Indoor Air Pollution & Women's Health
This information was provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health, www.womenshealth.gov. 2/2009
What are the things indoors that should concern me the most?
Most people spend about 90 percent of their time indoors― in their homes or other buildings. So for many people, the health risks of indoor air pollution are greater than those outdoors. Gases are the main cause of indoor air problems in homes. Their sources include:
- oil, gas, coal, wood, kerosene, and tobacco products
- materials used to build your home, such as insulation
- home furnishings, such as cabinets made of certain pressed wood products
- cleaning, pest control, painting, and personal care products
These are other common sources of indoor air pollution:
- molds and mildew
- animal dander and cat saliva
- dust mites
Having poor air flow, or ventilation, in combination with heating and cooling systems can also cause indoor air problems. Radon, pesticides, and other outdoor sources of pollution can enter your home through cracks in walls, opened windows, and fans. Hot and humid weather can also increase levels of some pollutants.
How can indoor air pollution affect my health?
Health effects from indoor air pollution may start right away or occur years later. These things can happen after exposed once or many times:
- irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat
- wheezing and other asthma symptoms
Most of the time, you can treat these symptoms, and they do not last long. Sometimes, the treatment is simply avoiding the source of the pollution, if you know what it is. Other health effects may show up years later, or only after long periods of being exposed. These health effects include:
- heart disease
- breathing and lung problems
How indoor air pollution affects you depends on many factors. Your age and current and past health problems are two main factors. Reactions vary from person to person. And some people's bodies can even become used to pollutants after being exposed for long periods of time. If you think your home environment is causing you to have health problems, talk with your doctor about it. You should also look for signs in your home that it may not have good ventilation. Signs of poor ventilation include:
- moisture on windows or walls
- smelly or stuffy air
- areas where books, shoes, and other items become moldy
How can I improve the indoor air quality in my home?
There are many things you can to do reduce indoor air pollution in your home.
- Get rid of sources you know affect you or your family.
- Keep air flowing through your home when doing home projects like painting and paint stripping.
- Control the humidity level in your home to help reduce the growth of some indoor pollution sources. EPA recommends a humidity level of 30 to 50 percent for homes. You may need to run a de-humidifier in the basement to keep it at this level. Standing water and wet surfaces also serve as breeding grounds for molds, mildews, bacteria, and insects. House dust mites grow in damp, warm places.
- Install and use exhaust fans that are vented to the outdoors in kitchens and bathrooms. Vent clothes dryers outdoors. These actions can get rid of most of the moisture that builds up from everyday living.
- If using cool mist or other humidifiers, clean them according to the directions. Refill with fresh water every day. These humidifiers can become breeding grounds for mold, mildew, and other sources of pollution.
- Clean and dry carpets damaged by water as soon as you can. They can retain mold and bacteria after being damaged.
- Keep the house clean. If you or a family member has allergies, use allergy-proof mattress covers, wash bedding in hot water, and avoid buying things for your home that collect dust. Leave the house while it's being vacuumed if you are very sensitive to dust. Vacuuming increases air levels of dust mites and other pollutants. You can also buy a central vacuum system that is vented to the outdoors. Or use a vacuum with a good (high efficiency) filter.