sports equipment, fire protection equipment, drum sets, etc. So, breathing in fiberglass doesn’t necessarily originate from insulation, it could be a breakdown of particles from items stored in a basement. 

Common Allergens

The dust, mites, pollen, vermin and its droppings, mold spores, bacteria build-ups, mildew particles, etc. are some particles that can trigger allergic reactions. If there is equipment like washing machines and dryers, chances are lint is being inhaled as well. Not cleaning equipment could trigger infestations that spread rapidly across stored items in a basement, leading to increased breakdowns of toxic particles. 

Vehicular Emissions:

Studies have repeatedly found out that vehicular exhaust fumes have caused varying degrees of respiratory difficulties amongst kids and adults. A study conducted in Taiwan amongst 32,134 schoolchildren found that their increased exposure to air pollutants during traffic hours has increased their risk of developing allergic rhinitis (UoB, 2006). The study observed that these children were exposed to multiple pollutants in the city’s center including nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, ozone, etc. 

The study showed that the official diagnosis of allergic rhinitis increased by 10% for every 10 ppb (parts per billion) increase in levels of nitrogen oxides (UoB, 2006). The chances of respiratory difficulties amongst children increased if they had a familial history of the same issues. 

Chemical fumes: 

Fumes from paints, pesticides, cleaning products, bleach, varnishes, gas, solvents, etc. emanate strong chemical fumes. These fumes could cause inflammation to the outer skin as well as to lung tissue and can contribute to poisoning or cancer due to long-term exposure. A radioactive chemical that is often present in basements is radon. Radon has been found to be the 2nd largest contributor to lung cancer in the US, with an average of 21,000 deaths every year (EPA, n.d.). Since radon is odorless and colorless, poisoning from radon is usually identified quite late. 

Pet Dander: 

Allergic reactions to pets can be due to the body’s response to the protein that is found in an animals’ skin cells, saliva, feces, urine, etc. Most usually, the allergic reaction is triggered by inhalation of the pet’s dead skin (dander) and has been mostly associated with exposure to cats and dogs (Mayo Clinic, n.d.). Pet allergies can appear as symptoms of asthma, wheezing, breathlessness, etc. The most common way to avoid pet allergies would be to avoid pets, however, in situations that are not possible, various other solutions such as the below ones can be implemented. 

Protecting yourself from poor indoor air quality 

There are various factors that reduce indoor air quality. Below are a few sources and how to rectify them:

  • Using air fresheners, pesticides, toxic cleaning solutions, toxic fumes from varnishes/ paints/ lacquers, etc. can create emissions of volatile organic compounds. 
    • If using these items causes irritation, it is best to completely avoid them or use a mask or a damp cloth to cover your nose and mouth to prevent the entry of these pollutants into your respiratory system. 
    • The best way to avoid long-term exposure to these items is to store them in well-ventilated spaces like an outdoor shed or a garage, or not store or use them. 
    • There are various biodegradable and organic cleaning solutions that are much more eco-friendly and safer to use. 
  • Increased exposure to pet dander, bacteria, mold spores, lint, dust mites, smoke, etc. can originate from various sources indoors including poorly maintained HVAC systems, damp and moist conditions, a large number of plants that trap dust, faulty chimneys or vents, poorly maintained sink traps, etc. 
    • The best ways to avoid these pollutants are to install an air purifier to clean and freshen the air.
    • Use a dehumidifier to remove the excess moisture from the atmosphere, and thus prevent the growth of mold and bacteria
    • Avoid smoking indoors or burning waste, wood, coal, etc. 
    • Vacuum indoors atleast twice a week
    • Replace carpeting with tiles or prefer a bare floor
    • Clean your curtains and upholstery periodically 

Protecting yourself from poor outdoor air quality

  • Avoid going outdoors when there are high levels of pollutants reported. The air quality levels and air pollution forecasts can be checked across various platforms depending on the country you’re in.
  • Use masks such as an N95 mask, that offer quality protection from outdoor pollutants as well as disease-causing viruses or bacteria. 
  • Avoid spending a long-time outdoor for exercise or work, during the peak traffic hours or when the pollution forecasts are shown to be high and dangerous.
  • Avoid burning waste or any other fuel source, as inhaling particles during this could cause long-term health effects along with an allergy attack. 
  • Use energy-efficient fuel sources and avoid burning wood, coal, etc.
  • Encourage yourself and citizens around you to choose eco-friendly options of traveling or consumption patterns of fuels.
  • Avoid smoking indoors and outdoors, and take measures to avoid second-hand smoking.
  • Avoid sitting inside a closed vehicle for long periods of time to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

Which air purifier is the best to improve indoor air quality? 

