Cold Weather is Here: How Can You Stay Healthy?

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December 13, 2017

It feels like winter weather has finally arrived this week, with temperatures across the United States dropping lower and lower every day. Weather like this makes braving the outdoors seem less appealing and staying in our warm, safe homes the better option--but what if indoors wasn’t as safe as it seemed?

Colder outdoor temperatures cause us to turn our homes into warm escapes--we pile on blankets, turn on heaters, and shut all windows and doors. While closing up the house can be effective at keeping the cold air from flowing it, it can also prevent any “bad air” from flowing out.

What do we mean by bad air? It’s actually more common than you may realize.

Many of us take for granted that the air we’re breathing is healthy and safe since it’s not something we can typically see–but this isn’t the case, especially for air that’s indoors. In fact, indoor air can be 5x more polluted than outdoors, which can affect allergies, asthma, our ability to concentrate, the quality of our sleep, and more. Particularly “unhealthy” or “bad” air can even cause a variety of health problems, including dry skin and eyes, coughing and sneezing, headaches, hives, and nausea.

What exactly happens when we close up our homes to keep the cold air out?

Essentially, we cut off the opportunity for fresh outdoor air to enter our home and promote healthy airflow. As the air indoors grows stale, certain unhealthy factors that affect our air quality become more apparent by the minute, until the air begins to affect our health.

Air that has been locked up indoors will most likely have…

1. High Levels of Chemicals

Yes--chemicals! The chemicals typically found in your air are known as VOCs, or volatile organic compounds. “VOC” is an umbrella term used to describe any organic chemical that evaporates easily at room temperature–and this trait is what helps make VOCs very common. VOCs can sometimes come in scary packages, including Formaldehyde, Benzene, and Acetone.

Everyday activities like cooking, cleaning, and burning wood in a fireplace can add more VOCs to the air in your home, and if there is no escape route through an open window or door, these chemicals will settle in your air and begin to harm your health.

Short-term side effects of VOCs include headaches as well as itchy eyes, nose, throat, and skin. Too much exposure to VOCs has also been linked to eczema flare-ups, acne breakouts, hives, allergies, asthma attacks, and cancer.

2. Dust

One piece of dust contains a potpourri of unpleasant items, like dead skin, mold spores, pieces of dead insects, and pet dander.

One of the most common ways to accidentally introduce dust into your home is by turning up the heat--dust mites that have settled in your vents and on your furnace will be blown into the air around your home. Without fresh air to properly ventilate the dust mites out, you’ll begin to feel uncomfortable side effects.

Dust can cause itchiness, asthma, eczema, and hay fever. Exposure to dust mites has also been linked to conjunctivitis, hypersensitive pneumonia, and both allergic and migraine headaches.

3. Too Much Carbon Dioxide

Carbon dioxide is by no means a toxic gas–it’s a very natural ingredient in the air we breathe. Humans play a role in adding carbon dioxide to our air, since we exhale about 2.3 pounds of carbon dioxide every day. While we may not notice carbon dioxide in our air the same way we would for other gases, it’s very important to keep it in moderation.

High levels of carbon dioxide have been linked to headaches, difficulty making decisions, decreased productivity, and drowsiness. Without a way for fresh air to properly flow into your home, you’ll begin unknowingly pumping those 2.3 pounds of carbon dioxide into the air, and after a short while you’ll most likely begin to notice these symptoms.

4. Unhealthy Humidity

Humidity plays an important role in your overall comfort, and too high or low humidity can cause health problems.

Certain activities like cooking and showering can quickly add extra humidity to your air, and without an open window nearby, you run the risk of the humidity causing mold and mildew growth.

Keep Your Home Healthier Year-Round

Fresh air is the best way to keep your home healthy, but it isn’t very realistic to open a window if it’s freezing outdoors. So how can you make sure you have a warm, healthy  home?

It's easier than you think. A few quick changes can help make sure you have healthy air, no matter how cold it is outside:

1. Air Cleaning Houseplants

Everyone knows plants absorb carbon dioxide to help create oxygen, but some houseplants can even act as natural air purifiers by helping balance the amount of chemicals, humidity, and even mold spores in your air.

To learn about which plants will be right for your home, read our blog post here.

2. Fans

Fans are the best way to promote air flow in your home. If you can, try to at least run a fan on low to help you push air around your home. Running the exhaust fan over your stove can also help pull unhealthy air from your kitchen.

3. Monitor Your Air

Take the guesswork out of keeping your air clean with an indoor air quality monitor, like Awair. Awair tracks toxins and chemicals in your air and gives you personalized recommendations to help you stay safe and healthy.