How Indoor Air Pollution Might Be Affecting You and Your Family's Health

Health Effects of Indoor Air Pollution

The effects of indoor air pollutants range from short-term effects – eye and throat irritation – to long-term effects – respiratory disease and cancer. Exposure to high levels of some pollutants, such as carbon monoxide, can even result in immediate death. Also, some indoor pollutants can magnify the effects of other indoor pollutants. Based on cancer risk alone, federal scientists have ranked indoor air pollution as one of the most important environmental problems in the United States.

Symptoms of Indoor Air Pollution1

Common symptoms of Indoor Air Pollution

Symptoms of poor indoor air quality are very broad and depend on the contaminant. They can easily be mistaken for symptoms of other illnesses such as allergies, stress, colds and influenza. The most common symptoms are:

  • coughing
  • sneezing
  • watery eyes
  • fatigue
  • dizziness
  • headaches
  • upper respiratory congestion

If you notice relief from your symptoms soon after leaving a particular room or building, your symptoms may be caused by indoor air contaminants.

Respiratory Health Effects

Consult the EPA’s Health Effect Symptom Reference Chart to determine the cause of the particular health effect:

  • Rhinitis, nasal congestion (inflammation of the nose, runny nose)
  • Epistaxis (nose bleeds)
  • Dyspnea (difficulty of breathing or painful breathing)
  • Pharyngitis (sore throat), cough
  • Wheezing, worsening asthma
  • Severe lung disease

More Severe Health Effects

Consult the EPA’s Health Effect Symptom Reference Chart to determine the cause of the particular health effect:

  • Conjunctival (eye) irritation
  • Rashes
  • Fever, chills
  • Tachycardia (rapid heartbeat, sometimes leading to shortness of breath)
  • Headache or dizziness
  • Lethargy, fatigue, malaise
  • Nausea, vomiting, anorexia
  • Myalgia (muscle pain)
  • Hearing loss

Causes of IAQ Health Effects

A full list of the causes, sources, and contaminants of indoor air quality health effects:

  • Contamination Sources
    (Volatile Organic Compounds)
    Perfumes, hairsprays,
    furniture polish
    Cleaning solvents
    Hobby and craft supplies
    Carpet dyes and fibers
    Glues, adhesives, sealants.
    Paints, stains, varnishes, strippers
    Wood preservatives
    Dry cleaned clothes, moth repellents
    Air fresheners
    Stored fuels, and automotive products
    Contaminated water
    Formaldehyde Paricleboard, interior-grade plywood
    Cabinetry, furniture
    Urea Formaldehyde foam insulation
    Carpet, fabrics
    Pesticides Insecticides, (including termiticides)
    Fungicides, disinfectants
    Herbicides (from outdoor use)
    Lead Lead-based paint Exterior dust and soil
    Carbon Monoxide
    carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide
    Improperly operating gas or oil furnace/hot water heater, fireplace, wood stove Unvented gas heater/kerosene heater
    Sulfur Dioxide Combustion of sulfur-containing fuels (primarily kerosene heaters)
    RSP (respirable particulates) Fireplace, woodstove
    Unvented gas heater
    Tobacco products
    Unvented kerosene heater
    PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) Fireplace, woodstove
    Unvented kerosene heater
    Tobacco products
    ETS (Environmental Tobacco Smoke) Tobacco products
    Biological contaminants Plants, animals, birds, humans
    Pillows, bedding, house dust
    Wet or damp materials
    Standing water
    Humidifiers, evaporative coolers
    Hot water tank
    Asbestos Pipe and furnace insulation
    Ceiling and floor tiles
    Decorative sprays
    Shingles and siding
    Radon Soil and rock
    Some building materials

More Information

For more information, or to request a professional indoor air quality consultation:

  1. Yuanhui Zhang (2005) Indoor Air Quality Engineering. CRC Press LLC., 7

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