How Indoor Air Quality Affects Your Health

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The EPA estimates that indoor air quality can be up to 100 times worse than outdoor air quality. Even if you keep your home clean, all sorts of things can get inside than can create an unhealthy living environment for your family. Some of the most common indoor air contaminants include:

  • Allergens
  • Bacteria and viruses
  • Carbon monoxide (CO)
  • Carbon dioxide (CO2)
  • Odor-causing chemicals
  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
  • Smoke and soot
  • Radon
  • Formaldehyde
  • Ozone
  • And many more

Exposure to these different contaminants has varying levels of severity:

  • Fatal in the short term
  • Carcinogenic (cancer-causing)
  • Health threatening
  • Annoying

In this blog post, we’ll be looking at the different levels of contaminants and helping you figure out ways to improve your indoor air quality.

Fatal in the Short Term

Though somewhat rare, certain indoor air contaminants can cause severe harm or death even in low concentrations and with relatively short-term exposure. Such contaminants include:

Carbon monoxide – this odorless, colorless gas cannot be detected by any of your senses, but is the cause of hundreds of deaths every year. Carbon monoxide is created by incomplete burning of fuels, particularly in appliances like gas furnaces, gas stoves, and gas water heaters. Dangerous levels of carbon monoxide can also be released when operating a combustion engine or motor vehicle in a poorly ventilated area.

Airborne bacteria – certain bacteria, including tuberculosis, are highly contagious and tend to hang around in the air in unventilated spaces. The risk of developing infectious diseases like tuberculosis can be minimized by quarantining individuals carrying the disease as well as by ensuring your home is properly ventilated at all times.

Other bacteria – certain bacteria, including legionella (which can cause Legionnaire’s Disease), grow rapidly in warm, dirty water which can splash into the air and be inhaled with droplets of water. Legionnaire’s Disease presents with flu-like symptoms and can be fatal.


Long-term exposure to certain types of carcinogens can lead to cancer, making this type of contaminant one of the most significant you’ll encounter. One of the most common carcinogens present in indoor air is known as Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS), which can cause cancer even in non-smokers.

Radon, a radioactive gas that rises up from the soil, is another common carcinogen. Radon is not a problem everywhere, but where it is a concern it can be controlled by ventilating crawlspaces, sealing up cracks, or adjusting interior air pressure so radon can’t get in.

Health Threatening

Many indoor air contaminants fall under the category of health threatening, but not dangerous. These include things like allergens, VOCs, less harmful bacteria and viruses, mold, ozone, etc., and they can irritate your skin, eyes, and nose or cause cold-like symptoms.

If everyone in your home feels these symptoms while inside but recovers when outside, you can bet you have problems with indoor air quality. This type of thing is so often seen in office buildings that it has a nickname—“sick building syndrome.”


Foul smells, including body odor, spoiling food, and certain types of mold or chemicals are generally considered annoying without being harmful. While they may have negative health effects in high enough concentrations, generally these are gradual and subtle enough to not be immediately noticed.

If you’re concerned about the indoor air quality in your home, call Michael Bonsby HVAC & Plumbing today!

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