How IAQ Affects your Lungs
The air we breathe is filled with lots of things including gases and particles – Most are too small to see with the naked eye.
Everything we breathe affects our health in different ways.
Health effects from poor indoor air quality might include short-term symptoms like headaches, eye, nose, and throat inflammation, coughing and painful breathing, bronchitis, and skin irritation.
Extreme side effects can target the central nervous system, cause respiratory diseases like asthma, emphysema, and cause cancer and cardiovascular disease. Poor indoor air can also impact the blood, spleen, liver, and reproductive system.
Young children, older adults, and people with existing lung disease are most at risk of negative health effects from poor indoor air quality.
Before we can understand how indoor air quality impacts our lungs, we first need to understand how our lungs work.
When you breathe in through your nose or mouth, air travels down your airways, or trachea, dividing into your right or left lung via the bronchi.
The bronchi then separate into small tubes called bronchioles. Like tree branches, bronchioles divide into thousands of even smaller passages.
At the end of each bronchiole is a cluster of little air sacs called alveoli.
Alveoli are wrapped in tiny blood vessels called capillaries.
The air you breathe in fills these air sacs with oxygen-rich air. Here is where oxygen is transported throughout the body.
Not all the air you breathe is clean. Indoor air contaminants can include small particles that are suspended in the air.
When those particles from the air travel deep into your body, it can have a negative impact on your health.
These particles can include things like dust, tobacco smoke, diesel emissions, pollen, pet dander, mold spores, and more.
Particulate matter – often written as PM - are so small they go into the lungs all the way to the alveoli. Once there, they can irritate and corrode the alveoli wall, damaging the lungs and causing lung disease.
These pollutants, at high levels, have also been linked to an increased risk of stroke and heart attack.
The good news is that we can improve our indoor air quality.
Simple things you can do to improve your indoor air quality include:
Reduce dust by vacuuming regularly and using a microfiber or damp cloth for dusting.
Reduce humidity to avoid mold and mildew buildup and change appliance filters regularly.
And make sure to test your home for dangerous gases like radon. Doing so can help keep the air in your home safe.
While it's easy to see when you need to dust or sweep, it's harder to know when the air in your home needs cleaning. In fact, the indoor air you breathe can be hazardous to your health without any telltale signs. Don't let the air in your home threaten your family's health, especially if someone in your family has asthma or another lung disease.
You can take steps to improve your home’s indoor air quality by first understanding what makes indoor air unhealthy and the specific pollutants that might be present in your home. Then, take action to protect yourself from indoor air pollution.
These additional resources can help you address air quality in your home:
Page last updated: November 2, 2023