How To Protect Yourself From Air Pollution & Allergens
Air. We breathe it during every living moment of our lives, and it is crucial to our very existence – and the existence of pretty much every living thing on the planet. Unless you’re Loricifera, a multi-cell organism that thrives in the densest parts of the Mediterranean Ocean. However, we humans cannot survive without air – well, not longer than three minutes anyway.
Unfortunately, air quality isn’t as crisp as it used to be, particularly in certain parts of the world that are highly industrial. This is due to a number of air pollutants being dispersed. It might surprise you to know that it’s not only fossil fuels that are dirtying our air. Air pollution comes from a number of naturally occurring and human-made sources that range from livestock to automotive vehicles, to power plants, to volcanoes and bushfires. However, we humans have undoubtedly exacerbated this issue. Population growth, expanding cities and growing demand for energy and transport has been counterproductive to air quality.
So far in Australia, we’re not tracking so badly. Unfortunately, there are parts of the world where it has become customary to wear face masks due to dangerous amounts of air pollution. Imagine living in a city where the sky was a hazy brown instead of a clear blue?
This is the reality for people in South and Southeast Asia. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 20 of the most polluted cities in the world are located in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and China. All of these cities contain dangerous quantities of particulate matter, which is so fine that it can pass into the human bloodstream through the lungs. There are a whole bunch of negative health effects that result from this pollution and cost governments billions of dollars in healthcare.
Types of Air Pollution & Causes
As mentioned, air pollution can come from both natural and human-made (anthropogenic) sources that are identified by the 2017 report by UNSW report titled ‘Climate Change, Air Pollution and Health in Australia’. Natural sources of air pollution include dust, salt spray from the ocean, dust and ash from volcanic eruptions and ash from bushfires. Unfortunately, not much can be done to reduce these natural sources as they are out of our control. However, we can reduce anthropogenic sources. Anthropogenic sources include emissions from power plants, factories, and motor vehicles.
Air pollution also comes from sources that are either identified as ‘point’ or ‘diffuse’ sources. Diffuse sources don’t have a single, identifiable point, where point sources do. Diffuse sources occur over a wide area with various contributors. Both are quite harmful to air quality. Diffuse sources of air pollution in Australia include motor vehicles, domestic wood heaters, hazard reduction burns, agricultural burns and bushfires. Point sources are made up of commercial operations and industrial facilities such as coal-fired power stations and metal or ore coal-mines.
Out of the dangerous emissions created by these sources, the most damaging to our health include fine and coarse particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide, and most significantly, fine and ultrafine particulate matter. Fine and ultrafine particulate matter has been recognised by medical scientists as particularly damaging to human health.
Health Effects of Poor Quality Air
Poor air quality contributes to a number of health issues in Australia. It significantly affects those that suffer from a chronic respiratory disease. Health effects that result from exposure to air pollution can be either long-term and short-term. This could either appear as an irritation in the airways, or a more serious development. The demographics most vulnerable to the harmful effects of air pollution include older people, children and people with pre-existing health conditions.
Currently, the negative health effects of air pollution have had a toll on the economy, costing around $11.1 to $24.3 annually. The cost of asthma alone is reported to be $655 million, that is 0.9% of total government spending on health. However, it’s not only air pollution that affects many Australian’s respiratory systems. Many people are allergic to certain particles in the air. Air allergens can interfere with people’s lives and bring on a whole bunch of unwelcome symptoms.
How Air Allergens Affect People
One of the most common types of air allergens is pollen. Pollen, which is a fine grain dispersed in the air by wind, birds and insects to fertilise female flowers, affects 18% of people from Australia and New Zealand. Pollen affects people when it comes in contact with people’s eyes and skin, or is breathed into the airways. The result is an allergic reaction, or inflammatory response, called allergic rhinitis.
Allergic rhinitis, or hay fever, leads to symptoms including irritated and itchy eyes, ears and throat, and a congested nose. Over 80% of asthma sufferers also have this condition, which makes asthma even harder to control. Allergic rhinitis also leads to carry on negative health effects including sinus infections, fatigue, and problems with general health. Other issues arising from this phenomenon include an impaired ability to learn, increased time off work, and a reduction in productivity.
So, it seems the air that many of us take for granted isn’t as friendly as it seems – for an unfortunate minority at least. If you’re someone who’s become more aware of issues with respiration, congestion or air quality, then you might be already looking for a solution. There are a number of devices that are reported to help improve air quality. But how effectively do they work?
