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Air Pollution Increases COVID-19 Risk: 6 Ways Protect Yourself

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If you were here in 2003, you likely remember the SARS epidemic. How could any of us forget watching that coronavirus sweep through Ontario and the nation?

As then, so now - only this time the coronavirus is spreading faster… well, you've read the news headlines. You know.

What you may not know is this: the 2003 SARS epidemic taught us a lot. While it may seem as if we’ve been caught unprepared for SARS-CoV-2, aka COVID-19, scientists have actually been studying the 2003 epidemic all along, searching for clues, links, anything at all that we can use when (not if) it happened again.

Now it has happened again. So what can science share to help us fight back?

Here is what we now know: air pollution makes the threat worse.

Exposure to polluted air makes healthy people sicker once the virus crosses their path. If air quality improves, cases lessen and symptoms become milder.

You can't clean up the air outdoors (although astronauts aboard the International Space Station have confirmed the air is visibly clearing in areas where people are actively sheltering in place).

But you can clean up your indoor air.

Even if you are sick or someone you are caring for is ill, cleaning up your indoor air now can potentially help you recover faster and stay well.

Learn what you can do now to clean up your indoor air and help your immune system help you stay well.

1. Take smoking and vaping outside

Obviously, giving up smoking and vaping would deliver the best results.

But for the sake of staying realistic, at least do your lungs and loved ones a service by taking these habits as far away from your indoor airspace as possible.

After all, the place where this new coronavirus is hitting the hardest is in the lungs. Pneumonia as a secondary infection is currently the leading cause of COVID-19 fatalities.

2. Cease all use of air fresheners, fragrances and perfumes

We realize it can be challenging to give up your favorite scents in these challenging times. But you don't have to give them up entirely! You just have to change the source.

The vast majority of commercially sold air "fresheners" and so many fragranced personal care products get their wonderful scents via toxic combinations of unpronounceable chemicals.

These chemicals are extremely irritating to the sensitive tissues of your respiratory system and lungs.

By far a better way to enjoy the scents you love is through natural citrus, spices, fresh flowers, essential oils and natural teas. Have you ever tried boiling water on the stove and dropping in an apple spice tea bag or a fresh clove stick? Heaven.

Even better, many essential oils actually have immune-protective properties.

Ginger, sweet marjoram, cinnamon, lavender, lemon, cypress, eucalyptus and others have been studied for their abilities to boost T-cell counts in the body's immune system (T-cells are the "killer" cells that fight off disease).

3. Keep your furnace air filter (and any other air filters) clean

The cleaner your furnace air filter is, the more toxins it can trap. The same holds true if you have an air filter in your vacuum cleaner or are using any indoor air quality aids like humidifiers, dehumidifiers or HEPA filtration systems.

If your stove has an exhaust vent, now is the perfect time to check and clean that as well. And make sure you give your clothes dryer a good cleaning and check the exhaust vent to clear away any built up dust.

Basically, if it is in or near your house and has an air filter, make sure it is cleaned regularly and thoroughly (or replaced on schedule) according to the manufacturer's instructions.

4. Tend to your HVAC coils, air registers, fans and exhaust vents

Isn't it amazing how quickly your ceiling fans can collect dust? The same holds true for your air registers and exhaust vents and HVAC coils. Dust just seems to gravitate to these places, where it is largely unseen but definitely felt.

Your lungs are also air filters and you don't want to make their job harder by letting dust build up inside your home. The most effective method of dusting is to use a wet cloth to actively trap the dust particles. The cloth can then be rinsed and washed. 

5. Cook outside or use slow cookers rather than your stove

As much as we all love to eat yummy food, cooking on a wood or gas stove releases a host of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into your indoor air. Even if your gas stove has a hood (vent) you can use while you are cooking, you can't avoid breathing in some of those chemicals.

It may not sound wonderful to grill outdoors in the winter, but you would be doing your lungs a favor. Another option is to open up your windows and run a ceiling or floor fan while you are cooking indoors to exhaust any toxins to the outdoors as quickly as possible.

Another option to reduce VOCs inside your home is to use an electric slow cooker or your oven rather than cooking on the stove. Even if you don't make this change permanently, it sure can't hurt to do it temporarily until the COVID-19 threat lessens.

6. Increase your indoor air humidity

There is a direct link between increased humidity and increased immune response to cold, flu and coronavirus germs. So right now we are offering $50 off the installation of a whole home humidification system.

Other ways to temporarily increase indoor air humidity (aim for 50 to 60 percent, especially if your household includes elderly or immuno-compromised family members) is to run a portable humidifier, leave doors open after you shower or bathe or add more houseplants (which also have an air purifying effect on their own).

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