In recent years, research has indicated that air within our homes can often be more seriously polluted than outdoor air. In fact, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “indoor air pollution is among the top five environmental health risks.” As the snow begins to fall and activities move indoors, it is important to find ways to help control pollutants in our homes. While it may seem obvious, dirty air filters are one of the main causes of poor home air quality. “If your family seems to be getting more colds or having more nasal congestion than usual, it might be a good idea to take a look at your furnace filter,” said Ear, Nose and Throat specialist, Morgan Yost, DO. “The irritation caused by particles passing through furnaces can create inflammation of the delicate membranes in the nasal cavity, resulting in discomfort and symptoms such as sneezing, coughing, itchy eyes, runny nose and/or breathing difficulties.” Certain immediate effects of poor air quality are similar to those from colds - so it is often difficult to determine if they are the result of exposure to indoor air pollution or viruses. For this reason, we encourage you to make note of the time and place symptoms occur. If symptoms withdraw when an individual is away from the area and reoccur upon returning to the area, efforts should be made to further control indoor air sources that may be causing the problems. When air filters are full, they can no longer effectively remove contaminants from the air. Subsequently, air pollutants are more likely to make their way into the ductwork, where they are free to blow throughout your entire house. In addition to dust, the air may include environmental tobacco, wood fire smoke, mold, pet dander, infectious bacteria and viruses. “Maintaining healthy air quality is particularly important if anyone in your family suffers from allergies or asthma,” said allergy/immunology specialist, David Parry, MD. “In addition to irritating sensitive mucous membranes in the respiratory tract, pollutants in the air may also set off or worsen pre-existing conditions. For some people, serious asthma attacks can be caused by pollen, mold spores, animal dander, or even dust particles.” Even if you disinfect all the surfaces in your home, the air inside can still carry infection from one person to another. Changing the air filter will not only mitigate the spread of disease but it can help reduce asthma and respiratory issues. At a minimum, furnace filters should be changed every three months, but many need to be changed every month during the peak heating and cooling seasons. Do your part in staying happy and healthy by checking your furnace filter often this holiday season.