Signs of Unhealthy Air

Learn how to know if there’s a problem with the indoor air quality at your home, school, or work.

Concerned that the air in your home, workplace or school may be harming your health? Do a little digging to find the likely culprit. Walk through the building and ask a few questions to discover if the indoor air is causing a problem. Then learn more about potential sources of indoor air pollution.

Some situations are emergencies.

They include:

  • Spills or releases of hazardous materials or flooding onto porous materials
  • Sewage spills
  • Gas leak
  • Sudden onset of headaches, nausea, dizziness, drowsiness, which may signal carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Widespread breathing difficulties

In those situations, take immediate steps to get people out of danger and limit harm:

  • Evacuate the area if necessary.
  • Notify and seek help from the appropriate emergency agency, such as the fire department, gas supplier, health department, or hazardous waste authority.
  • Get medical help for people with symptoms.
  • Ventilate the area. Use temporary fans to help blow the air outdoors.
  • If applicable, tell other building occupants about the problem.
  • Fix the source of the problem.

If you aren't sure:

Do health symptoms improve when you leave the building or room? Do they return when you come back? If so, you may have an indoor air pollution problem. Explore the following potential sources below. 

  • Is anyone smoking or vaping indoors? No one should smoke indoors.
  • Can you see or smell mold or mildew
  • Is the humidity regularly above 50 percent?
  • Are there leaks, standing water, or excess moisture anywhere?
  • Are all fuel-burning appliances (gas stoves, water heaters, fireplaces) fully vented to the outdoors and regularly serviced?
  • Are there outside sources of odors or particles coming indoors, such as vehicle exhaust or dust from construction?
  • Are there machines indoors that could give off odors, particles or chemicals, including copiers or printers?
  • Are chemicals, paints or solvents used and stored indoors? 
  • Have you recently remodeled or added new furniture, carpeting or painted?
  • Are odor-masking chemicals or "air-freshening" devices used indoors?
  • Are new or additional cleaning products being used?
  • Has anyone brought in materials or products that give off odors, gases or particles, such as sprays, perfumes or fragrances?
  • Is food being stored in the room?
  • Has kitchen or food garbage been covered and removed?
  • Have you used pesticides recently?
  • Are there pets or other animals indoors?  
  • Are heating, air conditioning and ventilation systems working properly and well-maintained? Are they sized properly for the space? Are vents or grills blocked?
  • Have you tested your home for radon? Although radon doesn’t cause immediate physical symptoms, indoor exposure to this dangerous gas can cause lung cancer.

Next, learn more about What Makes Indoor Air Unhealthy and how you can Protect Yourself from Indoor Air Pollution.

Page last updated: November 2, 2023

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