As the world battles COVID-19, many of us are hunkered down at home with our loved ones, waiting for things to get back to normal. But the unfortunate reality is that, even when the imminent threat of contracting coronavirus has passed, we are not out of the woods. In fact, COVID-19 is more than just a one-time crisis, it’s also a wake-up call to be more aware of our health.

But, wait… aren’t we more health-conscious than ever?

In many ways, we are! People are exercising, watching what they eat, taking care of their mental health. And yet, there is one major health factor that most of us ignore.

Air quality!

The environment is changing at an alarming rate. High numbers of wildfires, a warming climate, and increasing human consumption patterns have resulted in increasingly poor air quality. No matter how healthy you eat and how much you exercise, breathing unhealthy air can put you at risk for a whole bunch of issues like respiratory illness, mental health issues, heart problems, cancer, and even a shortened lifespan.

What are some of the most dangerous things in the air?

VOCs

That detergent that smells like springtime might give you a temporary mood boost, but, in the long run, scented home products can be dangerous. VOCs (or Volatile organic compounds) are found in building materials, personal care items, and cleaning products… and really almost everything manmade that has a smell.

Breathing in VOCs can cause anything from mild respiratory issues to damage to the nervous system. A number of these compounds, including formaldehyde, have been classified as toxic, but that doesn’t stop manufacturers from using them.

Mold

Aspergillus and Penicillium—the two most common indoor molds— exude tiny spores and mycotoxins, which can penetrate deep into your lungs and cause nasal inflammation and sometimes even lung infections. According to the EPA, even dead mold can cause allergic flare-ups.

Pollen

Climate change is making pollen season longer and more intense. For people with allergies, this can be disastrous. And, unfortunately, more people are developing pollen allergies. Currently, 10-30% of the world’s population are sniffling and sneezing their way through allergy season.

Radon

One in 15 American homes have dangerous levels of radon. The farther north you are, the greater your risk may be. That’s because when the air outside is cold, indoor air rises, creating a suction that can pull radon indoors. The problem is even worse in basements, where radon can slip in through cracks in the foundation. The EPA estimates that radon is responsible for 21,000 U.S. lung cancer deaths every year.

Outdoor pollution

While people are always hailing the benefits of fresh air, the truth is that, in many places, there really is no such thing. Urban areas are filled with exhaust fumes, soot, ozone, and metal particles. Breathing them in could mess up your heart rate and blood pressure and even raise your risk for stroke.

Viruses and bacteria

As COVID-19 has shown us, overpopulation, climate change, and industrialization make this an ideal time for illnesses to spread. Recent evidence suggests that viruses can possibly pass through entire office buildings, even when the doors are shut. That puts urban dwellers or anyone who works in an office at an even higher risk of getting sick.

Is there anything we can do to improve air quality?

As the environment deteriorates, these health threats will become more of an issue. On a large scale, policy change is the most effective way to improve our air quality. But, on a personal level, there are some changes you can make to keep your family’s air as healthy as possible.

Of course, living away from the most densely populated areas is the best way to improve your family’s air quality. But, that just isn’t an option for everyone.

If you live in an urban area, especially one with high levels of pollutants, check your air quality before going out. The morning is often the best time to be outside because ozone levels are lower. If you can, walk away from traffic and near trees or shoreline, where there are typically less pollutants.

Keep your indoor air clean

One of the most important investments you can make for your family’s health is to purchase an air purifier. A high-quality air purifier will eliminate pollen, mold, dust, and even most bacteria and viruses. There are some purifiers that also clean the air of most VOC’s.

As unsettling as COVID-19 is, it is also an opportunity for all of us to become more aware of the air we breathe… and to make some real changes to keep it cleaner.