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Study links lung health, indoor air quality

April 2, 2015
by Lois A. Bowers, Senior Editor
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The quality of indoor air in nursing homes seriously affects the lung health of elderly residents, according to the findings of a recent study.

The research, published online in the European Respiratory Journal, is the first to detail the negative effects of poor air quality in nursing homes across several countries, according to the authors.

Researchers from the European Union-funded GERIE research project collected data on five indoor air pollutants that come from heaters, building materials, furniture, cleaning products, disinfectants and cooling systems:

  1. PM10 (particulate matter less than 10 micrometers in diameter and suspended in air),
  2. PM0.1,
  3. formaldehyde,
  4. nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and
  5. ozone (O3).

The scientists assessed levels of the pollutants in 50 different nursing homes in seven countries (Belgium, Denmark, France, Greece, Italy, Poland and Sweden). A total of 600 residents aged more than 65 years underwent several clinical tests, including lung function testing, and completed a health questionnaire.

The results showed that exposure to high levels of PM10 and NO2 was significantly associated with breathlessness and cough. High levels of PM0.1 were associated with wheeze during the last year, and high concentrations of formaldehyde were linked with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The associations were even seen with moderate concentrations of indoor air pollutants that did not exceed the existing international guidelines. The findings also were enhanced in homes with poor ventilation and in residents aged more than 80 years.

“Our findings have shown an independent effect of several indoor air pollutants on the lung health of the elderly living in nursing homes,” said the study’s lead author, Isabella Annesi-Maesano, MD, DSc, PhD, of Medical School St. Antoine, Paris. “This is a worrying problem since the body’s ability to cope with harmful air pollutants decreases as we age. Nursing homes should do more to prevent indoor air pollution by limiting its sources and by improving ventilation in their buildings. The respiratory health of residents should also be checked on a regular basis.”

Dan Smyth, chairman of the European Lung Foundation, said: “The majority of lung diseases are preventable; therefore, we must focus on strategies that target the risk factors linked to these diseases. These findings add to a body of evidence confirming that indoor air pollution is one of these risk factors.”

The authors call for additional assessments of nursing homes in other countries as well as studies to gauge which prevention methods are the most successful.

Source: European Lung Foundation