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Chemical Sensitivity: Is the Air You Breathe Safe?

The average person takes about 20 breaths per minute while at rest; that's a respiratory rate of 1,200 breaths per hour, or 28,800 per day. If exercising indoors, that count increases. The truth is - we need air to live.


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Since air is invisible and it's always there, we don't think too much about it. The air we breathe is actually a mixture of gases: oxygen (21%), nitrogen (78%), and a small amount of argon, carbon dioxide, and other gases, and water vapor (1%).


Yet, due to pollution, the air becomes filled with other particles and chemicals. Depending on a person's genetic makeup, immune system and tolerance levels, as well as the level of toxicity and time of exposure, a person can become chemically sensitive and begin to experience signs of deteriorating health.


Studies show that that in most cases indoor air quality is poorer than outdoor air quality. Why? What harmful particles and chemicals are found in indoor air? How do they affect health? And what can be done to both minimize chemical sensitivity and promote better health?


Particulates and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)


Particulates are very tiny particles floating around in the air. They can be composed of biological materials such as mold spores, pollen, dust-mite feces, skin flakes, fibers from clothing, and bits of soil. Wood and tobacco smoke are significant sources of particulates that have highly toxic levels of carcinogenic materials.


Although larger particulates are often filtered out of the air by the nose and sinuses, the smaller particles can travel deep into the lungs where they can lodge and irritate sensitive tissue.


What are VOCs? There are hundreds of different volatile organic compounds. Some are natural - like the vapors released from cutting an onion. Our eyes may water, but there's little long-term danger for most people. Other VOCs are synthetic and aren't so safe to be around. They can be released from paints, solvents, caulking, and adhesives. Formaldehyde is probably the most recognized VOC because it is used in plywood, particle board, finishes, and many other building products. The products used for everyday indoor cleaning can contain harmful VOCs too. VOCs can be big contributors to indoor air pollution.


Symptoms of Possible Sensitivity


Whether it be particle or chemical, the pollutants in our homes can negatively affect our physical and mental health.


•   Possible symptoms are: Dizziness, fatigue, nausea, headaches, joint and muscle pain, difficulty in breathing, inability to mentally concentrate, irritation of eyes, nose, throat, lungs, etc.


Long term exposure to high levels can increase our chances of becoming allergic or sensitive. However, a few simple things can be done to increase indoor air quality.


Ways to Improve Air Quality


To minimize the amount of particles floating in the air, good ventilation and filtering is important.


•   Ventilation - ventilation is basically the bringing in of fresh air and the exhausting of stale air. Investing in a ventilation system that can exchange the air and dilute the concentration of pollutants and moisture can help air quality. However, a simple short-term solution can be to open the windows from time to time (using an outward pointing box fan in one window will help draw in fresh air from other windows.)
•   Filtration - investing in a good quality air filter to remove particles can help "clean-up" the air. The particulates adhere to the filter, not your lungs.
•   Product Choice - choosing building and cleaning products that are low in VOCs can help. There are many "green" or eco-friendly products available. Be sure to read the manufacturers' labels, noting any "danger" warnings or possible harmful side-effects.




Nothing is more invigorating for many people than inhaling the natrurally pine-scented air after a rain in the Rocky Mountains! Since most of us don't live there, we can still take a few precautions to minimize the effects of harmful air pollutants and make our indoor environment a safer and healthier place to breathe.



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HHI is committed to accuracy of content and correcting information that is incomplete or inaccurate. With our broad scope of coverage of healthful indoor environments, and desire to rapidly publish info to benefit the community, mistakes are inevitable. HHI has established an error correction policy to welcome corrections or enhancements to our information. Please help us improve the quality of our content by contacting with corrections or suggestions for improvement. Each contact will receive a respectful reply.

The Healthy House Institute (HHI), a for-profit educational LLC, provides the information on as a free service to the public. The intent is to disseminate accurate, verified and science-based information on creating healthy home environments.


While an effort is made to ensure the quality of the content and credibility of sources listed on this site, HHI provides no warranty - expressed or implied - and assumes no legal liability for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of any information, product or process disclosed on or in conjunction with the site. The views and opinions of the authors or originators expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of HHI: its principals, executives, Board members, advisors or affiliates.

Chemical Sensitivity: Is the Air You Breathe Safe?:  Created on February 22nd, 2012.  Last Modified on May 21st, 2012


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Other Articles by Robert Shindeldecker

About Robert Shindeldecker

Robert (Bob) Shindeldecker is owner and operator of a successful janitorial services company.  He has more than 21 years of professional experience in using a wide range of cleaning products, equipment, and techniques.

He specializes in both green eco-friendly and hospital grade products; and is well versed in OSHA requirements, as well as other safety and health issues. He is also experienced in carpet and upholstery cleaning, floor care, and window restoration.


A native to the Boise, Idaho area, he also writes part-time for The Housekeeping Channel (HC) and The Healthy House Institute (HHI).



Information provided by The Healthy House Institute is designed to support, not to replace the relationship between patient/physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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