3 Air Quality Factors That Increase Your Risk of Infection

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March 1, 2020

As the Coronavirus continues to spread, more people are stocking up on hand sanitizer, staying home sick from work, avoiding unnecessary travel, and doing everything the Center for Disease Control (CDC) begs us to do every flu season with newfound dedication. 

Whatever your quest to remain germ-free entails, you can’t afford to overlook air quality. Below, we’ve outlined three key environmental factors that can weaken your immune system and increase your vulnerability to infection.

1. Low Temperatures

There’s a reason why flu season always occurs in the wintertime. It’s the same reason why some health experts are wondering if the Coronavirus will show similar seasonality, with a decline in the number of cases during the summer and resurgence in the early fall. 

Research indicates that Rhinoviruses, the leading cause of the common cold, survive and spread more efficiently at lower temperatures. This may be because Rhinoviruses replicate better at cooler temperatures or because cold, dry weather enables the virus to remain infectious outside of the body for longer.

A cold weather-induced runny nose can also increase your susceptibility to infection. When your nose is running, you touch your face more frequently and increase your risk of transmitting a virus from a contaminated surface into your nasal passageway.  Habitually blowing your nose can irritate your skin as well, bringing the capillaries closer to the surface and giving viruses more direct access to your bloodstream. As if this wasn't enough, frigid outdoor temperatures force us to spend more time indoors, where close contact and contamination is more likely.

That said, winter isn’t the only time when temperature should be on your mind. As spring approaches, be mindful of your thermostat and resist the urge to over-air condition your home and office when the summertime heat sets in.

2. Low Humidity

Low humidity is the second reason why winter is synonymous with cold and flu season. Cold air holds less moisture than warm air, so outdoor humidity levels naturally drop alongside temperature. Indoor heating systems exacerbate the problem by drying up what little moisture is left inside our homes, offices, and other public spaces. Researchers believe that low-humidity environments help viruses like the flu linger in the air for a longer period of time, thereby increasing the risk of exposure and aiding outbreaks.

In one compelling CDC study, researchers used “breathing” and “coughing” mannequins to simulate how influenza is spread and test how humidity affects transmission rates. When indoor humidity levels were low (23 percent), 70 to 77 percent of the flu virus particles that had been “coughed” into the air were still infectious one hour later. When airborne humidity was increased to 43 percent, only 14 percent of the virus particles were still infectious after one hour. In fact, higher humidity levels caused most of the flu virus particles to break down and become inactive after just 15 minutes. 

The takeaway? Being mindful of indoor humidity levels — especially during seasonal changes — can help you stay healthy year-round. Investing in a good humidifier can also reduce airway irritation and help keep shared spaces more sanitary.

3. High Particulate Matter

Many studies have confirmed a link between ambient particulate matter (PM2.5) and chronic conditions like asthma and eczema. For people who have a genetic predisposition to certain conditions, air pollution can serve as the environmental spark that causes these genes to be expressed.

Even if you don’t have a preexisting condition, chronic PM2.5 exposure can affect the overall health of your immune system. Studies show that high PM2.5 exposure can cause chronic airway inflammation and increase your risk of developing a respiratory infection as well as other long-term complications

Elevated PM2.5 levels can also enhance the body’s natural allergic inflammatory and immune responses. This overcompensating function can eventually lead to allergic sensitization (i.e. allergy development).

Take Control of the Air You Breathe

Although you can’t change outdoor conditions, you can take steps to improve your indoor environment and keep your immune system healthy. Awair Element tracks temperature, humidity, PM2.5, carbon dioxide (CO2), and toxic chemicals (VOCs) and gives you the insight and guidance to improve your indoor air quality.

To learn more about Awair Element and how it can help you take action when it matters most, follow the link below.