A new study has linked greater exposure to air pollution with an increased severity of mental illness, adding to what we already know about the ill effects of breathing in dirty air.
The study, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, and conducted with 13,000 participants in south London, suggests that residential air pollution led to an almost 20% increase in the risk of hospital admission for people with a recent mental health diagnosis.
Exposure to air pollution has over the years been linked with a wide range of health issues and can affect every organ in the body.
Widescale government and industry intervention will be vital in bringing about real change. But there are ways you can reduce your personal exposure, both indoors and out, and minimise your own contributions to our national emissions.
1. Learn about the air quality in your area
There are free websites where you can get advice about air quality and associated health recommendations – for example, the London Air Quality Network website.
If you want more personalised information, you could buy a portable air quality monitor. You clip it to your bag or belt and it will send you data about the pollution you encounter over the course of the day.
The idea is that you can see when and where you’ve been most exposed to harmful chemicals in the air, and adjust your routine accordingly.
Clearly, many people don’t have the flexibility to be able to act on this information. Those with more time and money, and fewer obligations, will find it easier.
But we can all benefit from thinking more about the pollution we’re breathing in and generating for others to breathe.
If you’re aware of air pollution levels where you are, you can do small things such as alter your route to avoid more polluted streets or avoid strenuous outdoor activities when air pollution is particularly high.
Using public transport and carpooling where you can also helps reduce air pollution overall.
Tips for living well – get our free Food & Health newsletter to help you shop savvy, eat well and stay healthy
2. Get rid of damp and mould in your home
Indoor damp can lead to asthma and other respiratory problems, and provide a perfect breeding ground for clothes moths, dust mites, fleas and cockroaches.
If you notice water stains on your walls or ceiling, mould in the bathroom or condensation on your windows, it’s time to buy a dehumidifier.
There are two types of dehumidifier – refrigerant (sometimes called compressor) and desiccant – and these work differently. If your damp problem is in a room that’s generally heated, a refrigerant model will often be best, although we have found some desiccants that work just as well. If your damp problem is in a cold room, such as an unheated garage, choose a desiccant.
If you’ve got a serious problem, you’ll need to do more than buy a dehumidifier; if you’re renting and you’ve got a damp problem, your landlord should fix it.
Find out more about getting rid of damp.
3. Vacuum regularly
Vacuuming regularly helps get rid of potentially irritating particles and critters in your home. Moths, fleas, bed bugs and dust mites may lurk in carpets and rugs if left undisturbed for too long.
It’s important to look for a vacuum cleaner with good allergen retention, otherwise particles might just leak back out once they’ve been sucked up.
Our vacuum cleaner reviews will tell you which ones score five stars for allergen retention.
4. Make sure you have a carbon monoxide alarm
A carbon monoxide (CO) alarm is essential if you own a fuel-burning boiler (such as gas, LPG, oil or wood). CO poisoning can be deadly and is sometimes hard to recognise.
Carbon monoxide has no smell or taste and its symptoms (dizziness, shortness of breath, tiredness, confusion and nausea) can be mistaken for a number of different things.
Worryingly, there are plenty of CO alarms on sale that simply don’t work.
Consult our carbon monoxide detector reviews to find one that’s safe and reliable.
5. If you need an air purifier, buy a decent one
A good air purifier can be useful for allergy sufferers as they are designed to trap common household polluting particles. Some also come with carbon filters, designed to capture polluting gases and combat foul odours.
If you’re worried about the air quality in your home and you feel like it’s affecting your health, an air purifier could be something to consider. Our air purifier reviews can tell you which are best at trapping dust, pollen and smoke particles.
But air purifiers aren’t a perfect solution to the problem of air pollution and there’s more research needed within the market to make them as effective as possible.
You should first of all open a window and ventilate naturally – and cut down on whatever’s causing air pollution in your home. If you can’t easily ventilate (say, you have hay fever and need to keep windows shut a lot during the summer months to keep pollen particles out), then consider an air purifier. You’ll need to keep your windows closed while the air purifier is running otherwise more and more air will be gushing in for it to tackle.
If you’re buying an air purifier, choose one with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate absorbing) filter, as these must conform to specific standards that other types of filters (including ones called ‘HEPA-type’) do not.
Also, be aware that very small, often cheap, air purifiers won’t do much to purify the air in a room, as they’re unlikely to have a big enough fan to draw air in properly.
Discover the best air purifiers we’ve tested.
Dealing with air pollution at home
There’s more you can do to minimise your exposure to air pollution at home, without spending any money.
- Keep windows open when realistic, but avoid doing this at rush hour if you live on a busy road
- Avoid spraying air fresheners or burning scented candles and instead track down any bad smells at the source
- Use an extractor fan on your cooker hood when using the hob.