Useful Resources: British Lung Foundation on Indoor Air Quality

Respiratory symptoms and disease can be an outcome of poor indoor air quality. British Lung Foundation have produced some useful resources explaining how to deal with it.

With over 30 years’ worth of research into different lung conditions, the British Lung Foundation is the nation’s biggest lung charity. Coughing, wheezing, asthma, COPD and Lung Cancer can all be caused by poor indoor air quality. Lung cancer caused by indoor air pollution is responsible for the loss of 30,600 healthy life years in the UK on its own. As a result, BLF have a dedicated section on their website called “your home and your lungs”  to indoor air quality, where one can find many useful resources and information about indoor air pollution and lung disease.

Who is at risk?

According to BLF, you’re at greater risk of being affected by indoor air pollution if you have already been diagnosed with a long-term lung condition such as asthma or COPD. If you have a lung condition, you may also be likely to spend more time indoors, which further increases your risk.

Children are also particularly sensitive to poor indoor air quality. Compared to adults, children’s lungs are proportionally larger in relation to their body weight, meaning they breathe in more. Furthermore, a child’s immune system is still developing and so they are less capable of fighting off any problems caused by indoor air pollution.

If you have been breathing polluted air for days or weeks at a time, you may start noticing some symptoms. These include a dry throat, cough, shortness of breath, an itchy or runny nose or the feeling of being wheezy.

BLF lists some of the most common causes of indoor air pollution to be a result of:

  • How buildings are ventilated
  • Damp and condensation
  • How we heat and cook in our homes
  • Chemicals in cleaning or decorating products

They also provide a guide on how to improve your homes indoor air quality including tips such as:

  • Making sure your home is ventilated
  • Using an extractor fan when cooking or showering to avoid condensation
  • Dry your washing outside
  • Keeping your home at a comfortable temperature

See the full guide here.
See My Health My Home’s top tips for a healthy home here.

How does mould impact your health and your indoor air quality?

Everyone knows mould isn’t good for you, but not many people know just how much it can impact your health and indoor air quality.

We conducted a survey investigating how mould affects UK homeowners and over 65% of people said they experienced mould or condensation in their homes. 68.9% also said that they think indoor air quality is equally as important to outdoor air – yet we still hear very little about it in media or policies.

Peter Howarth, Professor of Allergy and Respiratory medicine at Southampton University says:

“I have had many patients come to me with serious respiratory conditions due to pollutants within the home. With respect to asthma, mould allergy is recognised to be associated with worse asthma and poorer asthma control.  The presence of moulds within the home is a reflection of poor ventilation and increased humidity. Homes with mould are also likely to have higher house dust mite allergen levels and this may worsen both respiratory and skin conditions. The lack of adequate ventilation within the home can also be associated with the build-up of non-allergenic noxious fumes which are detrimental to health.”

“MoldBlogger.com” is a website solely dedicated to the fight against toxic mould and the consequences of mould exposure. The website is run by Jonathan Wold and Brian and Krystle Reeves, who all have had first-hand experiences with mould and therefore decided to start the website. Brian, an aspiring architect says he often sees the damage that mould can do to buildings not properly constructed and wants more to be done about it. The website features blog posts on topics such as “the effects of breathing mould”, “checking your house for mould” and “the importance of clean air to prevent mould”.

In their post on the effects of breathing mould, the Mold Blog states that “mould produces allergens, irritants and sometimes even toxic substances” and that “a prolonged exposure to high levels of indoor dampness can reduce lung function, possibly causing bronchitis, pneumonia and other respiratory infections, particularly in children, the elderly and those already diagnosed with other medical conditions” In the post they also mention leading health entrepreneur, Sara Davenport, who writes in her book, Reboot Your Health “when your energy is low, mould exposure can weaken your body and change the way you think and feel. With ‘push me pull you’ tactics, mould spores overstimulate your immune system at the same time as blocking its ability to work properly, causing all kinds of physical and mental problems in the body.”

It is clearly no secret that breathing in mould spores not only makes sick people sicker, but it also can make otherwise healthy people sick. It promotes the development of long-term conditions like asthma and according to the World Health Organization, a large proportion of the 300 million childhood asthma cases worldwide can be attributed to indoor mould exposure.

As we spend 90% of our time indoors and 16 hours a day in our homes, a mould-free home should be of high importance to both individuals and policymakers at all times.

How do I prevent my home from mould?

The key to reducing mould in your home is to prevent it from dampness and condensation. One of the main reasons homes become damp is due to them being poorly ventilated. Without ventilating your home adequately, moisture builds up. Another way to reduce moisture in your home is to make sure you dry your clothes outside or in a room that is properly ventilated.