A good air purifier can improve life quality by stripping the air of allergens such as pollen, mold spores, smoke particles, airborne contaminants, dander, etc. However installing a good air purifier requires that it meets several criteria including being budget-friendly, child-friendly, energy-efficient, effective, and silent. Below are a few recommendations on air purifiers that could suit your needs:

  1. Coway AP – 1512HH is an indoor air purifier with air quality monitoring, automatic timers and sensors, filter indicators, and an energy-efficient model. It is effective in rooms up to 361 sq. feet and has a 4 stage filtration system. It works quietly, is budget-friendly, and provides real-time indication of the air quality through LED lights amongst other interesting features. 
  2. Blueair Blue Pure 211+ is 3 stage filtration indoor air purifier. Suitable for larger rooms up to 540 sq. feet and is quiet due to the advanced filters that perform at high levels of efficiency with lower noise. This purifier is ideal for large bedrooms, kitchens, living rooms, and offices. All filters are recyclable and need to be replaced periodically depending on usage. 
  3. LEVOIT Air Purifier is an affordable large room air purifier with a True HEPA filter and a 360° air intake. It can be controlled through an app for a truly hands-free experience. With a capacity to clean up to 403 sq. feet, it gives the cleanest air possible by getting rid of dust, fur, lint, airborne contaminants, etc. It is capable of measuring air quality, providing real-time readings, and can automatically control the fan speeds to meet the needs of the room. Smart control of the purifier allows for remote control of the device and can provide alerts about the device efficiency, filter life, ability to create schedules, etc. 

Which dehumidifier works best to reduce indoor moisture and dampness?

A dehumidifier will dry out the basement, by removing the extra moisture in the air to lower the humidity and stop any mold or mildew growth in a basement.  

  1. hOmeLabs HME020006N Dehumidifier comes in varying sizes and can cover up to 4,500 sq. feet. It has variations with respect to the amount of water that can be drawn from 14 liters to 40 liters and can be set to run continuously. It has removable water tanks and the option to connect drain hoses for continuous draining. It has a digital humidity display with multiple configuration options and is attached with wheels for easy movement. 
  2. Frigidaire 50-Pint Smart Dehumidifier is Wi-Fi enabled and connects to a mobile app, Alexa, or Google Assistant. It holds up to 28 liters in capacity and has options for a drain hose and a removable hassle-free water tank that is located at the front with a splash guard and an easy-carry handle. The device can alert when the water tank is full and has 3 fan speeds and custom humidity control. It is attached with wheels and side handles for easy movement and boasts about easy to clean washable filters. 
  3. Ivation IVAESDH30P Dehumidifier is a budget-friendly option for smaller spaces. It comes in 3 sizes with a capacity to cover up to 1,500 sq. feet, and with a built-in humidity sensor with a display showing current humidity level, and allows for customization for required humidity levels. There are options to drain the water through a hose or through the water tank that has a 12.5-liter capacity.  Other features include a 24 hour timer, filter alerts, customizable fan speeds, and eco-efficient, ENERGY STAR Certified, 2 fan speeds, auto-defrost, and auto restart.  

Other FAQs about Air Quality that you may be interested in.

Why does the air feel heavy in my house?

Does air quality affect running?

What is meant by ‘stale air in lungs’?

References

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). (n.d.). Health Risk of Radon. United States EPA. https://www.epa.gov/radon/health-risk-radon   

Mayo Clinic. (n.d.). Pet allergy. Overview. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/pet-allergy/symptoms-causes/syc-20352192 

RTK Environmental Group (RTK). (n.d.). Beware of Basement Air. https://rtkenvironmental.com/healthy-home/beware-of-basement-air/  

University of Birmingham (UoB). (2006, February 22). Traffic Fumes Linked to Childhood Allergies. https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/news/latest/2006/02/22feb-allergies.aspx 

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