If your time spent indoors during the pandemic had you yearning for a healthier home environment, you’re not alone. Creating a clean, fresh space is a booming wellness trend. But do you need to buy gadgets to combat stale air, or will dusting and opening windows do the trick?
If you live in a newer home near vegetation and away from water, you likely have good indoor air quality. But if you reside in a mold-prone older house near water, you may need to make some changes, said Danny Pulido, MD, a board-certified pulmonologist with Baptist Health.
Why the breathing buzz?
“COVID-19 made everyone more aware of their respiratory health and start to wonder if they’re breathing well,” Dr. Pulido said. “It sparked a lot of patients wanting to get an overall assessment of their lung capacity.”
Pulmonary function tests (PFTs) are noninvasive tests that gauge how well your lungs work.
“With equipment in our office we can measure airflow, the ability to convert oxygen to carbon dioxide, and lung capacity,” Dr. Pulido said. “The people who are requesting pulmonary tests are usually afraid they have or previously had COVID-19, or were exposed to someone with it,” Dr. Pulido said. “Doctors and patients are much more vigilant about respiratory systems now.”
But breathing issues don’t necessarily mean COVID. You can have a cough and some degree of shortness of breath without a coronavirus infection, and heart problems, allergies and blood problems can also cause shortness of breath.
“A lot of respiratory symptoms are environmental because we breathe in the air around us, and those issues could be related to what’s in the home,” Dr. Pulido said. He recommended doing symptom pattern recognition: If you have a cough, runny nose or shortness of breath when you are in your bedroom, but not when you go outside, then you know it is related to your indoor air quality.
Improve your in-home air
Dr. Pulido shared some tips to enhance your indoor environment:
- Buy HEPA filters for your air conditioning unit to remove contaminated particles. “It’s never a bad idea to have an air filter in your home and a HEPA filter is best,” Dr. Pulido said.
- Sanitize the air using an air purifier, which eliminates toxins, allergens and pollutants.
- Remove old carpets.
- Avoid plants that flower. Green leaf plants are beneficial.
- Don’t pick cats and birds as pets, they shed the most dander.
- Schedule an air quality assessment if you suspect mold or another issue (dark color change of the wall or water intrusion around the pipes or AC units).
- Get your air ducts cleaned. If you live in a wooded area, an older home or with pets, the AC system is picking up pollutants and they’re collecting in the ducts.
- Open windows for fresh air, just not on high pollen days.
When should you see a pulmonologist?
Start off with your primary care doctor, Dr. Pulido advised. If you experience a cough or shortness of breath that does not get better in three or four weeks, you may want to see a pulmonologist.
How can you boost your respiratory health?
Try to get outside and walk for 20 to 30 minutes a day. When you do that, you’re breathing in fresh air, and studies have shown that walking daily can help extend your life.
“With older family members being less active during lockdown, we’ve seen a lot of deconditioning. We are asking people to get back out there and start walking again,” said Dr. Pulido. “You can have healthy lungs and weak muscles, so we are always trying to encourage a healthy walking exercise routine.”
If you’re concerned about your respiratory wellness, your first step should be to call your primary care physician. If you don't have one, call 904.202.4YOU or click here to connect with a Baptist Health care coordinator who can help find the right doctor for you.