Health effects from indoor air pollutants
may be experienced soon after exposure or, possibly, years
Immediate effects may show up after a single exposure or
repeated exposures. These include irritation of the eyes,
nose, and throat, headaches, dizziness, and fatigue.
Such immediate effects are usually short-term and treatable.
Sometimes the treatment is simply eliminating the person's
exposure to the source of the pollution, if it can be identified.
Symptoms of some diseases, including asthma, hypersensitivity
pneumonitis, and humidifier fever, may also show up soon after
exposure to some indoor air pollutants.
The likelihood of immediate reactions to indoor air pollutants
depends on several factors. Age and preexisting medical conditions
are two important influences. In other cases, whether a person
reacts to a pollutant depends on individual sensitivity, which
varies tremendously from person to person. Some people can
become sensitized to biological pollutants after repeated
exposures, and it appears that some people can become sensitized
to chemical pollutants as well.
Certain immediate effects are similar to those from colds
or other viral diseases, so it is often difficult to determine
if the symptoms are a result of exposure to indoor air pollution.
For this reason, it is important to pay attention to the time
and place the symptoms occur. If the symptoms fade or go away
when a person is away from the home and return when the person
returns, an effort should be made to identify indoor air sources
that may be possible causes. Some effects may be made worse
by an inadequate supply of outdoor air or from the heating,
cooling, or humidity conditions prevalent in the home.
Other health effects may show up either years after exposure
has occurred or only after long or repeated periods of exposure.
These effects, which include some respiratory diseases, heart
disease, and cancer, can be severely debilitating or fatal.
It is prudent to try to improve the indoor air quality in
your home even if symptoms are not noticeable.
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. Further
research is needed to better understand which health effects
occur after exposure to the average pollutant concentrations
found in homes and which occur from the higher concentrations
that occur for short periods of time.