Sources and Symptoms of Bad Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)

Sources and Symptoms of Bad Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)

The air we breathe plays a pivotal role in our overall health. While we often consider outdoor pollution the primary concern, the air quality inside our homes can significantly impact our well-being. Poor indoor air quality can manifest in various ways, from sneezing and coughing to more severe health issues. By understanding the common sources of indoor pollutants and recognizing the symptoms of poor air quality, we can take proactive measures to ensure a healthier living environment.

Common Sources of Indoor Air Pollution

Indoor air pollution can arise from myriad visible and invisible sources to the naked eye. While some are a natural part of our living environment, others result from human activities or the degradation of materials over time. Understanding these sources is the first step in addressing and mitigating their impact on our health. Here are some of the most common culprits:


Dust is a common household pollutant that accumulates quickly, especially in areas that are not cleaned regularly. It contains various particles, including dead skin cells, fabric fibers, pollen, and dirt. While dust itself may not pose significant health risks, it can act as a carrier for other harmful substances, aggravating allergies and respiratory conditions.

Pet Fur

For pet owners, pet fur can become airborne and significantly contribute to indoor air pollution. The hair from our furry companions, such as cats and dogs, can trigger allergic reactions and respiratory discomfort, particularly in individuals with pre-existing sensitivities.

Read our article “The Impact of Pets on Indoor Air Quality.”


Dander refers to tiny flecks of skin shed by animals with fur or feathers, including cats, dogs, rodents, and birds. These microscopic particles can become airborne and cause allergic reactions in susceptible individuals. Regular grooming and cleaning can help reduce the presence of dander in your home.

For a brief and concise overview of Pet Dander, visit the American Lung Association.


Allergens, such as pollen from plants, mites, and other tiny particles, are common sources of indoor air pollution. Proper ventilation, regular cleaning, including replacing HVAC air filters, and the use of air purifiers can help reduce allergen levels in your home.

Mold Spores

Mold spores can grow in damp and humid areas, releasing tiny particles that, when inhaled, can lead to respiratory problems and allergic reactions. Regularly checking for leaks, maintaining proper ventilation, and reducing humidity levels can help prevent mold growth and improve indoor air quality.

Asbestos Particles

Found in some older homes, asbestos can be released into the air when materials containing it break down or are disturbed. Inhalation of asbestos fibers can cause serious health conditions, including lung diseases and cancer. If you suspect the presence of asbestos, it's crucial to seek professional assistance for proper removal and disposal.


Smoke from tobacco, candles, or fireplaces contains a mix of harmful substances, including carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and particulate matter. Prolonged exposure to smoke can lead to respiratory problems and pose a greater risk for individuals with asthma or other respiratory conditions. Maintaining good ventilation and avoiding smoking indoors can help minimize smoke-related air pollution.

VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds)

VOCs are emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids, including paints, cleaning supplies, and other household products. Prolonged exposure to high levels of VOCs can lead to eye, nose, and throat irritation, headaches, and even long-term health effects. Opting for low-VOC or natural alternatives and ensuring proper ventilation can help reduce VOC levels indoors.

Toxic Fumes from Cooking Fuels

Inadequate ventilation while using certain cooking fuels, such as gas stoves or kerosene stoves, can release harmful fumes into the air. These fumes can include carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide, harming respiratory health. Proper ventilation and regular maintenance of cooking appliances can help minimize exposure to these toxic fumes.


Lead is often found in older homes with lead-based paints. When the paint deteriorates, lead particles can become airborne and pose serious health risks when inhaled. If you suspect the presence of lead-based paint in your home, it's important to seek professional advice for safe removal and remediation.


Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that can enter homes through cracks in the foundation or other openings. Prolonged exposure to high radon levels can increase the risk of lung cancer. Regular testing for radon and sealing any potential entry points can help mitigate radon-related air pollution.

Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that can be deadly in high concentrations. It is often produced by burning fuels in stoves, lanterns, burning charcoal, and gas ranges. Proper ventilation and regular maintenance of combustion appliances, along with installing carbon monoxide detectors, can help prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.

See “Introduction to Indoor Air Quality” by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for more resources and insight.


