While staying indoors is helping us to shield from health threats such as coronavirus, being inside enclosed environments including offices and commercial buildings can still increase our risk of catching diseases in other ways. 

Many of us believe that the air indoors is safe to breathe. But according to numerous studies, indoor air quality can be 2 to 5 times worse than the air outdoors, and the fact that we spend 90% of our time in built establishments makes us vulnerable to the risks associated with bad indoor air quality. 

Poor indoor air quality is an important risk factor for the development and aggravation of respiratory illnesses. 

Common respiratory diseases caused by indoor air pollution

Asthma is a chronic respiratory problem that causes inflammation of the breathing passages of the lungs. The inflammation narrows and tightens the muscles around the airways resulting in breathing problems. Key triggers of poor indoor air quality and asthma include smoke, perfumes and fragrances, molds, dust, animal dander, and waste products and shedding body parts of pests like cockroach feces and saliva. 

Asthma is a disease that targets all ages, but there is one type of asthma that is most common to adults – occupational asthma, which is caused by the exposure to a number of allergens and contaminants in the workplace. Symptoms of occupational asthma are the same as any asthma attacks and may subside when the patient is no longer at work. 

Occupational asthma due to poor indoor air quality can result in employees taking more sick leaves or continuing to work at a reduced speed, thereby affecting their productivity and work quality. 

Bronchitis is an inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes that carry air back and forth the lungs. Symptoms of bronchitis include cough, shortness of breath, slight fever, chest discomfort, and production of mucus which can be clear, white, yellowish-gray, or green. Sometimes, it can have blood smudges in it.

Exposure to tobacco smoke, dust, vapor, and fumes contribute to the development of this disease. 

Pneumonia is another respiratory infection that leads to the inflammation to the alveoli, or the lung’s tiny air sacs. The air sacs may be filled with fluid causing symptoms such as cough that produces greenish, yellow or bloody mucus, fever, chills, shortness of breath, rapid and shallow breathing, loss of appetite, decreased energy, and confusion especially in older people. 

Lung cancer. Cancer is a disease in which abnormal cells in the body grow uncontrollably. When cancer begins in the lungs, it is referred to as lung cancer. There are 2 main types of lung cancer, the Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) that happens commonly in people who smoke or formerly smoke, but it can also happen to people who don’t. 

Small cell lung cancer (SCLC) is another type of lung cancer that grows and spreads faster than the NSCLC. The SCLC cancer tends to respond well to chemotherapy and radiation therapy but for some, the cancer might return at some point. 


Protecting yourself and the people in your workplace from respiratory illnesses

One of the most effective ways to prevent respiratory illnesses is to limit the exposure to indoor air pollution. During the days when the air quality is poor, ensure adequate ventilation, encourage your employees to wear a mask, use an air filter, and be careful with the products that you use for your workplace. 

Invest in indoor air quality monitors to test your air quality and be able to understand the existing and potential problems. 

Indoor air pollution may come from many sources, in different forms, and it’s difficult to fully avoid the exposure. But by monitoring your facility’s indoor air quality, you will be able to analyze the trends, gather valuable information that will help you improve indoor air quality and asthma morbidity, as well as other respiratory diseases mentioned above.


  1. Newsroom.uhc.com
  2. www.lung.org
  3. Medlineplus.gov
  4. www.cdc.gov
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