Is staying indoors hazardous to your health?


We spend 90% of our time indoors. So, it’s a good idea to know the quality of air we are breathing every day. The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has ranked indoor air pollution among the top five environmental risks to public health. According to the latest reports by World Health Organization, 4.3 million deaths occur in a year globally from exposure to indoor air pollution only. The statistics suggest that 12 percent deaths occur as a result of childhood pneumonia and 34 percent deaths due to stroke, mostly among women, because of inhaling microscopic dust particles present in our homes.

With the onset of summer, we spend a good chunk of the day in air-conditioned comfort, sealed away from the heat and humidity outside. People seem to spend an awful lot of money to enjoy chilled air indoors, often believing that air conditioners have filters, which purify air. So, it’s easy to convince ourselves that the air we’re breathing is clean, especially if we don’t see or smell anything unusual. But that’s an illusion, and a potentially dangerous one at that. The truth is that unless you take precautions, the air inside your home could get dirty enough to actually make you sick.

We often feel that we are safe from outdoor air pollution whenever we are indoors. However, what most of us don’t realize is that air conditioners have pre-filters in them which can only trap larger pollutants and are not effective against all micro-organisms. Unlike air conditioners that only have a 3-stage filtration system, an air purifier with a high efficiency particulate air filtration (HEPA) filter can trap small particles and pollutants such as molds, smoke, house dust and pet dander. This can benefit overall health as these pollutants cause asthma as well as eye, nose and throat irritation that can lead to respiratory infections among vulnerable people. In fact, breathing in an air-conditioned room can be more dangerous since it only re-circulates the same air. Constant exposure to air conditioning dries out the mucus membranes, causing sore throat and sneezing, and makes us more susceptible to colds and upper respiratory tract infections. It is also associated with a condition called Sick Building Syndrome. This is where an air purifier comes into the picture, which is not only useful to allergy sufferers and asthma patients, but is also beneficial as an alternative product for reducing the effect of secondhand smoke.

Toxic particles or gases that come from central heating or cooling systems, cleaning agents, aerosol sprays, insect poisons, and products containing pressed wood pose a threat to the respiratory system. These toxins enter our body through breathing, absorption through our skin and our eyes, many of which are exuded by the modern things in your house such as carpet, furniture, and the very materials your home was built from. Whatever route these toxins take, they end up in our bloodstream. They pass through organs and go through chemical changes which can cause immediate problems or may take years for problems to arise. But once you get to know these little devils you may see that they can be tamed and many of them eliminated.

The EPA states that removing the sources of indoor air pollution and increasing ventilation are the most effective ways to lower exposure to pollutants. It is also suggested that air purifiers in several rooms or a central air filter may be beneficial for more sensitive people. Air quality easily ranks among the most significant factors on our health as evidenced in India, which suffers from high levels of air pollution, but the tricky thing here is that so much of what is harmful to us is undetectable with our noses. When you are cold, you know it keenly, but your body can’t always tell you when the air you breathe is contaminated. So while you may continue to enjoy cooled air don’t forget that cool air does not always mean pure air!

Authored by: Dr. Abhay Kumar, Associate Vice President – R&D, Eureka Forbes


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