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Cashins & Associates Blog

Air Quality and Asthma

Posted by Mike Cashins on Wed, Mar, 28, 2012 @ 11:03 AM

Boston Skyline SmogAsthma is a growing problem in the USA, especially among children. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that over twenty five million people living in the United States suffer from asthma and over three thousand Americans die each year from the disease. The root cause of asthma is still under dispute, but what we do know is that people with asthma have attacks that are directly triggered by poor air quality.

It was once believed that ozone was a primary contributor to asthma, but as ozone levels decreased, asthma levels continued to increase. Nevertheless, ozone is still a lung irritant that likely plays a small role is asthma attacks. Several studies also claim that asthma has no relation to air quality at all because outdoor air quality has been improving due to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) air quality standards. However, the EPA only controls and monitors outdoor air quality. Since Americans spend ninety percent of their time indoors, indoor air quality is a more pressing concern for Americans with asthma.

Indoor air quality is often much worse than outdoor air quality. Since indoor pollutants are confined to a small space and not allowed to interact with the natural processes that filter outdoor air, they accumulate and reach high concentrations in buildings that are not properly ventilated. However, if the air outdoors is also poor, the benefits of ventilation are not as great. The EPA points out that people in low income communities suffer more from asthma than people in high income communities. Many low income communities are often located near factories and power plants that emit large amounts of particulate matter such as soot and dust into the air. Diesel exhaust from trucks making deliveries to these industrial facilities also contrubutes to the particulate level.  Still, indoor air is usually laden with compounds that outdoor air is not.

There are several different sources of pollutants that can trigger asthma attacks indoors. Pets, dust, mold, smoke, and chemical odors from household cleaning products are all common triggers for asthma attacks. Household cleaning products release volatile organic compounds which irritate air passageways. Pets release dander and mold releases spores that can enter air passageways in the form of particulate matter. Smoke and dust are also forms of particulate matter that are known to cause asthma attacks. An asthma attack from these sources can be particularly severe if the person has allergies.

Outdoors, there are also several pollutants that can trigger asthma attacks, but since they are not confined and concentrated like indoor pollutants, it is more difficult to tell which pollutants are worst for people with asthma. Pollen from trees, weeds, and grass is a definite trigger for asthma attacks. Pollen has been determined as an asthma attack trigger because Americans experience many more asthma attacks in the spring than they do in winter months, while other pollutants tend to be present year-round. In general, particulates such as pollen and soot are cited as leading outdoor asthma attack triggers.

Staying away from exposure to high concentrations of particulate matter indoors or outdoors is a good strategy for anyone who has asthma or may develop asthma. In 2007, asthma related issues cost Americans $50.1 billion in medical expenses. America has already reduced the presence of triggers for outdoor asthma attacks significantly, but the costs of asthma treatment continue to rise. Providing proper ventilation in our homes and businesses will reduce particulate matter and other pollutant concentrations indoors, this will help Americans put a dent in this figure.
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Topics: indoor air quality, ventilation assessment

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