Devices That Can Help
Salt lamps are a recent fad that has swept over the internet and people’s homes. They are exactly as they sound – a lamp made of salt. Though, pink Himalayan salt to be specific. The device, consisting of a light bulb placed inside a massive rock of salt, is said to be effective at clearing the air of electro-smog and oxygenating the brain. This experience has the potential to alleviate seasonal affective disorders and improve immune system well-being.
There are claims that the Himalayan salt draws moisture from the air which attaches itself to pollutants. Some also claim that the heated salt can produce negative ions which improve health. Unfortunately, both claims are not backed by scientific research. No doubt, salt lamps are pretty to look at. Their soft pinky hue brings warmth and candescence to rooms; however; in regards to improving health, this salty lamp is just as good as your cheapest Ikea lamp when it comes to clearing your air (and Ikea lamps are just as pretty too).
Humidifiers & Dehumidifiers
Humidifiers and dehumidifiers work by either increasing or reducing the amount of moisture in the air. Humidifiers are said to alleviate symptoms associated with dry air, colds and respiratory illnesses while boosting overall comfort. Dehumidifiers are said to help those with allergies as they dry up areas that certain mites and allergens thrive. Because dust mites, mould and mildew tend to grow in humid conditions, people who suffer from allergies are more susceptible to reactions in humid environments – this is where the dehumidifier may help.
Although there are advantages to both of these systems, there is also a downside. Left unmaintained and unclean, these devices can exacerbate the very symptoms they are said to alleviate. Without proper care, humidifiers and dehumidifiers can be a breeding ground for mould and bacteria which can be transferred into the air. Make sure you regularly clean your equipment so that your air is kept in optimal condition.
Filtered Air Conditioner
Air purifiers are another invention designed to clean the air in your home. They work by sucking in air from your home and pushing out filtered, clean air. However, if you have considered getting an air purifier, you should go a step above and get a filtered air conditioner.
Fortunately for consumers, most air conditioners on the market perform in a similar process to air purifiers. Much like air purifiers, air conditioners filter out allergens and pollutants from the air. Air conditioners work by sucking in air from outside, cooling or heating this air, passing it through a filter (or several), and pushing out clarified air into a home’s living space. Many filters, including air conditioner filters, on today’s market, are equipped to filter out fine pollutant particles, such as pollen, dust and microbes, making the air inside the home cleaner. This may help those who suffer from allergies and respiratory conditions. Also, air conditioners have the added benefit of cooling or heating your air to a comfortable temperature. Cooling the air in your home also dehumidifies it as cold air doesn’t hold as much moisture. Although an air conditioner is more of an investment, these benefits make it worthwhile, particularly if you are someone who is conscious of air quality.
To ensure your air quality is at an optimal level, it is important to clean your air conditioner every so often. Cleaning your air conditioner regularly will also help it run efficiently, reducing your energy bill. The most critical part of an air conditioner to clean is the filter system. This can be done quite easily and is usually as simple as a process as popping off the plastic cover, removing the filter (or filters) and giving it a quick wipe. If there’s quite a bit of dust, it is advised that you go outside to give your filter a good shake. It might also be worthwhile to vacuum the filter to remove dirt and dust. If your filter is exceptionally dirty, you might need to get some warm water and detergent to clean it. After the filters are clean, pop them back into the unit, pop the lid back on and notice the crisp, fresh air that’s now running. But if you are time poor or are afraid you’ll damage your device by taking it apart – never fear – you can get a professional to actually maintain and clean your air-con for you! How good.
Now, these devices can be a great help in maintaining the air quality in your home, but they should not be solely relied on to ensure your health. Dust particles, pollutants and allergens can still gather around furniture, surfaces and enclosed spaces. These devices should never replace proper and regular cleaning, dusting, mopping and disinfecting.
So, our air isn’t as clean as we thought, but it’s not all bad. The people who may have concerns are those with respiratory conditions or asthma. However, if you do fall into that category, you can take a deep breath. Maintaining air quality doesn’t have to be as complicated as it seems. It can be as easy and mindless as breathing with the right device.
Is the air in your home not as crisp and fresh as you’d like? Air-Rite has a range of filtered air conditioning units from top brands that work to maintain the quality of your home’s air, keeping you comfortable and safe. Contact us today to hear about our split system air conditioners.