There are many pollutants in the air which can be very harmful to people, especially those already living with respiratory conditions, children, whose lungs are still developing, and the elderly.
Every year in the UK around 40 000 ** deaths are linked to outdoor air pollution. Indoor air pollution adds even more to this figure. Breathing in unclean air may affect many chronic conditions including asthma, heart disease, cancer or dementia.
Outdoor air pollution.
Sources of outdoor air pollution include:
- road traffic (very high impact in cities)
- industrial waste fumes and burning by-products from power generators
- burning fuels for cooking and heating
Nitrogen dioxide, particulate matter (PM), ground-level ozone, and sulfur dioxide are also amongst the most damaging types of air pollution.
Levels of air pollution vary across different parts of the UK, but the highest concentrations are found in cities and towns. Concentrations in these areas also varies according to season and type of weather. For example, still, damp or very hot air increases the level of pollutants in the air.
According to scientists, high traffic-related air pollution exposure in the first year of life may increase the risk of sensitization to aeroallergens by the age of four, by around 40–83% ** . It may also increase the risk of developing food allergies by age eight.
What can we do about outdoor air pollution?
Here are a few points worth considering to reduce the impact of air pollution:
- Walking, cycling or using public transport for short journeys such as school runs, instead of driving
- Cars do not offer protection from air pollution; in fact, the air inside the car often contains much higher levels of toxins than that outside
- When making journeys, choose quiet streets if possible – avoid busy roads with heavy traffic
- Walk further away from the roadside. Try to keep to the inside of the pavement
- On days when air pollution is very high, avoid exercise outside
And what about indoors?
It is estimated that indoor air pollution causes several thousand deaths each year. There are many sources of this pollution including :
- Heating and cooking appliances (especially if they are not maintained properly)
- Chemicals in cleaning and decorating products
- Mould and damp
- Tobacco smoke
- Presence of allergens such as dust mites or pet dander
- Building materials and some furnishings
- Outdoor pollution entering through windows and gaps
The most common indoor air pollutants are:
- Nitrogen dioxide
- Carbon monoxide
- Particulate matter
- Biological agents (dust mites, pets, bacteria)
- Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) for example acetone, benzene, formaldehyde, toluene, terpenes (sources include cleaning and decorating products) or acrolein ( sources include tobacco smoke and cooking, especially deep frying)
- Tobacco smoke
- Radon (sources include soil gases)
How can we improve the air quality in our homes?
There are many things we can do to reduce indoor air pollution:
- Ventilate, ventilate, ventilate (when cooking, bathing or showering, drying laundry indoors, cleaning, decorating), do this at least a few times a day for 5-10 minutes
- Reduce dampness and keep your home at the right temperature – this will prevent mould from growing and reduce the number of dust mites
- Look for furnishing, building, and decorative materials which are environmentally friendly and are low in emission and pollutants (formaldehyde can be found in furniture, carpets, flooring)
- VOCs can be found in a range of cleaning products (detergents, air conditioners, furniture polish, oven cleaners, carpet cleaners, pesticides, fungicides) – consider an eco-friendly way of cleaning with vinegar, citric acid, soda or products labelled as allergy friendly. Avoid sprays, and always read product labels and instructions for proper use
- Make sure your cooking and heating appliances work properly – have them safety checked regularly. If possible, have extractor fans installed as well as smoke and carbon monoxide alarms
- Do not let anyone smoke tobacco in your home – request that any smoking guests do so outside, ensuring any doors remain closed until they finish. If you smoke, the best thing you can do for yourself and your family’s health is to quit
If you suffer from allergies, asthma or eczema symptoms and are unsure of your triggers, why not track them with AlliApp, our easy-to-use symptom and trigger tracking app?
Kate Matos – AlliApp Lifestyle
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