What causes trouble breathing indoors?

By Anna Scott, PhD

We've all been in a building that doesn't smell so great, but you don't notice it once you've been there a while. So no harm, no foul, right?


Unhealthy indoor air can contribute to chronic diseases like asthma and life-threatening conditions like lung cancer, and it can also cause trouble breathing indoors.

A lot of the time, it's hard to diagnose the cause- that's the case with “Sick Building Syndrome”, a documented medical condition where people's health symptoms can be traced back to time they spend in a certain building, but no specific source is identified. We promise that we didn't make up this ominously named disease- see this EPA fact sheet, this WebMD article, or this scientific study.

The phenomena started in more modern buildings, which are built to be air-tight. This is great for energy efficiency- no heat escaping means lower bills-but without proper ventilation, it's a disaster for our health. Off-gassing from boilers, stoves, cleaning supplies and personal care products like deoderant all affect our health. In a poorly vented building, human lungs are the only thing filtering the air- that means that dust and chemicals get trapped in your lungs.

So what's the solution? Good ventilation and avoiding products associated with indoor pollution is the key. For homes with heating or cooling systems, regularly changing air filters is a must, and consider investing in an air purifier if your home doesn't have an HVAC system. Of course, we're partial to Clair, our air monitor that pinpoints which of these solutions is right for you, but in all cases, the solution is simple-more ventilation, identify your sources of pollution, and eliminate them.

For more reading:

- Indoor Air Pollutants and Health, from the American Lung Association

How I asthma-proofed my bedroom

By Yan Azdoud, PhD

If you’ve got asthma, like me, you may already know how indoor air can be up to five times more polluted than outdoor air, according to the EPA. 

When I first moved into a 100+ year old house in the Northeast, I struggled with asthma both inside and out. I thought by just avoiding houses with carpet, I would be fine, but I ended up having to do some serious research in order to identify and remove asthma triggers from my house. That research led me to help invent Clair, an air monitor that can identify some of the common asthma-triggering pollutants in the home. Clair helps me identify when the air levels are unhealthy, but it’s possible to take many of these actions without precise monitoring.

Doctors recommend focusing your efforts in the bedroom because most of your time at home is spent in your bedroom. As a fan of sleep, this is definitely true for me, but in my experience, it’s even more important to have a clean air sanctuary to retreat to when smoke particles from your neighbor’s barbeque fill the house, when your landlord decides to paint the basement, or when you’ve just gone a little too long without giving the house a proper dusting (it happens to the best of us!).

Here are my top tips: 

1) Buy hypo-allergenic bedding. The bed is the place where you spend most of your time in your home, so if you’re investing money, its best to do it here. You can also clean your mattress with baking soda- just sprinkle baka soda on top, leave for an hour or so, and then vacuum off. Tutorials online recommend using essential oils, but skip these if you have asthma- this can trigger an attack. 

2) Regularly wash your bed cover (once every 2 weeks). It’s a pain, but washing your cover on high heat can help kill off dust mites. I wash mine on the weekends in between running errands. 

3) Use a HEPA air purifier. Research shows that HEPA air purifiers are effective at removing indoor pollutants that are my asthma triggers. I invested in a HEPA-grade air purifier and run it whenever Clair shows unhealthy levels, when I’m dusting, or when my neighbor is firing up the barbeque. 

4) Vent your bedroom to lower humidity. Mold can be a serious asthma trigger; when Clair says that humidity levels are high, or when my room just feels damp, I open the window to flush out moisture. If you don’t wake up before rush hour, don’t leave your window open at night-this is especially true if you live on a busy street. 

5) Keep the bedroom door closed. It can be hard to control what’s happening in the rest of the house-visitors may wear strong perfume, somebody leaves the door open and smoke and pollution gets inside, or you’ve just gone too long since dusting-but having that sanctuary to retreat to really helps me.


Are you a parent? Check out more tips here :

- Asthma Management from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine

- Asthma Friendly bedroom tips 

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