By Joy Stephenson-Laws, J.D., Founder
Air Quality & COVID-19. Here’s What You Need to Know
The quality of the air we breathe is critical to our health. And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), "many challenges remain in protecting Americans from air quality problems.”
For those who suffer from asthma and other respiratory illnesses, air pollution can make it challenging to breathe. In fact, the CDC reports that air pollution can also be bad for heart health and for some increase the chance of having a heart attack or stroke.
“Medical studies show that air pollution can trigger heart attacks, stroke, and irregular heart rhythms—especially in people who are already at risk for these conditions. Also, for people with a medical condition called heart failure, air pollution can further reduce the ability of the heart to pump blood the way that it should,” according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
And now in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic, there is even more cause for concern when it comes to breathing in polluted air. As mentioned, air pollution may exacerbate respiratory disease (including asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)). And having these conditions makes us more vulnerable when it comes to fighting lung infections such as pneumonia (a potentially dangerous complication of COVID-19).
I suppose a silver lining to the coronavirus pandemic is that much of the world has recently seen a dramatic reduction in air pollution due to people staying home and less cars being on the roads. However, there are still so many people, particularly those that live in low-income areas, that are still being exposed to very bad air quality (factories, plants and warehouses tend to be built in poorer neighborhoods).
We also have to keep in mind that people have been breathing in polluted air for years, long before this pandemic occurred. So the unanswered question is: has the damage already been done?
“More than four in 10 Americans, approximately 43.3 percent of the population, live in counties that have monitored unhealthy ozone and/or particle pollution. The number of people exposed to unhealthy air increased to nearly 141.1 million. That represents an increase from the past two reports,” according to the American Lung Association’s most recent State of the Air report.
A recent study conducted by Harvard found evidence which suggested that exposure to air pollution is connected to higher COVID-19 death rates.
“The study found, for example, that someone who lives for decades in a county with high levels of fine particulate pollution is 15% more likely to die from COVID-19 than someone who lives in a region that has just one unit (one microgram per cubic meter) less of such pollution,” reports Harvard.
“For a person living with daily pollution exposure, the damage to their respiratory and immune system is done,” said Dr. Meredith McCormack, a spokeswoman for the American Lung Association and associate professor of pulmonary and critical care at Johns Hopkins University, in this New York Times article.
“And, even though you might not expect it, indoor air can sometimes be worse than outdoor air,” the report mentions.
This was pretty shocking to me. I don’t think most people think about the quality of the air in their own homes. But now more than ever, it is important to address this so that we can successfully fight COVID-19 should we become infected.
Here are some causes of indoor air pollution and ways that you can be proactive:
- Cigarette smoke.
Of course, there are so many reasons as to why you should avoid smoking at all costs, and indoor air pollution is one of them.
- Frying foods and cooking with a lack of good ventilation.
Fried foods are not healthy anyways. There are much healthier cooking methods such as steaming or baking.
Furthermore, “Nitrogen oxides from gas stoves are a known respiratory irritant, as is the fine particulate matter that is most likely wafting off your roasts. You should turn on the ventilation hood above your stove and open windows if you can. One caveat: For people living in proximity to major sources of pollution, opening a window might not be a good idea. That’s where an air purifier might be worth the investment if you can afford it,” according to the New York Times article mentioned earlier.
Allergens such as mold may trigger issues such as asthma. If it smells moldy in areas of your home or if there is visible mold, this is something that needs to be addressed.
Mice and cockroaches can also trigger asthma and other respiratory issues.
- Dirty air filters.
Air filters (in both your car and home (air conditioning (HVAC) or furnace system)) help remove dust, dirt and allergens from the air that passes through your vehicle or home. If these are not replaced in a timely matter, this can impact your air quality. Some recommend that you change the filter in your home every 30 days. For cars, some say every 12,000 to 30,000 miles.
I also highly recommend filling your home with plants. Not only does it look pretty, but plants may also help purify the air in your home. NASA actually conducted a whole study surrounding the impact that plants can have on the air around us.
Generally, houseplants may improve the air quality inside your home by taking in carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen. This results in a more oxygen-rich environment in your home especially when the plants are exposed to appropriate light conditions.
You can also check the outdoor air quality of where you live here. If it is not good at the moment, avoid extended periods of time outside.
Finally, I think it is most important to focus on the factors that are within your control. You may not be able to control the outdoor air quality, but it appears that you can do a few things to improve the air in your home.
Enjoy your healthy life!
The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.