See more tips for a healthy home here.

Visit the Mold Blog here.

Useful Resources: European Lung Foundation on Indoor Air Pollution

Almost everyone knows that outdoor pollution can damage their health, but not many people realise that indoor air pollution can affect them as well.  

The European Lung Foundation (ELF) is the public voice of the European Respiratory Society (ERS), which is a non-profit medical organisation with over 8,000 members in more than 100 countries. The ELF is dedicated to lung health throughout Europe and connects leading European medical experts together in order to raise awareness and provide patient information on respiratory disease.

The ELF has produced a number of ‘lung factsheets’ which have been reviewed by the ERS, all discussing different risk factors which may impact the lungs. Indoor air pollution is considered one of these risk factors due to a number of reasons.

Poor indoor air quality has been linked to several lung diseases such as asthma, allergies, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer. Indoor air pollution can cause a healthy person to become ill with one of these diseases, or it can trigger and worsen the symptoms of those already diagnosed.

Indoor air pollution can be caused by a number of activities and can originate from a number of places. Poor ventilation, open fires, building materials and furniture, cleaning products and air pollution that comes inside from the outdoors, are just a few.

A dry throat or a cough are symptoms that can be felt after a short time (days or weeks) of exposure to indoor air pollution, whereas the long-term effects which can lead to for example lung cancer may not appear for several years. The ELF Lung Factsheet has a table which goes into further detail on exactly what source and pollutant causes what symptoms and how they affect the lungs as well as how to tackle them. See example below:

Full table available in the ELF Factsheet. 

In their factsheet they have also provided 9 general recommendations to help you control indoor air pollution and lung disease:

  1. Do not allow smoking indoors.
  2. Ensure your home is well ventilated. Air your house for 5–10 minutes several times a day, especially during and after cooking, and after taking a shower.
  3. Maintain gas appliances.
  4. Where there are coal, wood or open fires, make sure that chimneys are cleaned and looked after. Burn only dry and untreated wood. Do not burn refuse or packaging as it can lead to the formation of toxic substances.
  5. Prevent water leaks and reduce moisture levels.
  6. If you live in a high radon area (houses built on granite, in areas such as Sweden and in the west of the UK), get advice on testing for radon.
  7. Use building materials and furniture with low emissions. Look for products and materials that carry the European “Ecolabel” (http://ec.europa.eu/environment/ecolabel) or any other approved natural levels to prove that products are environmentally sound and low in pollutants and emissions.
  8. Install alarms for smoke and carbon monoxide.
  9. Take care when using chemicals in the household; as detergents, cleaning agents, air fresheners etc. release chemicals into the air. Always ventilate well after use.

Click here to see the full factsheet.

 

 

Illegal levels of air pollution linked to child’s death”

A nine-year-old girl’s fatal asthma attack has been linked to illegally high levels of air pollution.

A nine-year-old girl has died from a fatal asthma attack and this is the first time an individual death has been linked to air pollution. One of the UKs leading experts, Stephen Holgate says there was a “striking association” between the girl’s emergency hospital admissions and recorded spikes in nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and PM10s. Spikes in air pollution coincided with all but one of Ella’s hospital admissions and her fatal asthma attack came after one of the “worst air pollution episodes in her locality”.

With so much information now available about the health impacts of air pollution and the link to thousands of deaths in the UK, it doesn’t make any sense that no direct link to an individual death has been made earlier, says human rights lawyer Jocelyn Cockburn who is acting on behalf of the family.

The girl lived with her family near the South Circular Road and Lewisham High Street in south London, which is a heavily trafficked and polluted area. The girl’s mother said she had been treated by five different hospitals before her death, but no one had ever told her about the potential link to air pollution.

UK citizens spend on average 90% of their time indoors and around 16 hours a day in their homes. Indoor air can be up to 5 times more polluted than outdoor air, and as the girl lived in an area with high levels of outdoor air pollution this means her home, a place one would view as safe, may have been even worse for her health.

According to a government report published in 2018, poor air quality has been classified as the largest environmental risk to public health in the UK – yet, public information on the matter is still lacking.

In his report, Professor Holgate described exposure to air pollutants as a “key driver” of the girl’s disease and that “unlawful levels of air pollution contributed to the cause and seriousness of the girl’s asthma in a way that greatly compromised her quality of life and was causative of her fatal asthma attack”.

If she would have known more about the health effects of air pollution, she would have looked at moving to a different area and making sure her home was safe for her daughter to be in, says the girl’s mother.

Full article here.

 

 

 

Mouldy Homes Trigger Asthma

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Visible mould in homes is significantly associated with the onset of wheezing in children, a study has found.

