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Is the Air in Our Home Toxic? Indoor Air Pollutants in Our Lives.

Is the Air in Our Home Toxic? Indoor Air Pollutants in Our Lives.

Asia Muhammad, ND Asia Muhammad, ND
4 minute read

When we think about air quality, we often only take outdoor environmental pollutants and how they can affect us into consideration. But we can't forget what's happening in the air indoors. Indoor air pollutants are a totally different ball game, and that is because we spend approximately 90% of our time indoors! The air we breathe inside a structure is essentially contained within our walls, continuously inhaled by the inhabitants. People are often shocked when they discover just how many different air pollutants they could be breathing while indoors. Some of the most common are:

  • Emission from building materials, including but not limited to flooring, carpentry, paints, and furniture

  • Consumer products such as sprays, air fresheners, cleaning products, and personal care products such as lotions, makeup, and perfumes

  • Electronic machines such as printers and other electronic devices that are produced with the use of chemicals

  • Smoking fumes

  • Cooking fumes

There are also numerous different types of chemical compounds that are considered indoor pollutants. Below is a list of common indoor pollutants and some of their specific sources, not all-inclusive:

  • Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

    • Air fresheners, perfumes, dry-cleaned clothing, copy-machines, paints, markers, and stoves

  • Particulate Matter

    • Cigarette smoke, chimneys, cooking, burning candles, building materials, and furnishings

  • Allergens

Other indoor air pollutants include sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, pesticides, ozone, and heavy metals. Their various sources range from incense burning and fireplaces to tap water and gasoline-powered generators.

Indoor Pollutants and the Respiratory Tree

Now that we've identified the Indoor air pollutants around us, it's important to address how science shows it can negatively affect the entire respiratory tree. Small particles of matter, known as particulate matter, can be inhaled to the deepest levels of our lungs, our alveoli. Studies link particulate matter with asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and lung cancer.

It's become common knowledge that cigarette smoke negatively affects those who smoke and those who inhale smoke. Studies also continually confirm the lung's immunological and inflammatory changes induced by cigarette smoke. Similarly, inhaled mold toxins can negatively affect our lungs. Mold is a tricky fungus because we could be inhaling the toxins produced by molds without even seeing or smelling them. According to research, these mold toxins have been shown to trigger chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in animal models.

Volatile organic compounds are another substance that can affect our lungs in many ways. According to the American Lung Association, volatile organic compounds can affect our respiratory system, including the nose and throat. They can also affect our hormone system and are known as endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Some research also links volatile organic compounds to cancer.

Ways to Protect Your Lungs

Because so much air pollution is ubiquitous and persistent, our air will never truly be 100% clean and absent of allergens, particulate matter, volatile organic compounds, and other pollutants. However, there are specific ways in which we can optimize the air space while indoors, including:

  • Purchase the highest-rated home air filters for your HVAC. I typically recommend a MERV rating of 7 or higher.

  • Consider purchasing an additional home filtration device that can assist with continually purifying your home air.

  • Consider wearing an N95 face mask if you anticipate being in a highly polluted indoor space.

  • Open the windows and allow for air exchange indoors and outdoors. Be mindful of this if you live in a heavily polluted area or near a highway.

You can also mitigate your respiratory systems' burden of environmental indoor air pollutants by changing your diet. A clean diet with antioxidant-packed fruits and vegetables can help neutralize harmful oxidant compounds in the body. The addition of lung support supplements can also be beneficial. I recommend a probiotic specifically designed to target the gut-lung axis or herbals with known lung health benefits, such as Curcuma longa (turmeric), Allium cepa, and Ocimum sanctum (holy basil).

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