We all know that we need to breathe in oxygen for our bodies to function at all, but what else could we be breathing in, while we’re inside our own homes ?
The main ingredient in the air we breathe is not oxygen, but nitrogen. The percentage of oxygen in air is around 21% and the percentage of nitrogen in air is around 78%. The remaining 1% is made up of small amounts of other gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and argon. Luckily for us, we humans only like to use the oxygen part – this is absorbed by haemoglobin and forms oxyhaemoglobin. This then travels through our tissues and releases the oxygen, burning fat and carbohydrates, which in turn releases energy that we need. The nitrogen is not interested in bonding with anything in our body, so not very useful and so this part is exhaled out of our mouths and noses.
However, the air can be a dangerous place. Hidden particles and gases can cause a myriad of irritations, illness and even death – let’s have a look at some of these…
Cigarette and Cigar Smoke
Back in the 40s and 50s, adverts decorated the walls, newspapers and early television channels, proclaiming that smoking was good for you. We all know now that cigarettes are very bad for you. Being in a room with someone else smoking is bad for you. Inhaling smoke has been shown to open the door to lung cancer and a whole host of bronchial diseases. Passive smoke can damage the still-developing organs of children. The main offender in tobacco smoke is tar – when you breathe in tar, the body finds it difficult to get rid of it and your lungs begin to turn black.
Mold and Mildew
Mold and mildew can form where there’s high humidity and when the spores are inhaled, some can aggravate or even be the cause of serious illnesses such as asthma or lung disease. Black mold will often trigger episodes of coughing and sneezing and headaches. Some mold produce mycotoxins which can trigger vomiting as well as affecting the nervous system. If a room in a house gets too damp, mold can start to grow extremely quickly – within 24-48 hours.
The air is full of bacteria – over 1,800 kinds. The most common bacteria are Micrococcus, Bacillus, Pseudomonas and Staphylococcus. Micrococcus is a relatively harmless bacteria found on humans amongst many other species. Bacillus and Staphylococcus are in the main harmless, but can cause food poisoning. Pseudomonas is more often found in hospitals as it exploits people with weak immune systems, leading to infections. It very rarely infects healthy people.
A new study in January 2018 finds that flu can be transferred by simply breathing (as oppose to sneezing or coughing). As a person infected with the flu breathes out, the particles of the virus can stay suspended in the air for several minutes. Scientists have also recently discovered the extent at which viruses will travel through the air, being channelled up into the atmosphere and riding on the air currents that can transport them thousands of miles.
Dust is a pollutant which can be created by many different sources. Big particles of dust tend to fall down near where they were created. If you breathe in this kind of dust it would tend to get trapped by the noise hairs or mouth or swallowed. Smaller particles that you can’t see are more likely to enter the blood stream or lungs. If there is lot of this kind of dust in the air then this could trigger asthma attacks, sneezing and coughing and hayfever. For people who already have respiratory problems, dust can aggravate their conditions. Human dander (dry skin scales) also contributes to the dust.
People who are allergic to pets – notably cats and dogs, are not, as is widely believed, allergic to the animal’s hair, it’s a protein that lives in the animal’s saliva, urine and dander (skin flakes) that causes a bad reaction. The dander is more often found near to where the animal sleeps. These particles are small enough to travel through the air and of course breathed in.
Most paints contain a warning on the packaging about only using them in well ventilated areas – and rightly so, some paint products can generate fumes known as volatile organic compounds. If too many of these toxins are inhaled then all sorts of problems can begin, starting with mild headaches and dizziness through to serious liver damage.
Wood burning stoves are currently under the microscope of Professor Steffen Loft who has made a link between the particles that wood burners emit and those created by car exausts and coal powered fire stations and the consequences of inhaling to much of them, which he states can be a major cause of disease and DNA damage.