• Dr Suzie

The Inside Story About The Air You Are Breathing (+ 8 Ways To Improve Indoor Air Quality, So You Can

Suzan Bekir

General Practitioner, trainer, medical entrepreneur

Good quality indoor air is a basic human right. Yet most of us are oblivious to the hidden hazards accumulating in our indoor air. If you are stuck inside for most of your daily hours, then you might want to read ahead and get a little AIR education.

While most people might recognize the dangers of outdoor environmental pollutants, awareness of the many factors that compromise indoor air quality are rarely discussed. As we wait for scientific evidence to catch up on what intuitively we know about living in the 'big smoke', some simple steps can be taken (right now) to detoxify the air you're breathing and improve health.

Just because you can't see it doesn't mean what you're breathing isn't affecting your health.

While we are all focused on what we eat and drink, I doubt you've ever wondered if the quality of air you are breathing is impacting your health.

So what's in that stale indoor air you are breathing, right now? For those who wake to traffic and not to birds singing, chances are your indoor air is polluted by Particulate Matter (PM) and maybe mixed in with some Allergens like pollen, dust mite and mould and a secret blend of Volatile Organic Chemicals (VOC's).

While research has previously concentrated on known respiratory health effects of allergens, moisture and mould, the focus is now turning to the silent risk of chemicals especially VOC's (you need to know this!) from common indoor materials.

As a Doctor over-familiar with allergies and witnessing first-hand the epidemic of allergic rhinitis, sinusitis and asthma, I find it alarming how un-familiar we are to the possible contributory effects of toxic chemicals being released into our indoor spaces.

While modular-flat-pack-living keeps us neatly enclosed in smaller spaces it also traps a more concentrated 21'st century blend of chemicals, thanks to modern synthetic materials. Common household items like synthetic furniture, fragranced cleaning products, paints and computers silently pump chemical vapours into the air, called Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s) like formaldehyde, while air conditioning and heating can dry the air out

Unsuspecting renovators repainting, cleaning or buying new flat packed furniture or laying new textile wallpaper or carpets may unknowingly be elevating levels of formaldehyde, benzene, toluene and napthalene and elevating risks for children developing allergic and respiratory illness.

Poor air is rich in allergens and pollutants and can contribute to acute allergic attacks; runny or blocked nose, sinusitis, asthma, headaches and tickly coughs. However, the long term effects are only now being exposed.

Air pollution is now considered by the International Agency for Research into Cancer as a human carcinogen.

Hopefully more leaders like London Mayor Sadiq Khan draw attention to "the biggest public health emergency of a generation" - air pollution.

Remember, indoor air is just your outdoor air, but trapped in an enclosed space - which means it can often be up to 200 times more polluted than what you breathe outdoors. 

According to the Environmental Protection Authority, indoor air pollution is among the top five environmental health risks yet our most vulnerable populations; children, the elderly and those with chronic illness are those most exposed.

Because we spend an average of ninety percent of our time indoors, everyone can benefit from a few tips to naturally purify and maintain healthy air in the home and workplace. Now that the link between air and health is being made, conscience action needs to follow.

Next time you feel a little sleepy at work, before you think COFFEE, try first to get some fresh air to reawaken your cells with purer oxygen.

1.     Try Opening the Windows

Take advantage of the Solution to Pollution is Dilution effect. This advice may seem overly simplistic and obviously there is more to improving the ventilation in your home or office than just opening a window but it is a great first place to start! For those with pollen allergies though, you are better off closing the windows preventing wind-borne pollen being trapped indoors.

2. Otherwise Filter the Air

Good choice. HEPA filters are an effective way to remove unwanted contaminants from indoor air. For use in both central air-conditioning systems and portable air purifiers, HEPA filters should be changed regularly for maximum health benefits.

3. Remove any Sources of obvious Pollution

Firstly it’s super important any excessive moisture and mould is reduced. Damp is another unsuspecting global health problem. De-humidifers are a good option here. Clean up dust build-up, clean out old carpets and remove any unused furniture.  Second-hand smoke can be avoided by asking smokers to smoke outside. Don’t forget chemical products like paint, detergents, and synthetic fibers are among the most common causes of indoor air pollution so try to eliminate as many of these sources from your living spaces as possible and always be on the lookout for all-natural alternatives to chemical-laden household items.

Once you go chemical-free, you will never look back.

4. Healthier Substitutions

If you like to burn candles for natural light, avoid paraffin candles which can release petroleum by-products into the air. Instead, opt for beeswax candles, soy or hemp oil. Beeswax burns clean and offers the added benefit of ionizing air to neutralize toxic compounds and other contaminants.

As an added bonus, beeswax candles burn much slower, so you have to replace them less often. 

5. Why not try Salt Lamps? (ok, evidence weak here but it can do you no harm!)

Himalayan pink salt is a natural ionic air purifier that reportedly pulls toxins from the environment and neutralizes them. There is not a huge amount of scientific studies to the claims that they improve your health however adding a Himalayan pink salt lamp to any room in your home or office is decorative anyway!

6. Absorb Toxins with Activated Charcoal

Another way to purify indoor air is with activated bamboo charcoal. Also known as active carbon or simply carbon, activated charcoal is odourless and highly-absorptive. Placing carbon around the home works. That's not the only place carbon is being used, I have seen carbon being used in carbon based Nose Filters, which filter the air, providing some relief to allergy sufferers.

7. Get Green with Houseplants

Plants are Mother Nature’s air purifiers. According to NASA scientists and their Clean Air Study these are the top 10 houseplants that can filter toxins like formaldehyde from the air in your home or office via their leaves and root system are:

  1. English Ivy (Hedera Helix).

  2. Golden Pothos (Epipremnum Aureum)

  3. Boston Fern (Nephrolepis Exalta Bostoniensis).

  4. Dracaena (Dracaena Deremensis)

  5. Bamboo Palm (Chamaedorea seifrizii)

  6. Dragon Tree (Dracaena Marginata)

  7. Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum)

  8. Lady Palm (Rhapis Excelsa)

  9. Spider Plant (Chlorophytum Comosum)

  10. Snake Plant (Sansevieria Trifasciata)

8. Naturally Freshen Air with Essential oils

Rather than adding air fresheners with their synthetic ingredients, try essential oils to freshen air naturally. Also try using essential oil based antiseptic surface sprays (tea-tree or eucalyptus) to reduce dust mite, mould and bacteria. 

Diffusers in the home with blends of essential oils like eucalyptus, ravensara or tea tree oil are anti-septic and purifying. 

Maybe Native American culture, had it right. Science is now backing the air purifying effects of Sage smudging. A 2007 paper titled “Medicinal Smoke Reduces Airborne Bacteria” represents a comprehensive analysis and scientific validation of our ancient knowledge about the effect of ethnopharmacological aspects of natural products’ smoke for therapy and health care on airborne bacterial composition and dynamics.

Until Environmental Health leadership can strengthen the "chemical-free" message and until "minimalist-living" is embraced in our community, we all need more Conscience Living.

Lets take more personal responsibility for improving the air we breathe, right now!


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