Lead author Dr Caroline Shorter from the University of Otago in Wellington, said: ‘We found that mould and leaks were more likely to be found in the bedrooms and homes of children who had just started wheezing compared to the children who had never wheezed.

‘The amount of mould present in the bedroom made a difference: the more mould, the greater the risk that children would start wheezing.’

Dr Shorter recommends people use extractor fans, avoid drying clothes inside and open windows to allow ventilation.

The researchers analysed 150 children aged between one and seven who had visited their GP with new-onset wheeze.

The study’s participants’ homes were assessed for moisture damage, condensation and mould.

The study also found the more mould, the more cases of asthma.

‘We found that mould and leaks were more likely to be found in the bedrooms and homes of children who had just started wheezing compared to the children who had never wheezed.

‘The amount of mould present in the bedroom made a difference: the more mould, the greater the risk that children would start wheezing.

She said: ‘Worldwide prevalence of indoor mould is estimated at 10 to 30 per cent of homes, depending on climate and asthma rates are one in 20.

‘We need to reduce moisture in our homes by using extractor fans, not drying clothes inside, and opening windows often to improve ventilation, even for just 10 minutes a day.

‘Even with these measures mould can still grow, so we also need to frequently check for mould and remove it when we see it, particularly around windows, where condensation can increase mould growth.’

This article originally appeared on The Daily Mail, 07/09/2017

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-4862072/Mould-triggers-asthma-Spores-cause-wheezing-children.html

Indoor Air Pollution Caused by Cookstoves poses Health Risks

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there are 4 million premature deaths (predominantly caused by respiratory and cardiovascular diseases) each year attributed to household air pollution created by using wood, coal and other solid fuels for cooking and heating homes.

A novel multi-country trial is being carried out by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), with partial support through a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to tackle the global health problem. The multimillion-dollar study will determine if using widely available, clean, alternative cooking fuel significantly reduces deaths and illnesses. The 5-year study is part of a broader international effort to research chronic lung diseases which are coordinated by the Global Alliance for Chronic Diseases (GACD).

The NIH Director Francis S. Collins commented on the matter:

“Indoor air pollution caused by cookstoves is one of the top health risks in developing countries, causing deaths from low birth weight among babies, pneumonia in young children, and heart and lung problems in adults. By working with our global partners on alternative fuel solutions, we have an opportunity to reduce that risk significantly for millions of people.”

According to the WHO, there are approximately 3 billion people worldwide who are reliant on using solid fuels for both cooking and heating. The indoor pollution generated can cause a range of diseases such as pneumonia, heart disease, cancer and chronic lung disease.

The study which is led by Emory University in Atlanta plans to recruit 800 pregnant women at a number of trial sites and will randomly assign half to receive liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) stoves and a supply of gas. The trial will run until the child is 2 years old, a number of medical measurements will be then taken i.e. did the mother suffer from hypertension during pregnancy, the incidence of pneumonia and growth and development of the infants. Addition to this, several hundred older women will be assigned to each site and monitored to assess cardiopulmonary, metabolic and cancer outcomes. Biomarker analysis of blood and urine samples will also be carried out.

This cutting-edge study will hopefully provide an essential insight into the effects of air pollution produced by cookstoves reliant on LPG on health. The trial will also provide scientific evidence of potential alternatives to using solid fuels which may subsequently reduce the number of health issues related to indoor air pollution.

Improved Air Quality Correlated with Controlling Children’s Asthma

Asthma currently affects 1.1 million children in the UK, that’s 1 in 11 children receiving treatment.

Asthma is characterized by coughing, breathing difficulties, chest tightness, shortness of breath and wheezing. It has been previously reported that children with asthma should not be exposed to indoor air that’s contaminated with allergens and pollutants to reduce the risk of asthma attacks. A clinical study carried out by the American Academy of Paediatrics suggests that breathing clean air may be as effective as medications to control the disease. The report also highlights that children are more sensitive to both pollutants and allergens due to a number of biological factors, such as their lungs, brains and immune systems are still at developmental stages and their respiratory tracts are more permeable. Asthma triggers such as dust mites, mould, furry pets, sources of indoor air pollution (e.g. tobacco smoke, gas from cookers and heaters and open fires) and household chemicals such as air fresheners should all be controlled to help reduce asthma attacks and the need for medication.

For further information regarding how to cut down allergens and pollutants in your home, visit: http://www.webmd.boots.com/asthma/news/20161101/air-quality-helps-kids-asthma

 

Polluted home air may impede child development

Leading UK indoor air quality expert Professor Hazim Awbi is warning that children’s development could be hindered by poor indoor air quality at home, as well as at school, as a recent study reveals the overwhelmingly negative impact that poor air quality can have on the brain’s function.

