Allergies and irritants are not limited to the outdoors. In fact, we spent more time indoors inhaling allergens and noxious pollutants. These allergens have the greatest impact on our health. Here are some ways we can make indoor air healthy.
First and most importantly, eliminate tobacco smoke. Studies have shown that besides hurting the smoker, second hand smoke can produce illness in spouses and asthma in children.
Humidity within the house, especially the basement, encourages growth of mold and proliferation of dust mites. Too little humidity in the late winter months can inflame nasal passages and worsens eczema. Fifty percent humidity is ideal. Vent fans in bathrooms and kitchens keep mold and pollutants out. Potted plants, stacks of magazines, damp clothes and water leaks all contribute to mold. Closets may harbor excessive moisture. Clothes dryers must always be vented outdoors.
Besides household pets, invasion by cockroaches and mice brings allergens indoors and causes asthma to flare ups. Blocking holes to the outside and simple sanitation will help eliminate most pests. Dust mites live off flaked off skin in moist environments such as in mattresses, pillows, upholstered furniture and carpets. Encasing pillows and mattresses with special dust mite proof covers is protective. Wash sheets in hot water or use a hot dryer. If possible, remove carpet, drapes and upholstered furniture. Carpet, if used, must be cleaned with a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filtered vacuum and should be steam cleaned yearly.
Nitrogen dioxide from fireplaces, space heaters, and gas stoves causes respiratory irritation and has been shown to produce lung damage. Proper mechanical maintenance and good venting prevents dangerous build-up of this noxious gas.
Candles and incense may be romantic or soothing, yet they produce smoke and carbon monoxide. Fragrances can also be irritating to asthmatics. Malfunctioning boilers and water heaters may produce CO that may seep through cracks in chimneys. Attached garages may allow CO to enter the home when the car is left idling. Monitors are available to monitor CO and they are required by law. Combination fire and CO alarms are a good choice.
Central air systems may need an upgrade with high efficiency filters in the cleaning units. Air ducts must be inspected and cleaned on a yearly basis. There are three types of free standing air cleaners: 1) mechanical, those that sift particles on to a filter, 2) electronic, that use an electric field to trap particles on a washable plate and 3) ion generators that use a charge particle to make dust stick to all surfaces removing them from the air. They work best for pet hair that floats in the air for extended periods. They are costly to run and replacement filters may be expensive. Ozone generating purifiers create ozone particles that are respiratory irritants, may make asthma worse and are not recommended.