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Page updated Mar 31, 2014 7:59 PM

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Frequently Asked Questions 

Respiratory Health and Indoor Air Quality 

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.

Your Home and Indoor Air Quality 

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).

Measures to Improve Indoor Air Quality 

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.

Useful Links and Resources 

This section provides useful links and resources related to respiratory health and indoor air quality.

Respiratory Health and Indoor Air 
Second Hand Smoke 
Air Pollution 
Asthma Triggers 

Measures to Improve Indoor Air Quality 
Healthy Housing Reference Manual 

Environmental Tobacco Smoke 
AHD's Proud to be Smoke Free Initiative 
Second Hand Smoke 
Second Hand Smoke Puts Children at Risk 
VDH's Tobacco Use Control Project 

Lead in Children 
Drinking Water 
Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program 

A Citizen's Guide to Radon 
Consumer's Guide to Radon Reduction 
Home Buyer's and Seller's Guide to Radon 
VDH's Indoor Radon Program 

Combustion Products 
Carbon Monoxide -- EPA 
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning 
Nitrogen Dioxide 
Combustion Appliances & Indoor Air Pollution 
Sources of Combustion Products 
Controlling Combustion Spillage 

Houshold Products 
Organic Gases (VOCs) 

Asbestos -- EPA 
City of Alexandria's Office of Environmental Quality 

Formaldehyde -- EPA 

VA Dept of Agriculture and Consumer Services 
Pesticides -- EPA