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The air quality in your home may not be as good as you think it is, but there are simple steps you can take to improve it. MoMo Productions/Getty Images
  • Your indoor air quality can affect your respiratory health.
  • As you spend more time indoors during the COVID-19 pandemic, experts say this is a great time to focus on improving your indoor air quality.
  • Excess dust and pet dandruff can lower your indoor air quality.
  • Also, scented candles and some holiday decorations have toxic fumes and chemicals that can all inflame allergies and lead to allergic reactions.

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As we continue to shelter in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re also staring ahead at a long winter that will see us spending more time indoors than ever.

One thing that might not be at top of mind when it comes to being inside so much is the air quality of our living spaces.

While we hunker down inside to keep ourselves and those around us safe, are we doing enough to make sure the air we breathe is up to par?

Dr. Neeta Ogden, an allergy, asthma, and immunology specialist who has a private practice, said she doesn’t believe enough people recognize how much their indoor air quality is tied to their respiratory health.

She said people who have common conditions like seasonal allergies and asthma, who have a reactive airway, all need to be especially aware of indoor air quality.

Beyond this, a person who is fighting off a common cold should consider the air quality in their home.

“As an allergist, I’m concerned about how people maintain their home environment, keeping things relatively clean in the sense of dust and dust mites around their bedroom and their home in general,” Ogden told Healthline.

“I’m also focused on being thoughtful of inhaled triggers from smoke from fires and wood-burning fireplace, about candles, especially during the holidays,” she said.

Ogden added that scents from mood misters and cold air itself can be triggers if you’re opening up your windows during the wintertime or going for walks outside in the low temperatures of the season.

Other triggers can be in the form of pet dander and mold that might be in your home.

Basically, all of these are common-sense things that we just might not take the time to notice in our busy day-to-day lives.

Dr. Reza Ronaghi, a pulmonologist at UCLA Health, said the current realities of COVID-19 mean we have to keep multiple things in mind at once: adhering to protective measures against the coronavirus while also keeping one’s respiratory health in check while spending a significant amount of time indoors.

“You want to make sure it is a well-ventilated [area] and to make sure you still social distance even if indoors. Masks should be worn even if you are indoors and close to others,” Ronaghi wrote in an email to Healthline. “Remember that there are different causes of allergies. Make sure there are not dust or allergens inside. Remember to still use your inhalers if you have allergies.”

Ogden suggested carrying out something of a home air quality self-inspection.

Survey your home and see what might be causing a breathing problem or be an irritant.

Do you have mold in your walls from built-up moisture? Have your pets brought in particles from falling leaves and branches as they play outside in the final days of autumn?

Other culprits are holiday decorations. With December comes Christmas trees and scented candles galore. Ronaghi stressed that candles and some decorations have toxic fumes and chemicals that can all inflame allergies and lead to allergic reactions.

“Inhalation can lead to respiratory symptoms. It is important to remember to keep windows open if you will have these toxic fumes and chemicals,” he added. “Air purifiers also work to clean the air, therefore remember that Christmas trees, decorations and candles can all cause respiratory symptoms.”

Ogden explained that it is always better “to go natural” with your seasonal decor.

Scented candles can be as irritating as a perfume, not ideal if lit in a home where someone is already dealing with regular asthma symptoms, for instance. The smell from these types of candles can give headaches.

She said try opting for “more natural things” like eucalyptus branches or a real Christmas tree that can naturally filter the air and provide added oxygen.

Some fake tress or other items you might have in storage in your basement or attic might have accumulated dust or mold.

Ogden added that when you do retrieve these items, consider doing it while wearing a mask or gloves, and wash your hands afterward.

Additionally, she suggested that cooking can be a way to introduce more “natural scents” to your home.

The smell of coffee or vanilla beans from baking — also a suggestion for a hobby to adopt while sheltering at home — can provide an alternative to some of the artificial scents that come from a candle, for instance.

There are several ways to strive to improve air quality.

Ronaghi wrote that you should avoid vacuuming and dusting too much indoors, and avoid fans that “may blow the dust and dirt.”

Ogden said that, given people are now engaging in more activities indoors (think: regular workout and yoga sessions where you’re constantly breathing in particles floating around in your home), it’s important to know what to remove from your environment and what to add.

“One thing I would suggest is people invest in really good air purifiers, one of the number one things. I use a 3M Filtrete purifier … and I also like cool-mist humidifiers that you put on your bedside, especially during the dryness of wintertime,” Ogden said.

Ogden also recommended that people find a good saline nose rinse solution, which she calls “a shower for the nose.”

Given that candle fragrance or pet dandruff and other irritants all stir in the air and lodge in the nose, it’s a way to clear your nostrils, especially before bed.

She added that it’s always helpful to take vitamin C and D supplements as well to help reduce respiratory symptoms.

Ronaghi stressed that when seeking out products like air purifiers, the best ones are “commercial grade with HEPA filters” and that these “are best to use to clean indoor air, and help protect against COVID.”

“I unequivocally recommend that people get air purifiers and really be cognizant of their indoor home air as being a source of health they can control, because they are such easy steps and they can actually make a real difference in how you feel,” Ogden added.

“These are small steps, but they are empowering and they can really help,” she said.