Air quality, be it indoor or outdoor, has a profound, and until recently largely unknown, effect on the health and well-being of the human body. A direct link from indoor particulate matter, biological contaminants, VOC’s and numerous other substances in the air to common health issues has been found (Garcia-Perez et al, 2009).
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The public is largely unaware of the problems beset them concerning this issue. Air quality is difficult to see with the naked eye and many people are completely ignorant of some of the chemicals they breathe in on a daily basis.
The most obvious effect of poor air quality is lung cancer. Cancer clusters have been studied in the vicinity of known air pollution centers and a link has been proposed between the two (Garcia-Perez, 2009). Other effects that are proposed to have a correlation to air quality are asthma, increased sensitization to allergens, and other respiratory symptoms.
General levels of comfort are shown to be affected with an increase in headaches, sore throats, and eye irritation (Daisey et al, 2010). Studies examining both indoor air quality and disease symptoms are not very numerous, which is an area that requires extensive further research.
Children are more affected by the air in which they breathe for several reasons. Decreased immunity when compared to adults leads to a higher airborne infection rate than those with an established immune system. Culturally, children are not as much in command of their environment. This is why schools and homes tend to be studied more than other areas. Children are subjected to the air in which they are, many times, forced to breathe.
While adults may be able to choose to change the ventilation of their surroundings or the materials in their area, children are not. The leading reason for children’s susceptibility to air pollution, however, is a factor of dosage. Their smaller bodies naturally make them prone to a higher concentration of particulate matter or biological contaminants (Hricko et al, 2010).
Some of the solutions that should be proposed to nurses and health care workers are obvious. Proper ventilation is the first area a health care worker should look in improving air quality. Numerous school atmospheres are below standards set by the ASHRAE standard (Daisey et al, 2010).
The EPA backs up this claim but also suggesting that air be filtered continuosly, possibly by forced-air heating and cooling systems. It is vital that air not be brought from the outside as that may create increased levels of particulate matter and pollution levels from outside (EPA.gov, 2010).
Beyond the obvious implications of proper ventilation, education of the public of possible health hazards are necessary. It is the responsibility of the health care worker to educate the public on possible hazardous materials that may be decreasing their air quality.
Formaldehyde along with numerous other possible carcinogens have been found in the air of some schools (Daisey et al, 2010). The EPA recommends that all potentially hazardous activities either be performed outside if possible or in a properly ventilated environment. These activities include painting, welding, soldering, paint stripping even sanding along with numerous others. Many times people are unaware of the impact simple activities can have on their own health.
The immediate reaction of a concerned nurse is to change something they deem as a problem. Caution is necessary, though, in all actions. An example of a caring group changing a situation for the worse is that of impoverished families in 3rd world countries burning biomass fuels indoors. It has been well documented by numerous organizations that air quality is severely diminished by burning wood or coal indoors. However, when proper ventilation was installed in homes heated with biomass fuels, malaria increased significantly.
Researchers found out after the fact that the smoke caused by burning the fuel was warding off mosquitoes that cause malaria (Biran et al, 2007). This is not to say that nurses should not recommend accepted health precautions, it is simply a warning that all suggestions should be weighed against their possible consequences. At the very least, a solution that benefits all those involved needs to be investigated. In this case, proper mosquito screening needed to be installed along with better ventilation.
The solutions to increasing air quality, especially for children, are simple when compared to numerous other health hazards. Proper ventilation is both the most obvious and simplest method of improving IAQ. Reducing the amount of air entering indoor environments by keeping windows closed and clearing indoor air of particulates and possible carcinogens via filtration systems are the two biggest ways to decrease health effects such as asthma, increased allergic reactions or even lung cancer.
As with anything else, education of the public by the nurses is necessary for the problem to actually be solved. It is important that people learn how to help themselves. Health care workers are in the best position to do so.
Biran, A., Smith, L., Lines, J., Ensink, J., & Cameron, M. (2007). Smoke and malaria: are interventions to reduce exposure to indoor air pollution likely to increase exposure to mosquitoes?. Transactions of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, 101, 1065-1071.
Daisey, J., Angell, W., & Apte, M. (2010). INDOOR AIR QUALITY, VENTILATION AND HEALTH SYMPTOMS IN SCHOOLS: AN ANALYSIS OF EXISTING INFORMATION. Indoor Air, 13(1), 53-64.
Garcia, J., Coelho, L., Gouveia, C., Cerdeira, R., Louro, C., Ferreira, T., et al. (2005). Transactions of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. Transactions of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, 1, 526-531.