Health Effects of Poor Air Quality

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Health Effects of Indoor Air Pollution

The effects of indoor air pollutants range from short-term effects – eye and throat irritation – to long-term effects – respiratory disease and cancer. Exposure to high levels of some pollutants, such as carbon monoxide, can even result in immediate death. Also, some indoor pollutants can magnify the effects of other indoor pollutants. Based on cancer risk alone, federal scientists have ranked indoor air pollution as one of the most important environmental problems in the United States.

Symptoms of Indoor Air Pollution1

Common symptoms of Indoor Air Pollution

Symptoms of poor indoor air quality are very broad and depend on the contaminant. They can easily be mistaken for symptoms of other illnesses such as allergies, stress, colds and influenza. The most common symptoms are:

  • coughing
  • sneezing
  • watery eyes
  • fatigue
  • dizziness
  • headaches
  • upper respiratory congestion

If you notice relief from your symptoms soon after leaving a particular room or building, your symptoms may be caused by indoor air contaminants.

Respiratory Health Effects

Consult the EPA’s Health Effect Symptom Reference Chart to determine the cause of the particular health effect:

  • Rhinitis, nasal congestion (inflammation of the nose, runny nose)
  • Epistaxis (nose bleeds)
  • Dyspnea (difficulty of breathing or painful breathing)
  • Pharyngitis (sore throat), cough
  • Wheezing, worsening asthma
  • Severe lung disease

More Severe Health Effects

Consult the EPA’s Health Effect Symptom Reference Chart to determine the cause of the particular health effect:

  • Conjunctival (eye) irritation
  • Rashes
  • Fever, chills
  • Tachycardia (rapid heartbeat, sometimes leading to shortness of breath)
  • Headache or dizziness
  • Lethargy, fatigue, malaise
  • Nausea, vomiting, anorexia
  • Myalgia (muscle pain)
  • Hearing loss

Causes of IAQ Health Effects

For a full list of the causes, sources, and contaminants of indoor air quality health effects:

More Information

For more information, or to request a professional indoor air quality consultation:

  1. Yuanhui Zhang (2005) Indoor Air Quality Engineering. CRC Press LLC., 7
  2. Hays, Steve M (1995) Indoor Air Quality Solutions and Strategies. McGraw-Hill Inc., 41
  3. Indoor Air Pollution: An Introduction for Health Professionals, Environmental Protection Agency, USA, viewed 20 August 2008, <http://www.epa.gov/iaq/pubs/hpguide.html>.