Clearing the Air

Every day, each of us breathes in two heaping tablespoon of assorted particles – dust, pollen, mold, smoke, carbon, tar, rubber, metals, bacteria – to say nothing of countless chemicals. Two tablespoons is a lot for the body to deal with. Most of us, however, can cope with those particles; our respiratory tracts are equipped with tiny fibers called cilia that help push pollutants back out of the body.

But a highly sensitive people can’t cope. A small amount of those some particles can put him in the hospital with a life threatening attack of bronchial asthma. Other, moderately sensitive people will suffer lesser degrees of misery. In some cases, allergic people can breathe small particles, but others particles such as dust and pollen make them sick. Others people only react to airborne chemicals. A few react to anything.

Apparently, allergic individuals just can’t handle all the debris in our air, minuscule as it may seem. And more people than ever are suffering from these ”inhalant” allergies – for a number of reasons. To begin with, converting forests and grasslands to fields of concrete has removed natural means of air filtration for pollen and dust.

That, in turn, has fostered growth of more primitive vegetation such as molds, yeasts, fungi and bacteria – all highly allergenic. Added to that is the chemicals free for all generated by home and industry: vapors from household cleaning products, furnaces, and solvents in furniture – to name a few sources.

If there were plenty of fresh air to dilute the load on their lungs, allergic people would stand a far better chance of tolerating it all. But high oil prices have led us to tighten up homes and office buildings, pulling on insulation and sealing cracks with weather stripping.

In these energy efficient buildings the total volume of air in a room – pollutants and all – is completely replaced only once every several hours: in a ”leaky” building without load of insulation, the air is replaced every hour or two. So if you have live or work in a tight building, you spend a lot of time in a place peppered with pollutants – which provoke itchy red eyes, coughing fits, swollen joints and various other health complains.

”Indoor air pollution is eight or ten times more troublesome than outdoor levels of air pollution in causing chronic illness,” says Theron Randolph, M.D., a well known allergist in Chicago, Illinois, and author of two book on environmental illness.

Three possible avenues of relief exist. One is to clean up the environment as a whole. That’s a task we can't even begin to address here. Equally important – especially for allergy sufferers – is to create a clean environment indoors, where most of us spend the majority of our time.

Third, you can create an unpolluted room in your home – a personal ”oasis” where you can take refuge from allergens, be they dust, pollen or chemicals. Combining the last two steps will help you to better tolerate the outside world.

”If we take an allergic person and put him or her in a clean room at home and clean up his or her office as much as we can, we can diminish his or her allergy by an enormous degree,” says Joseph J. McGovern, Jr.,M.D., an allergist in Oakland, California, who specializes in environmental illness.

The more pollutants you can avoid, the better you feel. So along with an in depth focus on several of the most troublesome allergens in the air, this chapter will offer useful advise on how to clear them out of your personal environment.

We’ll also show you how to increase ventilation and purify the air (without wasting energy). Keep in mind that whether you’re allergic to 1 inhalant or 50, the key to relief is to reduce your overall exposure as much as possible, using the most practical and effective means available.