Symptoms of Poor Indoor Air Quality

The effects of indoor air pollution aren't always immediate or overt. Sometimes, they manifest subtly, mimicking other health conditions, making them easy to overlook. Recognizing these symptoms is crucial, as they are early indicators of deteriorating air quality in our living spaces. Here are some signs to watch out for:

Worsening Allergies or Asthma

If your allergies or asthma symptoms become more frequent or worsen, it may indicate poor indoor air quality. Airborne allergens, such as dust mites, pollen, pet dander, and mold spores, can trigger allergic reactions and exacerbate respiratory conditions.


Continual nasal congestion or a feeling of blocked sinuses can indicate the presence of indoor air pollutants. Airborne irritants, such as dust, pet dander, or mold, can cause inflammation and congestion in the nasal passages.


Frequent headaches, particularly indoors, could be a symptom of poor air quality. Chemical pollutants like volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from household products, tobacco smoke, or even carbon monoxide can contribute to headaches and discomfort.

Eye, Nose, and Throat Irritation

It may be due to poor indoor air quality if you experience red, itchy, watery eyes, a persistent runny or stuffy nose, or a scratchy throat. Airborne irritants, such as dust, allergens, mold spores, or chemical pollutants, can cause these symptoms.

Shortness of Breath

Feeling breathless or having trouble breathing while indoors can be a worrisome symptom of poor indoor air quality. Dust, allergens, mold, or even the presence of carbon monoxide or other toxic gases can affect the respiratory system, leading to breathing difficulties.

Skin Rash

Unexplained skin rashes or irritations that coincide with spending time indoors may be linked to poor indoor air quality. Airborne allergens or irritants can meet the skin and cause reactions in sensitive individuals.


Feeling fatigued despite getting adequate rest could be a sign of poor indoor air quality. The presence of pollutants like mold spores, chemicals, or high carbon dioxide levels can impact sleep quality and contribute to fatigue.


Experiencing frequent episodes of dizziness or lightheadedness while indoors may indicate poor indoor air quality. Carbon monoxide, a colorless and odorless gas, can accumulate in enclosed spaces and lead to dizziness, among other symptoms.


Persistent nausea or a feeling of queasiness without any apparent cause could be linked to poor indoor air quality. Exposure to certain chemicals, such as VOCs or carbon monoxide, can result in gastrointestinal discomfort and nausea.

Frequent Colds/Illness

If you find yourself falling ill more often or experiencing frequent cold-like symptoms, it may be time to evaluate the air quality in your home. Poor indoor air quality can weaken the immune system, making you more susceptible to respiratory infections and illnesses.


Taking Action

Awareness is just the beginning. Once we've identified potential pollutants and recognized their symptoms, the next step is to take proactive measures. Addressing poor indoor air quality requires a combination of preventive actions and remedial measures. Here's a list of a few actions you can take to effectively combat indoor air pollution and create a healthier living environment:

Test Indoor Air Quality

Use professional air quality testing kits or consult experts to assess the levels of pollutants in your home. See our article “How to Test Air Quality in Your Home.”

Identify and Address Pollution Sources

Once you've identified the sources of pollution, take appropriate action, such as regular cleaning, mold remediation, and minimizing the use of chemical-based products.

Improve Ventilation:

Ensure proper ventilation by opening windows, using exhaust fans in kitchens and bathrooms, and maintaining HVAC systems. The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers greater detail in their article “Improving Ventilation in Your Home.”

Use Air Purifiers:

Consider using air purifiers with HEPA filters to remove airborne particles and allergens from your indoor environment.

Maintain Cleanliness:

Regularly clean your home, vacuum carpets, and dust surfaces to minimize dust accumulation, pet dander, and other pollutants.

Indoor air quality is an essential facet of our daily lives, often overlooked but deeply intertwined with our overall well-being. By being vigilant, informed, and proactive, we can transform our living spaces into sanctuaries of health and comfort. Remember, every step, no matter how small, contributes to a cleaner and safer environment. Whether opting for natural products, ensuring regular maintenance, or simply being more aware of the air we breathe, each action paves the way for healthier living. Taking the right steps today ensures a future filled with fresh air and vibrant health for ourselves, our families, and our beloved pets.

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