Researchers at Harvard University have shown that in buildings specially designed to have low levels of pollutants, occupants have a cognitive function score that is 61% higher than „conventional conditions‟ and in buildings where effective ventilation has been installed, cognitive function is 101% improved. The study builds on research conducted in the UK showing children’s cognitive ability at school, from attention and concentration to memory and recognition, was significantly diminished in classrooms where pollutants had built up due to a lack of effective ventilation.

People in the UK spend around 90% of their time indoors with 47% of us spending over 16 hours a day at home, leading Professor Awbi to warn that children in airtight homes are likely to be at risk of suffering poor cognitive function.

“We know that young children are one of the groups who spend a large amount of time at home, especially during their early, formative years. Where there is a lack of ventilation and where pollutants are allowed to build up, children‟s brain function is affected. Homes are becoming ever more airtight, and if steps are not taken by both homeowners and the government, there could be profound consequences on children‟s learning and development.” Prof Awbi says

Polluted indoor air quality can affect the brain through blood oxygenation in 4 seconds so Professor Awbi, therefore, recommends that: “The best way to prevent indoor air pollution affecting children’s brains is to reduce the levels of potentially dangerous particles by ensuring that homes are effectively ventilated, as allowing pollutants to accumulate reduces air quality and can lead to chronic exposure”.

Polluted indoor air is also linked to a range of health conditions including cardiovascular disease, asthma, allergy, COPD and even cancer. It is estimated that indoor air pollution claims many thousands of lives a year and accounts for the annual loss of 204,129 healthy life years in the UK.

Expert warns of an asthma epidemic – caused by our own homes

How UK homes are predicted to damage health over the next 35 years

A new report highlights that not enough is being done to consider the impact of indoor air pollution on health, and predicts that without intervention the UK could see an 80% increase in asthma sufferers over the next 35 years.

‘The Future of Indoor Air Quality in UK Homes and its Impact on Health’ –a report by indoor air quality specialist Professor Hazim Awbi – also warns that levels of pollutants in the home, known as Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s), could rise to 60% above World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended limits for a 24 hour exposure period.

The UK is committed to an 80% carbon reduction by 2050 and to meet this target homes must become more energy efficient and therefore more airtight. However, building regulations have not properly considered the adverse impact of improved air-tightness and increased energy efficiency on indoor air quality (IAQ) and the health of occupants.

Increasing airtightness means that air exchange – the quantity of air moving into and out of the home- is reduced allowing pollutants to accumulate, and the quality of air to worsen. Current building regulations do not enforce an adequate air exchange rate, which is predicted to leave UK homes at risk of breaching acceptable levels of pollutants outlined by WHO. As energy efficiency measures increase, the situation is expected to significantly deteriorate.

The association between poor indoor air quality and health is well documented, with links to a range of health problems including; asthma and allergy symptoms, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, airborne respiratory infections and cardiovascular disease. There are concerns that those spending most time at home, including young mothers, children and the elderly, are most at risk.

Liz McInnes, MP for Heywood and Middleton, former NHS worker, and Shadow Minister for Communities and Local Government said:

“The issue of poor indoor air quality on health and particularly its impact on sufferers of asthma is sometimes overlooked by policymakers and health professionals. GPs play a crucial role in providing information and guidance to patients, but increasingly important is the role of local councils who are now responsible for public health. The conclusions of Professor Awbi’s report need to be fully considered, and government, health professionals, local councils and social housing associations need to work together on finding solutions.”

Professor Awbi highlights that to protect human health, and avoid a potential asthma epidemic, there should be changes in regulation and legislation to ensure new and existing homes are able to deliver healthy indoor air. Simply opening windows is not enough as it doesn’t allow the necessary level of air exchange, and the report concludes that effective and properly installed mechanical ventilation systems are key to addressing the problem.

Professor Awbi comments:

‘‘ To avoid a serious and significant increase in asthma cases – which could be up to 80% – and other health conditions related to poor indoor air quality, homes must be adequately ventilated. In addition to the need for mechanical ventilation systems, I would also advise that a minimum air exchange rate that new homes must meet is enforced and there is tighter regulation to ensure systems are adequately installed, operated and maintained.’’

Jill Sanders of Action Against Allergy, a national charity representing those suffering from allergic disease, added:

“Indoor air quality seems to have been entirely overlooked until now, so it is encouraging to see that at last it is being recognised not only as a problem but indeed as a worsening problem. We hope this will start a process which will lead to awareness among government and industry about the quality of indoor air. We must expect energy efficiency regulation and monitoring to cover the air people breathe indoors, to ensure it is not detrimental to their health and wellbeing.”