Allergies, Asthma and Poor Indoor Air Quality Continue to Be Major Health Concerns

CHICAGO -- Americans spend approximately 90 percent of their time indoors where they're exposed to polluted air that can negatively impact their health. Studies conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have shown that indoor air pollution levels can be two to five times higher than outdoor air pollution levels. In some cases, indoor air pollution levels may be more than 100 times higher than outdoor air. Common indoor pollutants include tobacco smoke, pollen, mold, dust and pet dander, all of which are often associated with asthmatic and allergic conditions. This is bad news for the 57-million Americans who live with asthma and allergies.

In the last decade, the trend toward "tight," energy-efficient homes has led to insufficient indoor airflow, exposing inhabitants to unhealthy, stagnant air. An analysis of air in a new home can reveal harmful contaminants that come from carpet, flooring and other building materials. Excessive moisture produced by bathing or cooking can lead to mold growth and cause headaches, dizziness and fatigue -- symptoms which can aggravate existing respiratory conditions.

"When contaminants are trapped in tight, energy-efficient homes, a volatile, unhealthy mix is added to the home's environment. It becomes imperative that people take steps such as eliminating tobacco smoke, having appliances inspected professionally and using a HEPA air purifier to remove these contaminants," said Tom Griffin, a director of the Indoor Air Quality Association with a PhD in environmental health.

HEPA technology was developed in the 1940s by the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission to fulfill a top-secret need for an efficient way to filter radioactive particulate contaminants. Today, this technology is applied to portable systems that can help consumers clean the air inside their homes. HEPA filter devices are designed to trap 99.97 percent of airborne particles 0.3 microns in size or larger from the air passing through the filter.

By using a fan first to draw contaminated air through a carbon filter, HEPA purifiers help reduce odors and extract larger particles. The air then continues through the HEPA filter, which is a tightly woven fiber sieve. The filtered air is then distributed throughout the room.

HEPA products are frequently used by those who suffer from severe respiratory ailments. According to the American Lung Association (ALA), the number of asthma and allergy sufferers is on the rise and the severity of their conditions has a huge financial impact on the public. Increasing costs associated with asthma, including missed time from school or work and medical care, were estimated to be $11.3 billion in 1998.

Pets in the home can cause additional breathing difficulties for those who have existing allergy problems. Pet dander tends to remain in house even after the animal has been removed. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), highly sensitive people who inhale pet dander can have severe reactions (wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath) in as little as 15 to 30 minutes. "The HEPA air cleaner is one way to help reduce a pet owner's symptoms," said Clifford W. Bassett, MD, a fellow of the American Academy of Allergy & Immunology and director of Allergy and Asthma Care of New York.

There are many ways individuals can improve their indoor air quality and reduce allergy and asthma symptoms, in addition to using a HEPA air purifier. Eliminating tobacco smoke, wiping up surface dust with a damp cloth, using allergen-impermeable covers for bedding and pillows, removing carpeting from bedrooms and keeping perfume, cleaning chemicals and room deodorizer usage at low levels will help reduce these aggravating triggers. HEPA air purifiers should be selected on the basis of room size and the manufacturer's suggestion.