City of Alexandria, VA
Frequently Asked Questions
Health effects from indoor air pollutants may be experienced soon after exposure or many years later. Immediate or acute effects may occur after single or repeated exposures and include headaches, dizziness, fatigue and irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat. Such effects are usually treatable and relatively short-term. The likelihood of acute reactions to indoor air pollutants depends on factors such as age, preexisting medical conditions and individual sensitivities. Some people can become sensitized to certain pollutants after repeated exposures.
Many acute effects are indistinguishable from symptoms caused by colds or allergies so it is often difficult to attribute them to indoor air pollution. For this reason, it is important to pay attention to the time and place symptoms occur. If the symptoms fade or go away when you are away from home, an effort should be made to identify indoor air sources.
Long term or chronic effects may show up years after exposure has occurred following repeated periods of exposure. These effects, which include some respiratory diseases, heart disease, and cancer, can be severely debilitating or fatal.
While pollutants commonly found in indoor air are responsible for many harmful effects, there is considerable uncertainty about what concentrations or periods of exposure are necessary to produce specific health problems. People also react very differently to exposure to indoor air pollutants.
It is widely accepted, and backed by scientific evidence, that the air within homes, workplaces and other buildings can be more polluted than the outdoor air. This is a significant public health issue because people spend up to 90% of their time indoors and those exposed for the longest periods of time are often the most susceptible to the effects of poor air quality (the young, the elderly, and the chronically ill).
One way to improve indoor air quality within your home is to identify potential sources of indoor air pollution. Although the presence of such sources does not necessarily mean that you have an indoor air quality problem, being aware of the type and number of potential sources is an important step toward assessing the air quality in your home.
Another way to decide whether your home may have poor indoor air quality is to look at your lifestyle and activities. Hobbies and certain other activities performed inside (woodworking, soldering, paint stripping, furniture refinishing, etc.) can be significant sources of indoor air pollution.
Finally, look for signs of problems with the ventilation in your home. The dust in your home is made up of pollen, plant and mold spores, pet dander, lint, bacteria, and other contaminants. Health effects from breathing these particles range from irritation of the eyes and/or respiratory tissues to more serious effects. One way to lower the particle count in your home is to use higher efficiency air filters in your ventilation system.
This section provides useful links and resources related to respiratory health and indoor air quality.