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Can the Air Quality in Your Home Impact Your Immunity?

modern living room with plants
Highlights
  • In addition to proper nutrition, minimizing air pollution inside the home can help support immune health
  • Everyday activities like cooking, cleaning, and heating our homes can cause household air pollution resulting in flu-like symptoms and increased susceptibility to infections
  • Using exhaust hoods and fans and minimizing toxic candle use are a couple of ways to help reduce air pollutants in the home

Our current global health crisis is placing immune health at the forefront of everyone’s mind, encouraging many of us to seek proper nutrition and stay at home. As we’re spending more time inside, it’s important to consider how even our home environments can impact our health, particularly our air quality. It may sound strange to mention air quality when discussing immunity, but the quality of air inside the home can significantly impact our well-being—specifically our immune and respiratory health—which are especially important right now. 

Usually our homes provide a sense of comfort, but household air pollution (also referred to as poor household air quality) can place stress on our immune systems. This can result in flu-like symptoms (e.g., wheezing, coughing, runny and stuffy nose, and fatigue) and actually increase our susceptibility to developing more severe illnesses, including acute respiratory infections, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, tuberculosis, and pneumoconiosis.1,2 Importantly, vulnerable populations (like children, the elderly, and people with preexisting respiratory and cardiovascular conditions) are at an even greater risk of adverse health effects.35

However, research shows that minimizing exposure to household air pollutants can decrease flu-like symptoms, immune stress, and adverse health risks. For example, studies show that decreasing air pollution can reduce wheezing and coughing and improve short- and long-term respiratory and cardiovascular function.610 Improving household air quality can also reduce the onset of asthma, asthmatic symptoms, and the severity of symptoms in people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.6,11 At a time when our immunity needs to be at its strongest, we want to share some simple ways to minimize household air pollution and its health risks. But first, let’s discuss what causes it. 

What causes household air pollution?

Household air pollution is caused by pollutants both inside and outside the home. For example, unfiltered outdoor pollutants emitted from agricultural and industrial areas, landfills, sewage treatment plants, high traffic areas, and airports all trickle into our homes and contribute to its air pollution. Although we don’t have much control over these outdoor pollutants, we can monitor our everyday activities like cooking, using noxious cleaning supplies, burning candles, smoking indoors, and using toxic pest controls. Other sources of household air pollution that we can watch for include: 4,12

  • Pets such as dogs, cats, and birds
  • Mold and dampness in bathrooms/kitchens, or due to water-damage
  • Dust mites in carpeting, mattresses, pillows, and furniture
  • Pests including cockroaches and rodents
  • Heating and machinery such as furnaces and their filters
  • Electric generators (used indoors)
  • Construction or renovation materials and activities
  • New furniture, carpeting, or other products that off-gas volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
  • Hobby supplies and activities that release particles or chemicals in the air

Clearly, these household sources are enmeshed within our daily lives. And although their pollutants have severe health risks, there are simple ways to minimize the air pollution they cause and still have a functioning home.4,13

How can we minimize household air pollution?

It’s impractical to think we can completely eliminate sources of household air pollution—nor are we asking you to consider doing so. By all means, continue bathing, keep warm and don’t toss out your pets! While we may not be able to remove all household pollutants, controlling our exposure by minimizing certain activities can help.

For example, improving household air quality by properly ventilating (e.g., using exhaust hoods and fans when cooking and showering) and frequently changing pets’ litter boxes and cages can help minimize health risks associated with household air pollution. Other practical measures include opening windows and turning on exhaust fans when using noxious cleaning supplies or airing-out new furniture and carpet. Eliminating smoking in the home or the burning of toxic candles can significantly reduce air pollution too. And if you’re able to right now, ensuring that your ventilation system is functioning properly and your air filters are purifying appropriately can also significantly help reduce household air pollution.12,14

We don’t often think of the air quality inside our homes as immune support, but in addition to proper nutrition, minimizing air pollutants can help our immune systems stay healthy and balanced. Taking some of these simple steps to reduce household air pollution can help you stay well while you’re staying at home.

Denise John, PhD is a Science Researcher and Writer for Nordic Naturals. A published author, Denise holds a Doctorate in Neuroscience from Florida State University, and is passionate about sharing science to help others make informed choices and live better lives.

1. Simkovich SM, et al. NPJ Prim Care Respir Med. 2019. 29(1): p. 12.
2. Environmental Protection Agency. IARC Sci Publ. 1993. (109): p. 5-17.
3. Cincinelli A, Martellini T. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2017. 14(11).
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5. Bentayeb M, et al. 2013. 48(14): p. 1783-9.
6. Jiang XQ, et al. J Thorac Dis. 2016. 8(1): p. E31-40.
7. Smith-Sivertsen T, et al. 2009. 170(2): p. 211-20.
8. Cui X, et al. Environ Int. 2018. 114: p. 27-36.
9. Lin LY, et al. Sci Total Environ. 2013. 463-464: p. 176-81.
10. Day DB, et al. 2018. 28(3): p. 360-72.
11. Butz AM, et al. 2011. 165(8): p. 741-8.
12. Levasseur ME, et al. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2017/ 14(12).
13. Marc M, et al. Environ Sci Pollut Res Int. 2018. 25(3): p. 2065-82.
14. Lewkowska P, et al. Crit Rev Anal Chem. 2017. 47(1): p. 37-50.