Allergies & Dust Effect on Your Indoor Air Quality

What is Particulate Matter?

~5 Minute Read

Between the ailments of winter and the pollen of spring, this is the time of year when many people start to think about what’s in the air they breathe. With people starting to pull out their dusters and empty out closets and garages, the amount of dirt and particles in the air is about to increase significantly. Even if you don’t plan to do a thorough cleaning of your home, there is a lot of particulate matter (PM) that can irritate your lungs. 

Whether or not you suffer from a respiratory issue (keeping in mind that both allergies and asthma are incredibly common ailments), regularly cleaning the air in your home can help keep your lungs healthy. It is also important to note that you can develop allergies over time through constant exposure to irritants. However, the greatest concern is germs, particularly viruses, which can make anyone sick, with the flu and common cold being the two most frequent ailments contracted through PM.  

PM come in a lot of different sizes, which is why there are several different types of filters. To help you make the right choice for your home, office, or other indoor space, this blog will provide details about the different types of indoor PMs, where they come from, and quick solutions that are easy to implement.  

Quick Overview of Particulate Matter

PM are a type of air pollution that humans have dealt with throughout our history. It is made up of a combination of solid particles (like hair, skin cells, and dirt) and liquid droplets (like saliva and precipitation). Some of the most common outdoor contributors to PM are soot, pollen, and smoke. Of course, none of these are visible without a microscope. PM are divided into two primary sizes

  • PM 10 are particles with a diameter of roughly 10 micrometers and smaller. This is small enough to inhale, but are often easier to catch by filters because of their larger size. 
  • PM 2.5 have a diameter of no more than 2.5 micrometers, making it the smaller of the two classifications. To give you an idea of the size of these particles, a hair on your head has an average diameter of 70 micrometers, which is nearly 30 times larger than the PM 2.5 that you inhale every day. 

As detailed by the US EPA, PM 2.5 are made of a lot of contributing sources. When a person sneezes or coughs, the droplets stick to other smaller particles in the air, making the PM. Trees release pollen in the spring, and the dying leaves emit different biological debris that contributes to PM in the fall. Construction, road work, dirt trails, fireplaces, and food all contribute to the PM in the air. 

All cities and towns have air pollution, but some cities and countries have significantly less healthy outdoor air than others. According to Worldwide Air Quality, the following are the five nations with the lowest air quality (most polluted air):

  1. India
  2. Mali
  3. Nigeria
  4. Thailand
  5. China

Not all regions of the nations have bad air, but in general the air is less healthy than the air in other nations with stricter air regulations. However, it is important to monitor the air quality around you. Things like forest fires can substantially change the quality of air. During 2020, Portland, OR, and Seattle, WA, ranked as the top two cities with the worst air quality for over a week because of forest fires. 

Most mobile phones allow you to track air quality. It isn’t always obvious because dirty air isn’t always visible. Monitoring your air quality can help you know when you need to take precautions to protect your lungs. You can also check AirNow to get a current reading on the current air quality in your area. 

Air Monitoring from an iPhone

The air quality outside can affect the air indoors, but even if the outdoor air is fairly clean, the air inside can be dirty. The skin cells and hair from you and your family, pet dander, water droplets, and food are just a few things that contribute to PM in your home. Viruses and germs are also more potent inside because you are in closer contact to other people. While outdoor air quality is a concern, it is indoor air that tends to be more hazardous to your lungs. 

Health Implications of PM 2.5

Particulate pollution is a problem, even for the healthiest person. Nor do the problems stop at just damage to the lungs; studies show that PM can adversely affect the cardiovascular system. While any PM poses a potential risk, PM 2.5 are known as the most dangerous because they poses the greatest potential risk to short and long-term health. Their small size allows them to get deeper into the lungs, and in the worst case scenario, these particles can reach the bloodstream. Larger particles can damage lungs, but they are more likely to act as irritates to the eyes, nose, and throat. The hairs in your nose can filter out more of these PM. 

Short-term exposure is considered to last from hours to a few days, and is more detrimental to people with existing conditions. It can cause acute bronchitis and trigger asthma attacks. Healthy people are more likely to contract respiratory infections the longer they are exposed to higher levels of PM 2.5. For people who have a heart condition, they are more likely to suffer a heart attack during short-term exposure. Overall, adults and children who do not have an existing condition may not suffer any serious symptoms because of short-term exposure, but repeated short-term exposure can have more serious repercussions.

Long-term exposure is considered to last for months to years. Often people who have long-term exposure live in a place with polluted air or places with high PM levels. It can reduce the effectiveness of a person’s lungs, even if that person does not initially have any respiratory issues. People are more likely to develop chronic bronchitis. Many years of exposure can also reduce a person’s life expectancy. 

Beyond monitoring the air, you can monitor for symptoms of PM exposure – it could help to motivate you to spend more time cleaning your home as you are more likely to be exposed to regular PM in your home than outside. 

If you don’t have any respiratory or heart conditions, you may suffer from the following symptoms:

  • Coughing
  • Excessive drainage
  • Eye, nose, throat irritation
  • Shortness of breath
  • Tightness in your chest

If you already have a respiratory condition, you may suffer from respiratory problems, you may suffer from the following problems:

  • Couching
  • Fatigue
  • Inability to take deep breaths
  • Shortness of breath
  • Tightness in your chess
  • Wheezing

If you have asthma, you need to have and follow a plan to manage your asthma during periods of high PM outside, and you need to ensure you live in a home with cleaner air. If you have a heart condition, be more aware of your body. Heart attacks often have no warning. You may experience a few symptoms, and you should take them seriously, including the following:

  • Chest pains
  • Fatigue
  • Heart palpitations
  • Shortness of breath

These are serious symptoms that may proceed a heart attack. People with heart conditions should immediately visit a doctor if any of these are experienced. 

 

How You Can Start Reducing Inside Exposure

There isn’t much you can do about the air outside of your home or other personal spaces, but that doesn’t mean you have to give up. There are filters specifically made to remove the kinds of small PM that can cause problems in the long term. Efficient Particulate Air (EPA) filters are incredibly effective when it comes to keeping the air in your home clean. After removing roughly 99.64% of all PM from the air, the filter will start the process again. That means it is perpetually removing PM from the air so that you can literally breathe a little easier. 

References

  • Particulate Matter (PM) Basics, EPA, October 1, 2020, www.epa.gov/pm-pollution/
  • Top 10 Countries with the Worst Air Pollution Index, aqicn, March 5, 2021, aqicn.org/rankings/
  • How Does PM Affect Human Health?, EPA, March 9, 2021, https://www3.epa.gov/region1/airquality/pm-human-health.html
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