What you’re breathing inside your home can affect your overall health. Here’s what to do about it.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the concentration of some pollutants inside your home may be as much as 2 to 5 times higher than what is found outdoors. That can be particularly bad if you or the people you love have allergies, asthma, lung conditions or other health issues.
In fact, about 1 in 4 adults and nearly 1 in 5 children have a seasonal allergy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Approximately 25 million adults and children have asthma, and more than 15 million adults have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. (COPD is a group of lung diseases that block airflow and make it difficult to breathe.)
You can breathe in a lot of bad stuff through the air on a regular basis — including bacteria, viruses and dust particles, notes Philip M. Tierno Jr., professor of microbiology and pathology at NYU Grossman School of Medicine and NYU Langone Medical Center in New York. To make matters worse, he adds, many people already have breathing conditions such as asthma, COPD and allergies to mold and fungi. And those can all affect your health.
How can you make the air you’re breathing cleaner and healthier? Find out some ways below.
What leads to poor indoor air quality?
There are many ways pollutants can find their way into the air in your house. Those include:
- Pet dander (dead skin cells)
- Tobacco smoke
That could also include pollutants coming from your cooking appliances and fireplace or fumes from cleaning products, insect repellants or hair care products.
How can you improve the air quality in your home?
Cleaning the air you breathe in your house of all the invisible pollutants it holds may seem like a tall task. But you don’t have to do it all by yourself. A good starting point is taking advantage of some of the air-cleaning products currently on the market.
Here are some of your best options:
- Portable air cleaners. To help remove pollutants from the air, choose a portable air cleaner with a clean air delivery rate (CADR) that matches the size of the room. The higher the CADR, the larger the room it can work in to remove particles.
- MERV filters. Depending on the season, you may have heaters or air conditioners blasting hot or cool air throughout your house. Minimum efficiency reporting value (MERV) filters help improve how the air is filtered from those devices. You’ll want to install a filter with a MERV 13 rating or higher, if your system is set up for it.
- HEPA filters. High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters can remove about 99.97% of dust, pollen, mold, bacteria and other airborne particles from the air. All you need to do is set it up and turn it on, then clean it and replace the filter from time to time.
- Carbon monoxide and radon detectors. Carbon monoxide (CO) usually shows up in your home because of incorrectly installed or poorly maintained or ventilated appliances, such as ovens or heater systems. Even worse, it has no smell, and if you breathe in enough of it, it can be fatal. By installing a carbon monoxide detector near your home’s bedrooms, you will be alerted if CO levels reach dangerous levels.
Radon, which occurs naturally and seeps into your home through the ground, is also odorless and can cause lung cancer. You can also buy a radon detector and put it in the lowest level of your home (basement or first floor) to alert you if levels become unhealthy.
Can you pay for air improvement items using your health accounts?
While your health insurance coverage won’t cover any of the air improvement items listed above, your health accounts may. If your doctor recommends an air filter or purifier as part of a treatment plan for a medical condition, you may be able to pay for it using your flexible spending account (FSA) or health savings account (HSA) funds. The one catch: You’ll need a letter from your doctor saying that the device is medically necessary in order to be eligible for reimbursement.
What else can I do to improve the air quality in my home?
There are a number of things you can do to improve the air quality in your home that don’t require you to buy and set up some new device:
Clean your house regularly. This may seem obvious, but cleaning helps clear up the air in your house a lot. Dusting, sweeping and vacuuming can help keep dust, pet dander and other pollutants out of your indoor air. Using a vacuum with a HEPA filter can further assist in removing airborne particles and improving air quality.
Reduce your home’s moisture. The presence of moisture in your home can attract things like dust mites and mold, both of which can aggravate allergies, asthma and other lung conditions. (Dust mites are tiny, insect-like pests that feed on dead human skin cells and thrive in warm, humid settings.)
So, if you already have a humid home, don’t run a humidifier. Instead, take steps to reduce or eliminate moisture in the air. That could be as easy as turning on the exhaust fan in your bathroom after taking a shower. Or turning off heaters, if you notice moisture on the windows or other surfaces.
Avoid tobacco smoke. If you or someone in your home is a smoker, it’ll obviously be difficult to avoid tobacco smoke. Maybe it’s time to consider quitting, because smoking can be really bad for the air quality in your home. If you smoke, you probably already know that smoking is bad for your health. But it can also make symptoms of conditions like asthma and COPD worse. And secondhand smoke even harms people in your home who are nonsmokers.
Open the windows. If you live in an area where the outdoor air quality is typically good, take advantage by opening your windows to allow that fresh air to circulate within the home. Of course, if you have seasonal allergies or allergies to specific trees, shrubs or flowers, you may have to wait until they are not blooming or shedding pollen to crack your windows. And if you live in an area where forest fire smoke is in the air, for example, you’ll want to wait until it clears.