Is indoor air pollution harming your child?November 15, 2018
Indoor air pollution is not something that most parents tend to worry about. In fact, a study conducted by Opinium Research found that only 36% of adults are aware of the effects of indoor air pollution on their health.
This may be because we feel that our homes are clean, safe and generally free of noxious substances. So it might surprise you to know that, according to Allergy UK, at least 9,000 deaths are attributed to indoor air pollution every year in the UK.
In fact, whilst many of us are acutely aware of outdoor pollution, such as car fumes, few of us know that indoor levels of many air pollutants may be 2-10 times higher than outdoor levels.
How are children being affected?
Our lack of understanding about the risks of indoor air pollution is particularly concerning given that the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health says that air pollution can not only lead to premature birth but also adversely affect an unborn child in terms of its long term health and growth.
Likewise, exposure of young children to air pollution can lead to increased risk of lung infections, negative effects on growth and brain development and, in later life, even heart issues.
Pollutants from indoor sources
So what are the main sources of indoor pollutants that we need to look out for? Well, it turns out that there are quite a lot of them. Here are just a few to be aware of:
- Combustion appliances e.g. gas cookers – these can emit nitrogen dioxide and Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Nitrogen dioxideinflames the airways, which can reduce immunity to lung infections, exacerbate asthma attacks and cause wheezing, coughing, colds, flu or bronchitis. Similarly, chronic exposure to PAHs can have negative effects on lung function and the immune system.
- Construction products and furnishings – these can give off formaldehyde, which is a respiratory irritant that can also be found in numerous household products such as foam insulation, glues and fabric.
- Household cleaning, consumer and personal care products – these can emit Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), including benzene, naphthalene and essential oils such as terpenoids. VOCs act as irritants for some people, worsening the symptoms of asthma, rhinitis or sensitive skin.
- House dust mites, mould and animal dander from pets – these can give off biological allergens. Pet and house mite allergies are associated with asthma, eczema and perennial allergic rhinitis. Mould allergies can also cause symptoms similar to asthma, as well as dry, scaly skin.
- Plants and flowers – these can give off pollen that can cause hay fever. What’s more, researchers have found that when pollen interacts with other pollutant particles in the atmosphere, this may intensify the effect of the pollen.
- Old paints, mastics and sealants – these can emit polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and other persistent organic compounds. According to the HSE, repeated exposure to PCBs can cause a skin condition called chloracne, which produces pustules, blackheads and cysts.
- Open windows – if opening onto a busy road or a polluted industrial area, the ingress of polluted outdoor air could lead to higher indoor levels of these pollutants than outside.
Tackling indoor air pollution
Whilst the above list of pollutants makes for grim reading, research has shown that three in five adults (60%) are unaware of any actions they can take to reduce indoor air pollution
Fortunately, there are ways to improve indoor air quality in our homes, some of which are incredibly simple.
In our next article, we will look at how you can help tackle indoor air pollution in the home and reduce the risk to you and your children. Just click here to read it now.