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Indoor Air Quality and COPD

The quality of our outdoor air has received much attention from the media and politicians, however we spend close to 90% of our time indoors and little has been reported on the health effects of our time indoors.

Those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are more sensitive and susceptible to indoor air pollution as are the young and elderly. All buildings have some degree of indoor air contamination however a low level may be sufficient to make a person ill, especially if they have a weakened immune system.

Treatment of COPD requires the attention of a physician and it is critical to avoid tobacco smoke as well as reduce indoor air pollution. Unfortunately, there is a significant list of potential sources of an indoor air quality problem such as the presence of mold, bacteria, viruses, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, etc.

The second action is dilution of the indoor air with "fresh" outdoor air. For nearly all homes, the HVAC system does not pull in air from the outside so the only way to get fresh air is to open doors or windows. The challenge with this approach is that the air is not conditioned so the humidity level in the house could rise, allergen causing particles could be brought into the house or the chemicals/gases could be drawn in if the outdoor air is polluted. If humidity levels are above 65%, the use of an air conditioneror dehumidifier are important to prevent microbial growth.

The third step to controlling indoor air quality is the removal of particles. The general consensus of the leading indoor air quality experts is to use HEPA filtration as the means for air cleaning. HEPA filters are the most effective in removing the smaller sized particles that can travel to your lungs and cause respiratory issues. In addition, we recommend limiting the amount of carpeting that can hold indoor air contaminants and to clean them regularly with a bag style vacuum cleaner to reduce the contact time with the particles removed from the floor.

Given the vast possible sources to an indoor air quality problem, we will highlight the three primary actions to control an indoor air quality problem. The first is source control. If the source of the problem can be identified and safely removed, get rid of it or exhaust the pollutants. If the source is tobacco smoke, the most effective action would be to stop smoking. However if the problem is due to something like a cooking odor the first step is to exhaust the polluted air to the outside.