Indoor air pollution can be a major source of health problems among children.
YOU have just moved into a nicely renovated home with new furniture and fittings.
But the excitement of staying in your dream home soon turns to worry and anxiety as your children feel unwell all the time. They’re sniffling, teary eyed, coughing and wheezing.
Ever wondered why? It’s the air they are breathing.
Indoor air pollution is a major contributing factor for allergies among children.
Allergies are an immune system response to something in the environment.
Parents often assume that indoor air is much cleaner than outdoor air but indoor air pollution is actually two to five times worse than outdoors, says Dr Amir Hamzah Abd Latiff, president of the Malaysian Society of Allergy & Immunology (MSAI).
In fact, indoor allergy triggers can be very tricky to tackle and a major source of this pollution is from formaldehyde, a common industrial chemical and Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) found in wood furniture, disinfectants, glues and insulation materials.
These products emit formaldehyde over time so it is always present in the air. In fact, formaldehyde is found in virtually all homes and buildings and babies and children whose lungs are not fully developed are exposed to the invisible threat of this pollutant from household products.
One in five people are sensitive to formaldehyde and exhibit symptoms, even at low exposure levels and it doesn’t help that it’s present in many household products such as furniture, carpets, curtains, detergent and paint.
Formaldehyde is also stronger and more likely to be emitted in newly painted houses, new furniture, fittings and accessories. So, when one moves into a spanking new home, it may not necessarily be the best thing for one’s health.
Dr Amir says formaldehyde will affect everyone, not just those who are prone to allergies so taking steps to reduce the exposure is crucial.
“It is a very common pollutant and it’s a major pollutant so we do need to try and bring down the content of formaldehyde in our homes.”
Exposure to formaldehyde will initially result in symptoms like teary eyes and nasal irritation such as sniffling or a blocked nose.
The next stage may be episodes of bronchitis and even asthma attacks and as the condition progresses, there will be mood changes, fatigue, lethargy and even depression among those living in that particular home or working in an affected office.
Most people commonly know this as the “sick home” or “sick office” syndrome. For example, productivity suddenly drops after a company moves into a new office because employees are constantly ill or unable to perform like they used to. The same applies to a home.
“If you find a nice, dainty little old home with old furniture, hang on to it for a while and gradually introduce new pieces and make sure the products you get are free of indoor contaminants.”
CHALLENGING TO TACKLE
Older houses and buildings and older furniture will emit less formaldehyde whereas new homes are more likely to contain higher levels of the substance. It accumulates quickly, especially in poorly ventilated rooms with numerous formaldehyde sources.
It can be hard to completely eliminate formaldehyde though because even everyday fabrics such as curtains may contain the substance.
Dr Amir says it’s used in curtains to preserve the texture of drapes and when children play and hide behind these curtains for prolonged periods, they will become affected by the exposure.
Cooking with a gas stove in the kitchen also emits formaldehyde so it is a very common pollutant but one that’s challenging to tackle.
Cigarette smoke is also a major contributor of formaldehyde in indoor air. From a single cigarette, both smokers and recipients of second hand smoke are exposed to dangerous levels of formaldehyde.
The fact that our lifestyle today means we spend more time indoors, whether its children staying inside hooked to gadgets or adults glued to the TV or exercising indoors due to hazy or polluted weather conditions, means we are more likely be affected by exposure to indoor pollutants.
Dr Amir says when it comes to allergies people need to understand that there is no cure for the condition because we cannot pinpoint the exact cause of the condition. It usually has multi-factoral sources.
If an allergy has a genetic link, then it is easier to understand but in the vast majority of cases, one can only try to manage or control the allergy and its symptoms and not cure it.
However, allergists do understand that besides genes, there is a link between allergies and our lifestyle, the food we eat and the air we breathe.
“We also know that lack of exposure to sunlight plays a role. Most of us today spend 80 per cent of our time indoors and this leads to Vitamin D deficiency which can pose a risk for allergies.”
The wellness of the mother during pregnancy also counts. In fact, allergists look at this as an important factor.
If we don’t have the “right programming” at the foetal stage in terms of good food and a good lifestyle, it can affect or influence our chances of developing an allergy.
“An allergy is an early manifestation of something gone wrong.”
*Cover picture courtesy of Nippon Paint
PREVALENCE OF ALLERGIES
ACCORDING to the Malaysian Society of Allergy and Immunology, one out of three Malaysians suffers from some form of allergy.
Children with parents who have allergies also have a 50-80 per cent chance of developing an allergy but parents and child care providers may lack relevant knowledge on the importance of a conducive indoor environment for the development of children.
Infants spend most of their time in the crib, breathing in twice the amount of air as compared to an adult. Thus, indoor air quality should not be taken lightly as infants spend between eight and 20 hours a day indoors.
According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, newborn babies under six-weeks-old take in 30-60 breaths per minute (compared to 14-16 breaths per minute for adults). That is up to 86,400 breaths per day — three times the respiration rate of adults.
Clean air is a priority as their respiratory tracks are more vulnerable, their immune systems are weaker and their brains are still developing.
As a child starts developing stronger muscular strength and starts crawling and subsequently rising to his feet, his sense of curiosity and exploration grows.
As they crawl on the floor, learn to walk with the support of the walls and put things into their mouths, they become more vulnerable to indoor surface pollutants. As such, it becomes a priority to ensure that they are protected from the dangers of bacteria, mould and viruses.
SIGNS YOUR CHILD IS AFFECTED
* His eyes may tear up or he may rub his eyes for no reason.
* He may sneeze or cough for no apparent reason.
* His breathing may come in gasps or he may be wheezing.
* He suffers from nasal irritation which may lead to excessive mucous discharge.
Source: Nippon Paint
WHERE IT’S AT
FORMALDEHYDE is found in a large number of common household products. These include:
* Wood based furniture made from plywood or particleboard.
* Subflooring, wall or ceiling panelling.
* Laminated flooring.
* Permanent press fabrics.
* Draperies and mattress ticking carpets.
* Dry-cleaned clothes.
Source: Nippon Paint
NIPPON Paint Malaysia Group has launched its Child Wellness Programme, an educational campaign aimed at empowering today’s discerning parents and key decision-makers towards creating uplifting environments for children, through various awareness and educational initiatives related to children’s health and wellness.
The programme will see associations such as the Malaysian Paediatric Association (MPA), MSAI, Association of Registered Childcare Providers Malaysia as well as Persatuan Tadika Malaysia (Malaysian Association of Kindergartens), working together and alongside medical practitioners and child care providers to provide simple steps and expert advice on child health and wellness for today’s parents.
The programme stems from Nippon Paint’s introduction of Malaysia’s first Child Wellness Range, a series of functional coatings that focus on enabling clean air, safe touch and creativity for children in three key developmental stages — infants, toddlers and children.
These paint solutions are water-based, lead and mercury free with low Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) as well as Total Volatile Organic Compound (TVOC) emissions, which makes it safe for the environment as well as indoor spaces.
The Child Wellness Range paint leverages on Active Carbon Technology which is designed to absorb harmful formaldehyde from the air, converting it into water vapour for cleaner air.