Indoor Air Quality and Children’s Health: How to Identify and Solve IAQ Problems
From the day they’re born, our children are our most important responsibility. We want to take the best care of them possible, making sure they are happy and healthy.
Maybe your family chooses to eat organically, or religiously wash your children’s hands, but what many parents neglect to consider for their child’s health is indoor air quality (IAQ), or the combination of several air factors coming together that could negatively impact overall comfort, health, and wellbeing.
IAQ can play an important role in overall health and any air quality improvements, even simple changes, can greatly benefit the entire family.
Let’s break down how children and IAQ relate:
Why does IAQ affect children differently?
In essence, children’s bodies are still growing. According to the American Lung Association, the largest portion — nearly 80% of the air sacs needed to perform proper lung functions — will develop after birth. Further, children do not act like adults, and their behavior patterns can make them vulnerable to environmental factors. Generally, children are more susceptible to health risks and have a much harder time processing toxins than adults. For instance, children eat, breathe and drink more relative to their size than adults, and they tend to have more hand-to-mouth contact — making themselves more vulnerable to infection.
If your child is part of the 1 in 13 children in the US that suffer from asthma, this can make them even more susceptible to indoor air quality problems. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, asthma is the leading cause of school absenteeism due to chronic illness, and there has been substantial evidence collected that indicates that poor IAQ issues such as mold and pet dander play a role in triggering asthma symptoms.
What effect does IAQ have on children?
- Increase in long and short-term respiratory problems
- Eye irritation
- Allergic reactions
- Shortness of breath
Signs your children may be affected by poor IAQ:
- Complaints happen at particular times of the day or week
- Other people occupying the same space have similar complaints
- Complaints end when the child is removed from the area and reoccur when returned
- The area has recently been renovated or refinished
- New cleaning or pesticide products have been used in the area
- Smoking is allowed indoors
- A new pet has been introduced to a space
What steps can you take to reduce exposure and improve IAQ:
1. Don’t Smoke
This is the most important and effective action you can take, as secondhand smoke can be a serious threat to proper indoor air quality. If you are pregnant, it is especially important to not smoke.
If you are unable to stop smoking, smoking outdoors is your best option — far from open doors or windows. If other members of your family smoke, don’t allow them to smoke indoors. Further, do not smoke inside a closed car, especially if children are present.
2. Control household humidity and temperature
Humidity and temperature can be especially impactful on the overall feeling of a room. If a room is too cold or dry, too hot or too humid, this may cause discomfort.
Optimal humidity levels are between 30-50% and can vary based on your family’s needs. We recommend an ultrasonic humidifier to quietly and adequately humidify your spaces.
As for temperature, keeping your home at a recommended 68-72° Fahrenheit will help your family feel comfortable and sleep well. Additionally, running an air conditioner in your space can help eliminate or filter out indoor pollutants, but make sure to wash your air filters regularly.
3. Limit Dust Mite Exposure
- Wash bedding weekly in hot water to kill dust mites living on these objects.
- Use allergy-friendly pillowcases and mattress covers.
- Remove stuffed animals and old books from bedrooms or wash them in hot water weekly.
- Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter or a closed-air system.
- Install blinds instead of drapes. Consider hardwood flooring and tiles over carpeting.
4. Reduce Molds
In case of flooding, remove all standing water and water-damaged items within 24 hours to avoid mold growth. If mold is present or has started growing, wash the moldy surface with warm water and soap. After, wash the item in a solution of 4-parts water to 1-part bleach, making sure to wear protective gloves.
If you are sensitive to molds, ask someone else to clean these areas for you.
5. Reduce Pet Dander and Other Pests
Make sure your kitchen is thoroughly clean, this will reduce the likelihood of pests like insects coming into your home. Encourage your family to only eat in common eating areas like the kitchen and dining room to avoid tracking crumbs throughout the house.
If you have a pet like a cat or a dog, avoid purchasing dust and dander-catching furnishings like drapes and carpeted floors — if possible, opt for tile or blinds. Keep all pets off furniture like couches and beds. If your pet has a cloth pet bed, make sure to wash it in hot water monthly.
If your pet goes outside, make sure to wash off their faces and paws with a damp wash cloth to remove allergens they may have come in contact with while outside.
In general, clean frequently and thoroughly to control the amount of dander and hair around your home.
6. Minimize combustion pollutants
Yearly check-ups on your HVAC system will keep your system running efficiently — and don’t forget to get your air ducts cleaned every three to five years!
If using a fireplace, gas or wood stove, or a space heater, make sure the room is well-ventilated. If burning wood in a fireplace, make sure the wood is fully dry before burning. Using damp or green wood can increase the number of pollutant particles released and produce more smoke.
For your heating system, make sure to have it checked out yearly by a certified heating technician. Also, if your family has a central air system, make sure to get your ducts professionally cleaned every two to five years.
In general, never use a stove as a space heater, and never run cars or lawnmowers in a closed-off garage. These fumes can be deadly.
To further protect your family, install working CO detectors in all rooms.
7. Reduce exposure to VOCs
Avoid storing used paints and building supplies in your home. If you have leftover paint you wish to keep, make sure they are sealed properly in a cool, dry place, and labeled with the date (paints should be used within 2 years of opening). When disposing of paints, make sure they are disposed of properly in authorized collection points.