Health hazards of indoor air pollution


No matter what the country is whether it’s a developed first-world country or is a developing country, indoor air pollution is ubiquitous. And it is present in many from the smoke emitted from solid fuel combustion in households of developing countries to complex volatile and semi-volatile organic compounds present in modern buildings (1). Hence to think that the indoor environment is safer than the outdoor environment is not a good idea. As per studies done by many scientists, it was concluded that the indoor environment may be as much as ten times more polluted than the outdoor environment (2). The following article is about the types of health hazards of indoor air pollution.

Effect of indoor air pollution on children health

As infants and young children have a high rate of oxygen consumption and higher resting metabolic rate than adults, therefore, their exposure to any type of air pollution is greater than ours.

According to WHO report children have narrower airways thus the slightest air pollution causes more relative irritation and more odema than that of adults.

Effect of indoor air pollution in the respiratory tract

As per WHO different types of indoor air pollution affect different parts of the respiratory tract. The respiratory tract is widely divided into three basic zones.

  • The upper zone consists of the eyes, nose, pharynx, and larynx.
  • The mid-zone has the trachea and bronchi
  • The lower zone consists of the bronchioles alveoli.

Effect of pollutants according to solubility

Gases like sulfur dioxide, aldehydes, ammonia, and chlorine affect the upper zone of the respiratory tract as they are water-soluble gases. Whereas which is having medium solubility affects the mid-zone of the tract. And low solubility gases like nitrogen oxide and phosgene affect the lower zone of the respiratory tract.

Effect of pollutants according to size

The particle size of the air pollutant is the most determining factor of where it deposits in the lungs. WHO reports said that compared to larger particle, fine particles remains suspended in the air for a longer period and can travel longer distances and also affects the respiratory systems. As per the Air quality guidelines of WHO reported in the year 2005, particles greater than 10 micrometers rarely make it past the upper zone of the respiratory tract but fine particles smaller than 2 micrometers can make it far as the lower zone of the respiratory tract.

Health hazards due to indoor air pollution

The main symptoms associated with indoor air pollutants are allergies, asthma, eye, nose, and throat irritation, and fatigue. headache, nervous system disorders, cardiovascular problems, respiratory congestion, and sinus congestion.

In general, there are two types of health effects that arise from indoor air pollutants (3)

  • Short-term (acute effects)
  • Long-term (Cronic effects)

1. Short-term (Acute effects)

This type of health effect includes irritation of the eyes, throat, and skin. Headache, dizziness, and fatigue. These effects are closely associated with the common cold or other viral diseases.

2. Long-term (Chronic effects)

Prolonged exposure to pollutants causes these long-term effects. For example, long-term inhalation of smoke may cause chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD), chronic bronchitis, pregnancy-related problems like stillbirth and low birth weight, lung cancer, nasal sinus cancer, asthma, etc.

Who is most affected by indoor air pollution?

The susceptibility to allergens and pollution varies between individuals. The reaction may range from no effects to sneezing, asthma, and other respiratory irritation. Exposure timing also plays a crucial role in the effects of symptoms. Those exposed to the VOCs and other chemicals in little concentration for a very short time may not immediately experience acute reactions. However, when exposed over an extended period, they may become sensitized. Once a person becomes hypersensitive then the repeated exposure to the pollutant develops acute reactions.

A hypersensitive individual may also exhibit increased allergic reactions to dust, mites, spores, pollen, and certain foods.

Infants and small children are more susceptible to indoor air pollution. Hence we should minimize the exposure of infants to new products like new clothes, toys, crib mattresses, etc. Wash them repeatedly before using in order to remove the effects of the high chemicals (2)

However, reducing ambient pollution does not necessarily result in a proportionate decrease in indoor air pollution – a situation that has important implications for interventions (3).

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