Health effects of Particulate Matter

Everything you need to know about
Indoor Air Quality -  Episode 2

The health effects of particulate matter exposure (particularly PM2.5) can be huge: the average adult takes about 16 breaths per minute, or 960 breaths an hour - which comes to a grand total of 23,040 breaths each day. This is equivalent to approximately 2,000 gallons of air. We all know that consuming polluted water is a no-go… but imagine the health risks of breathing this much polluted air day in, day out!

Indoor air pollution is something that impacts our health, well-being, and productivity. When the air that we breathe is compromised (eg. there are too many particles in the air), we can feel sluggish or tired. Fine particulate matter is particularly dangerous, as particles of 2.5µg* or lower are small enough to enter directly into our organs!
(*micrograms per cubic meter)

Particulate Matter and Indoor Air Quality

Lungs affected by particulate matter

Although the simple act of "breathing" is something monotonous that we don't typically think about, the quality of air that we're feeding our bodies is something that deserves a second thought. Think about the last time you were having a barbeque - when you blew your nose afterwards, were there dark flecks?

We have protections in our airways (eg. our nose hairs, mucus, and cilia) that work to cleanse the air we breathe as much as possible before it fully enters our bodies. Here at HAVEN we often say there are two filters in your home - the one in your HVAC system, and the one in your lungs!

We can't control the quality of the air outside, but it's important to do as much as we can to ensure that we have clean air at home so that our body's own filters aren't working harder than they need to. 

Of course, the ideal level of Particulate Matter inside your home is zero - but this isn't always achievable due to the products we use, normal human activities, and outdoor air pollution which can be drawn inside. At HAVEN, we align ourselves with the air quality standards that the EPA has set:

PM < 12.0 µg/m3

How harmful is Particulate Matter?

Both short-term and long-term exposure to higher levels can result in health issues - especially among children, the elderly, or individuals with existing heart and/or respiratory diseases. In general, air pollution tends to exacerbate existing health conditions such as asthma, allergies, eczema and acne. It can also result in premature skin aging or skin cancer.

Exposure to PM may result in the following side effects or symptoms:

Health effects of Particulate Matter Exposure
Short-term Effects (exposure up to 24H) Long-term Effects
Asthma attacks Cancer
Eye, nose, and throat irritations (eg. coughing, difficulty breathing) Reduced lung functioning
Acute and chronic bronchitis Development/worsening of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases
Nonfatal heart attacks and/or irregular heartbeat (arrhythmias) for those with heart disease Premature death (especially for those with heart or lung disease)

It's important to reduce your exposure to Particulate Matter whenever possible. This may include staying indoors (with your windows closed) during times when PM levels are high outdoors, keeping and using your PM-producing products in well-ventilated areas of the home, installing air cleaners, and/or replacing your filters regularly.

What can you do to ensure healthy PM levels in your home?

The levels of PM in your home will fluctuate throughout the day depending on your habits and routine. It's normal for there to be spikes; the important thing is being able to bring down the level of indoor air pollution to a healthier range in a short time span (1-2 hours). Spikes in Particulate Matter that last longer than this range are called chronic events, and increase the health risks involved.

How to reduce levels of Particulate Matter at home:

High heat cooking causes Particulate Matter increase

  1. Improve filtration. Whether you have portable air purifiers or a central air system, filters don't last forever: keep track of your filters' life cycles and be sure to replace them at the appropriate time.
    (Did you know that HAVEN can automatically track filter usage and let you know when it's time for a replacement?)
  2. Increase ventilation. This is one of the most important things you can do to improve your indoor air quality. Opening a few windows or doors often helps increase airflow - but be mindful and avoid this action if there is a build up of pollen, wildfire smoke, or other outdoor pollutants.
  3. Improve your cooking habits. Be sure to increase ventilation where possible (eg. turning on your exhaust fan or opening a window) when cooking. Consider using cooking oils with a higher smoke point (eg. refined avocado oil, which has a smoke point of 520ºF) to reduce spikes in airborne particulate matter.
  4. Clean regularly. Regular dusting and vacuuming (or even better - mopping!) will help to keep dust levels down. Make sure your vacuum has an appropriate vacuum filter, otherwise you'll be releasing more PM into the air. Regularly washing the sheets, drapes, and other large fabric surfaces will also help to get rid of allergens and dust mites.
  5. Install an indoor air quality monitor. Having the data to show the air quality trends in your home can help you to understand how to improve and adapt your routines for cleaner, healthier indoor air.

Our users share that a good monitor has given them peace of mind and shown them exactly what to focus on to improve the air quality inside their homes. As part of the HAVEN product ecosystem, we have a Central Air Monitor that analyzes pollutants and comfort levels, and a Controller which can activate equipment (such as a humidifier or ventilation equipment) based on the Monitor's readings to automatically address spikes in indoor air pollution - for clean air peace of mind.

If you are interested in monitoring your IAQ, you can connect with your trusted HVAC contractor about HAVEN - or find a Pro through the HAVEN app! Get started here.

HAVEN IAQ Community Manager Beka Chen headshot

By Rebecca Chen, HAVEN Community Manager

📍 Vancouver, British Columbia

Want to see what other homeowners are saying about healthier breathing? Join the discussion:

What's a little-known tip that you've come across for healthier breathing?

About the Everything you Need to know About Indoor Air Quality series:

We started this series to help homeowners learn more about indoor air quality solutions, so thank you for joining us on this journey. If you missed our Intro to Particulate Matter and Volatile Organic Compounds, catch up here - and stay tuned for the next article where we focus on the health effects of Volatile Organic Compounds!

HAVEN™ is your professionally managed air quality solution, helping you and your family

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