Is Your Home Air Quality Affecting Your Health?

5 min read  |  October 19, 2023  | 
Disponible en Español |

You may be breathing in pollutants, allergens and irritants every day — from household cleaning products and pet dander to dust and mold. If you or your children are experiencing respiratory issues, improving your home air quality may provide some relief.

“All of the typical respiratory symptoms can occur based on what you’re exposed to on a regular basis,” says E. Robert Schwartz, M.D., a family medicine physician with the University of Miami Health System. “You can develop allergies, rhinitis (irritation and swelling of the nose’s mucous membrane), runny nose, difficulty breathing, and asthma.”

What’s circulating in your home?

The most common airborne household irritants include:

  • dust
  • mold
  • pet dander (the allergen released from animal fur and skin)
  • carbon dioxide and methane (emitted from gas stoves)
  • chemical fumes from cleaning products and disinfectants (like ammonia, bleach, chlorine)

“When there’s mold, dust, animal dander, poor ventilation from kitchen gas stoves, or fumes from cleaning products that are not well ventilated, it can affect your respiratory health,” Dr. Schwartz says. “Cleaning and disinfecting chemicals can definitely pose potential risks to people, especially those with pre-existing respiratory conditions.”

Should you test your home air quality?

“I was just in California visiting someone with a tenant who was having respiratory symptoms, and she found out that there is mold in the ceiling of her rental unit. She had a leak in the ceiling, and mold had grown in there. It wasn’t an obvious air quality problem, but she was clearly affected by it,” Dr. Schwartz says.

“If you’re experiencing new respiratory symptoms and have concerns about your home air quality, having a professional come in to do the testing is probably more accurate than a consumer test kit.”

How can you improve your home air quality?

If your home air tests positive for mold, professional mold remediation services can remove dangerous mold spores from surfaces and the air. To prevent mold regrowth, reduce the humidity in your home with proper ventilation, fans and/or a dehumidifier, and fix any source of water intrusion or standing water. Even if mold isn’t a problem in your home, using a dehumidifier in damp spaces, like the bathroom, can help prevent mildew and mold from growing.

The number one thing you can do to improve your home air quality is get a HEPA filter and, if you can, put it in your bedroom and your main living areas. Air filters and purifiers, unless they are HEPA filters, are probably not all that helpful.

Dr. Schwartz

Allowing your home to “breathe” with proper ventilation (using fans with open windows and doors) is a great way to flush out airborne particles and contaminates and circulate fresh, clean air throughout your home.

In addition, you can regularly remove house dust and the dust mites that feed on it. These microscopic pests can trigger allergies including runny nose, coughing, and sneezing as well as asthma symptoms. Dust mites like to live in fabrics like pillows, mattresses and carpets. Mattress and pillowcase covers can provide a barrier to keep mites out of your bedding. Washing your bedding in hot water can also help.

Clean your drapes, fan blades, floors and other dust- and smoke-collecting surfaces. If you can, remove carpets and rugs and paint rooms that haven’t been painted in years.

“Over time, dust, dirt, and smoke collect on the walls of any painted surface,” Dr. Schwartz says. “If you’re living in a home that’s 30 years old and haven’t repainted the rooms, applying a fresh coat of paint can cover up and dilute whatever dirt and mold spores are clinging to the walls.”

Have your air conditioner professionally maintained.

“Of course, you should change the AC filter on a regular basis, but also have a company clean the ducts. Because of South Florida’s high humidity, many homes here have mold spores in the AC ducts,” he says. “More expensive AC filters have a higher density, so they are going to capture more of the substances in the air.”

Do you have a gas-powered stove?

These appliances, while safe for everyday use, can emit carbon dioxide and methane. Whether you’re using a gas stove/oven or an electric range, inhaling chemicals or smoke (which contains carcinogens) is not good for your respiratory health.

The key to reducing this risk is ventilation. Use the fan above your cooktop and increase the air circulation in your kitchen and home. When cooking, open windows and doors, use ceiling or floor fans, and turn on the AC to keep the air moving.

Can plants help purify your home?

“There’s some controversy about the role of plants as air purifiers,” Dr. Schwartz says.

“You would have to have a huge number of plants to make a significant improvement. I think adding plants to your home environment is not necessarily going to remove a lot of the carbon dioxide. Ivy, for example, may be more helpful than other plant types, but don’t be fooled by filling a room with them, thinking it’s going to make a huge difference.”

Dana Kantrowitz is a contributing writer for UHealth’s news service.

Tags: air conditioning, Dr. Robert Schwartz, dust mite allergens, exhaust fans, mold and mildew

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