Indoor air quality is critical to everyone’s health, especially people living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). COPD, which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema, is a long-term lung disease that causes air flow limitation (less air in and out of the airways) and breathing-related symptoms. Specifically, air pollution in the form of particulate matter can have more significant impacts on the health of people living with this chronic lung disease.
Indoor air pollutants increase inflammation in lung tissue of individuals with COPD, as well as increase COPD symptoms and lower lung function. It is imperative that individuals with COPD take steps to improve their indoor air quality, especially particulate matter. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to improve indoor air quality and reduce particle pollution in your home.
Particulate matter are small airborne particles, including things like dust, tobacco smoke, diesel emissions, combustion exhaust, pollens, pet dander, mold spores and more. Particulate matter (PM) are so small they can travel all the way to the lung’s air sacs (called alveoli). Once in the alveoli, particulate matter can irritate and corrode the walls, damaging the lungs and causing lung disease. The smallest particles can even cross from the alveoli into the bloodstream. These pollutants, at high levels, have been linked to an increased risk of stroke and heart attack. Learn more about how indoor air pollutants impact your lungs.
Here are some simple steps that can take to eliminate pollution, improve ventilation and make your indoor air cleaner:
Learn the signs and symptoms that can indicate unhealthy air. Indoor air quality devices can monitor a wide array of air quality issues (e.g., temperature, humidity, CO2, and radon). You should also monitor your daily COPD symptoms. If you begin experiencing an increase in your COPD symptoms after spending time at home, this may be a sign of unhealthy air.
2. Identify and Eliminate the Source of Particulate Matter
- Keep your home and car smokefree, including cigarettes, pipes, e-cigarettes and vaping.
- Avoid burning things in your home, this includes fireplaces, wood stoves and candles.
- Use exhaust fans that vent to the outdoors when cooking.
- Use an electric or gas heater instead of a wood stove or fireplace.
- Avoid chemicals such as air fresheners, incense, sprays and toxic cleaning products.
- Use door mats and remove shoes upon entering the home to capture and reduce dirt inside.
- Clean frequently to avoid re-suspension of particles from carpets and floors such as soil, pollens, cockroach allergens and animal dander. Use a high-efficiency vacuum cleaner (called HEPA) or a central (whole-house) vacuum cleaner and mop hard floors often.
- Wear an N95 particle mask in smoky or dusty conditions, such as when using a leaf blower or lawn mower.
- Avoid activity outdoors when outdoor pollution levels are high. Check the current and forecasted air quality levels for your city at AirNow.
- When walking, jogging, biking and doing other outdoor activities, avoid areas close to sources of harmful particle pollution such as busy roads or freeways.
- Use electric instead of gas-powered lawn and garden equipment.
3. Improve Ventilation
The most effective way to improve air quality in your home is to ventilate with clean, outdoor air. Outdoor air has 2 to 5 times fewer pollutants than indoor air. Opening your doors and windows for 15 minutes each day can reduce indoor pollutants, including particulate matter, by bringing in cleaner outdoor air to mix with the more polluted indoor air. However, opening your doors and windows is not recommended on days with poor outdoor air quality, if you live close to busy highways or factories with high emissions, or if there is a wildfire nearby. Check the current and forecasted air quality levels for your city at AirNow.gov.
4. Clean the Air
Air cleaners and specialized filters designed for use with heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems may improve your home’s air quality. This is because most HVACs circulate and filter air throughout the entire home. Use a furnace filter with a higher MERV rating, preferably 13 or above to capture particulate matter. Be sure to change the filter about every 30 days or when it looks dirty.
Consider using a portable high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) air cleaner to filter the air if you have a chronic lung disease. A recent study showed that individuals with COPD who consistently used HEPA air cleaners for six months experienced fewer symptoms, had improved lung function, used their rescue medication less and reported an improved quality of life.
Portable air cleaners take in the room's air and capture particles, viruses and many chemicals then release clean air back into the room. Run the air cleaner with all doors and windows closed for maximum efficiency. Portable units are usually best for single room use, rather than multiple room or whole house use. Large areas and homes may need more than one air cleaner.
When selecting a portable HEPA air cleaner for your home, consider:
- Is it the right size for the room?
- Are replacement filters affordable?
- Does it have a filter with a MERV rating of 13 or higher?
- What is the Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR) and is it high enough for the room?
- Does it generate ozone or is an ionizer? You should never use an air cleaner that produces ozone, sometimes called an "ozone generator."
If you have very sensitive individuals in your home or odors that are difficult to remove, you may want to consider adding a charcoal filter. Activated charcoal filters (carbon) trap or destroy gaseous pollutants. The charcoal filter may need to be replaced often.
5. Stay up-to-date on new technologies
Both central and portable air cleaners continue to incorporate newer technology to remove particles, gases and chemical vapors from the air. Newer technologies should be used only after careful consideration, as some may have potentially adverse health consequences, including ozone production or the generation of unintentional pollutants. Many of these newer technologies are still being studied and their effectiveness is unknown. There are no standards for testing these new technologies in the U.S. Learn more about indoor air quality.
Blog last updated: November 3, 2023