Air Quality and Quality of Life

I like to joke that breathing is a really nice thing to do, but the only people who really understand that comment are the ones who have trouble doing it.

In one example,

Symptomatic hyperventilation (SH) is a pathological condition that manifests with breathlessness, dyspnea, light-headedness, anxiety, and paresthesia.(1)

We know that vascular dementia — caused by the reduction of oxygen supply to the brain — is far more common than Alzheimer’s.

We know that sleep apnea, a breathing disorder when sleeping, affects the quality of life when awake.(4) It affects all age groups.(4)

A new British study proposes that learning disabilities in children are linked to air pollution.(11)

The US National Institutes of Health has been aware of the impact of breathing disorders on quality of life for more than 20 years, and developed a questionnaire to assess quality of life issues associated with breathing in 1997.(5)

However, the issue isn’t just breathing, but what you’re breathing. We’ve known since the 1970s that there is a higher incidence of cancer among people living near and downwind of nuclear power sites and paper mills. The teardrop shape of the area with higher incidence suggests this is an air pollution issue rather than water or ground waste.

What about cigarettes and second-hand smoke? That’s air pollution with potentially cancerous consequences.

The California fires have heightened awareness of air pollution, which took a dramatic turn for the worst in San Francisco during the peak of the fires. SF for a few days was home to the worst air pollution on the planet.

And this is all coming at a time when the Federal government is relaxing air quality standards and promoting the use of coal.

Of course, there’s also indoor air pollution. Some paint and some chemicals used in the manufacture of particle board, sheetrock and flooring create indoor health issues, as well as the usual mold, dust and animal hair.(6, 7) Some of these products emit formaldehyde and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs) as they age. Keeping a house tightly closed in winter compounds the indoor pollution problem.

That’s why I read with interest an article on CNET about a Utah company, Purple Air, which sells air quality sensors for indoor and outdoor use. The sensors are WIFI connected and transmit data to the company, which publishes air quality maps. The current crop of sensors are expensive ($175+) but there is an indication that they will have a new line of less expensive products in the future.(8) I’m not endorsing this particular product; I haven’t tried it yet. But it’s good to know they exist.

Ignorance isn’t bliss — it can actually kill you. You can’t deal with what you don’t know.


  1. Ok J-M, Park Y-B, Park Y-J (2018) Association of dysfunctional breathing with health-related quality of life: A cross-sectional study in a young population. PLoS ONE 13(10): e0205634.
  3. Bruton A, Lee A, Yardley L, et al. Physiotherapy breathing retraining for asthma: a randomized controlled trial. Lancet Respir Med. Published online December 13, 2017.
  9. U.S. EPA. An Introduction to Indoor Air Quality: Volatile Organic Compounds.
  10. U.S. EPA. Indoor Air Quality Tools for Schools: Paints and Coatings.
  11. E. Emerson, J. Robertson, C. Hatton, S. Baines. Risk of exposure to air pollution among British children with and without intellectual disabilities. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 2018; DOI: 10.1111/jir.12561

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