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Indoor pollutants and your health

Common indoor pollutants can hurt your health in a number of ways.

Many substances can pollute your indoor air.

Each one may affect you in a slightly different way. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, common air pollutants and their effects include:

Asbestos, found in some floor tiles; insulation; paint textures and compounds; and coating around pipes. Exposure can occur when material is disturbed during remodeling or demolition. Inhaling asbestos fibers increases risk of lung disease. Smokers are at even greater risk.

Biologicals, including mold, mildew, pollen, viruses and bacteria. These can irritate your eyes, nose and throat, and can cause shortness of breath, dizziness, sleepiness, fever, digestive trouble, asthma and the flu.

Carbon monoxide. Low doses of this gas from heating sources and car exhaust can cause fatigue. People with heart disease may have chest pain. Larger amounts of carbon monoxide can cause vision trouble, poor coordination, headache, dizziness, confusion, nausea and flu-like symptoms that go away when you're not at home. Eventually, breathing carbon monoxide could cause death.

Combustion byproducts. Created by furnaces, fireplaces and stoves, these can irritate your eyes, nose and throat. Some byproducts can cause breathing troubles such as bronchitis and lung infections, and even lung cancer.

Secondhand smoke. Smoke from cigarettes can irritate your eyes, nose and throat, cause headaches or lung cancer and raise your risk of heart disease. Kids are easily affected by smoke, which can raise their risk of bronchitis, pneumonia, ear infections and asthma.

Formaldehyde. Along with other organic gases found in many household products, formaldehyde can irritate your eyes, nose and throat. It can cause wheezing, coughing, fatigue, headaches, nausea, rash and cancer.

Lead. Found often in old paint, lead in low levels can cause brain and kidney damage, and slow mental and physical growth in children. High doses of lead can cause convulsions, coma and death.

Pesticides. These may irritate your eyes, nose and throat, damage your nervous system and kidneys, and increase your risk of cancer.

Radon. Exposure to this invisible, naturally occurring radioactive gas is one of the leading causes of lung cancer. Exposure doesn't cause immediate symptoms, however. Easy test kits are available to check your home for radon.

Reviewed 7/26/2022

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