The air in there

By Published On: April 30th, 2013

Dr. Myatt is a senior scientist at the leading consulting […]

043013bb-featureDr. Myatt is a senior scientist at the leading consulting firm Environmental Health and Engineering, Inc. and Director of Research Compliance at University of Rhode Island. He’s also a lecturer in Environmental Sciences at Brandeis University.

When most people think about air pollution, they think of outdoor air—which can be filled with fumes, exhaust from cars and pollen, particularly during allergy season. What many do not take into consideration, is that the air inside the home can be just as polluted. In fact, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, indoor air can be 5 to 100 times more polluted than outdoor air. Dust, pollen, pet dander and mold spores are all examples of the different types of airborne allergens that may be present in our homes without our knowledge, and are often times too small to see.  In addition to allergens, particles related to fuel combustion and other outdoor sources are small enough to easily migrate into your home. Furthermore, household cleaning solutions and other commonly used chemicals from paint, nail polish remover, etc. become airborne, adding additional particles known as VOCs (volatile organic compounds).
Maintaining good air quality should be a concern for all homeowners, and is particularly important for allergy-sufferers, small children, pregnant women and the elderly. Allergies may develop or be first recognized during pregnancy.  Additionally, in utero and early life exposures may play a role in the development of asthma and allergies.
Below are a few pointers on combating allergens and pollutants in the home for expectant mothers and families with newborns:

  • Dust Mites & Pet Dander:  Hypoallergenic bedding covers can keep dust mites and pet dander out of your mattress and pillows; whereas vacuum cleaners with HEPA filters are most effective at capturing allergens while cleaning (other vacuums can tend to re-aerosolize particles in a home).  The good news for pet owners with infants is that evidence suggests that babies living in a household with dogs or cats had no effect or decreased the chances that they will have asthma or other allergies later in life.
  • Pollen:  On days when the pollen count is high, avoid opening windows and avoid going outdoors, especially to exercise, in the mornings when pollen counts tend to also be higher. Indoors, consider an air purifier recommended most by allergists—the Doctor’s Choice Honeywell True HEPA line captures airborne pollutants and allergens from the air that passes through the filter, such as dust, pollen, pet dander, smoke and mold spores. Also effective is taking showers or baths to remove allergens from hair and skin before bed.
  • Dust: Even if you keep your home extremely neat and clean, dust has a way of collecting on surfaces. Keeping dust levels as low as possible is important considering children under the age of six ingest about 60 milligrams of dust per day! Dust in typical homes contains not only biological allergens (mold, pollen), but potentially hazardous chemicals (pesticides, flame retardants, phthalates). Phthalates, found in PVC floors, and vinyl toys among other items, have been implicated in increasing the risk of allergic diseases in children. Air purifiers again are a solution—they can help capture airborne dust before it settles, reducing the levels that can accumulate. It may even help reduce the frequency that you need to dust your furniture!
  • Particulate: Very small particles from fuel combustion (for example, cars, trucks, power plants) are so small they easily enter the home through cracks, windows and doors. Exposure to very small particles. Candles and wood fireplaces also generate combustion-related particles. A number of health effects have been associated with small particles (less than 2.5 microns in aerodynamic diameter), including asthma exacerbations in children and birth outcomes, like low birth weight. As we spend a great deal of our day indoors, air purifiers have been shown to reduce exposures.

For more tips on maintaining better indoor air quality, whether you’re expecting or already have a little one (or two), visit