Clinical update

Improving air quality at home: what to advise patients

NICE guidance on risks for those with allergies or respiratory or cadiovascular conditions
Picture shows a woman wearing household gloves and holding a cleaning sponge looking at patches of mould. Poor air quality in the home is linked to a range of health problems, and guidance from NICE suggests how to achieve improvements.

NICE guidance on implications for those with allergies or respiratory or cadiovascular conditions, as well as pregnant women and young children

Essential facts

People spend up to 90% of their lives indoors and 60% of that time at home, according to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) .

While health risks caused by outdoor pollution are relatively well-known, air pollutants in the home are less well understood.

These include mould spores caused by dampness; toxic fumes from gas cookers, open fires, candles or wood burners; allergens from house dust mites; and vapours from household sprays, cleaning materials, paintwork and furnishings.

Poor indoor air

...

NICE guidance on implications for those with allergies or respiratory or cadiovascular conditions, as well as pregnant women and young children

Picture shows a woman wearing household gloves and holding a cleaning sponge looking at patches of mould. Poor air quality in the home is linked to a range of health problems, and guidance from NICE suggests how to achieve improvements.
Picture: Alamy

Essential facts

People spend up to 90% of their lives indoors and 60% of that time at home, according to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).

While health risks caused by outdoor pollution are relatively well-known, air pollutants in the home are less well understood.

These include mould spores caused by dampness; toxic fumes from gas cookers, open fires, candles or wood burners; allergens from house dust mites; and vapours from household sprays, cleaning materials, paintwork and furnishings.

Poor indoor air quality is linked to a range of health problems, including respiratory symptoms and conditions, such as coughs, wheezing or asthma, and allergic symptoms, including a runny nose or eye irritation, says NICE.

What’s new

NICE has published new guidance on indoor air quality in residential buildings, with the aim of raising awareness of the importance of good air quality in people’s homes and how to achieve it.

Targeted at various professionals, including those working in healthcare, it includes advice for people with pre-existing health conditions and pregnant women.

According to NICE, there is evidence that people with allergies or respiratory or cardiovascular conditions are particularly affected by poor indoor air quality, including pollutants from damp and from open solid fuel fires.

Furthermore, pregnant women, those who have recently given birth and young children are at increased risk from damp and other indoor pollutants. This is partly because these individuals may have compromised or undeveloped immune systems, and also because young children are likely to spend more time at home.

More essential clinical updates

Causes and symptoms

Exposure to indoor air pollutants, such as nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, particulates, biological agents and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), is widespread and may cause respiratory and other conditions, and premature death.

In addition, dust mite allergens, nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter are small enough to get into the lungs, inflaming and swelling airways, exacerbating asthma symptoms and triggering attacks, says NICE.

Implications for nurses

Healthcare professionals frequently see people with pre‑existing health conditions and women who are pregnant or have young children. This places them in an ideal position to give advice on how indoor air pollutants, as well as damp and mould, can affect health, and to suggest practical steps to improve indoor air quality.

Nursing staff can explain the effects pollutants may have on asthma and respiratory and cardiovascular conditions, advising about potential triggers such as household sprays or aerosols.

For those allergic to house dust mites, professionals should advise against using second-hand mattresses and to wash bed linen regularly.

Nursing staff should also strongly advise individuals to not smoke in the home, and to avoid or reduce the use of open solid fuel fires and candles where there are pregnant women and babies under 12 months old.

Expert comment

Picture of Helen Donovan, RCN professional lead for public health nursing. Poor air quality in the home is linked to a range of health problems, and guidance from NICE suggests how to achieve improvements.Helen Donovan is RCN professional lead for public health nursing

‘It’s useful to have these recommendations brought together in one place and set out clearly. We know that people with asthma or cardiovascular disease are adversely affected by poor quality indoor air.

‘While nurses who work with these patients will already be well aware of the effects, the NICE guidance provides a welcome evidence base.

‘Nurses play an important role in giving people information about what can make a difference to their health and well-being. Some depends on whether people can make the necessary changes to their lifestyle, bearing in mind cost factors too.

‘No individual healthcare professional, including nurses, can change poor landlords or housing stock. But they are part of the overall voice of opinion that can eventually have an impact, particularly those who are in situations where they can influence and lobby.’

 

Find out more

Want to read more?

Subscribe for unlimited access

Enjoy 1 month's access for £1 and get:

  • Full access to nursing standard.com and the Nursing Standard app
  • Monthly digital edition
  • RCNi Portfolio and interactive CPD quizzes
  • RCNi Learning with 200+ evidence-based modules
  • 10 articles a month from any other RCNi journal

This article is not available as part of an institutional subscription. Why is this?

Jobs