symptoms of poor air quality

8 Symptoms of Poor Air Quality in Your Home or Workplace

Steve Russell - October 28, 2022

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Could your Sunday afternoon blues have less to do with your position and more with the headache you’ll know you’ll experience by mid-afternoon Monday? If so, you could be inhaling the cause of your melancholy. Poor office air quality could make you crave a return to the work-from-home life. 

Of course, your physical ailments could also worsen when you walk in your front door. If so, it’s up to you to unearth the root cause. Is there something in the air? Here are eight symptoms of poor air quality in your home or workplace. 

1. Headache

Pay attention to where your headaches typically strike if you’re a migraine patient unable to find satisfactory relief from medications. Researchers from the University of Toledo, Virginia Tech and Bell University recently teamed up to analyze Environmental Protection Agency data on over 100 offices in 25 states. They discovered that those in buildings with poor indoor air quality suffered more severe migraines and headaches. 

It’s the equivalent of taking aspirin, then continuing to rap your skull with a tack hammer. As long as you expose yourself to the toxins triggering your headache, even the best medications will have a mild ameliorative effect at best. However, what can you realistically do if the problem occurs at work and you can’t afford to quit? 

On an individual level, you can return to mask-wearing — putting one on shouldn’t interfere with your ability to do your job and qualify as a reasonable accommodation. Doing so will filter out some particulate matter that can trigger your migraines but won’t affect overall carbon dioxide or monoxide levels. Therefore, there’s no need to go full N95 — you might get better relief from a standard cloth model.

You can also talk to your colleagues. If others also experience symptoms, it’s worth talking to your boss about needed improvements to the HVAC system. Pay attention when your co-workers complain of headaches or any other symptoms listed below.

2. Fatigue

Fatigue can stem from numerous causes in the workplace — including an overwhelming load. However, it can also arise from poor air quality. 

You can tell the difference between occasional tiredness and fatigue by its frequency. Everyone feels tired when they’ve done too much and require sleep. However, fatigue remains unrelieved by slumber and can interfere with your daily activities. You may feel like you never get anything done despite how hard you try. 


3. Mucous Membrane Dryness and Irritation

It’s probably unsurprising that poor air quality can cause upper respiratory inflammation. Indeed, researchers have found an association between increased particulate matter concentrations and upper respiratory infections. Such conditions include pneumonia and the flu. 

Part of the problem arises from the drying effect of poor air quality on the mucous membranes lining your mouth, nose and throat. These serve as your first line of defense against germs. When they dry out, it’s easier for bacteria and viruses to enter and make your life miserable. 

4. Coughing and Sneezing

The drying action doesn’t only occur on your inhalation. People living in conditions with poor air quality often cough and sneeze more. It makes sense — particulate matter irritates your mucous membrane, and your body tries to clear the intruder. 

However, all that blowing can dry out already irritated passages even more. You could also rupture blood vessels from blowing too hard or frequently, resulting in bleeding. Although a mild nosebleed isn’t dangerous, it gives germs a rapid-fire way to enter your bloodstream.  

5. Hypersensitivity and Allergies 

Do your clothes start to itch when you enter the office? It might sound crazy, but poor air quality can spur all-over inflammation, making your skin more sensitive. If you had the right laboratory equipment, you could see the changes in your c-reactive protein levels, a critical inflammatory marker. 

You could also experience worsening allergy symptoms. These occur when your body’s immune system reacts to an invader, ranging from mild stuffiness to deadly anaphylaxis. Repeated exposure to the same allergens could exhaust or alter your body’s response, resulting in more severe reactions. 

6. Sinus Congestion

Do you only get stuffy at home or work? Employ mindfulness and perhaps a tracking journal to chart where your symptoms occur. 

Sinus congestion reacts when your mucous membranes become swollen and inflamed from the constant irritation. Unfortunately, many people reach for inexpensive over-the-counter nasal sprays containing oxymetazoline hydrochloride. While this substance may open blocked passages, it creates a rebound effect, leaving you stuffier than ever when the effects wear off and trigger dependency. 

7. Dizziness

Does the room spin when you stand up from your work desk? It could be low blood pressure — or yet another symptom of poor air quality. 

Dizziness can frighten you, leaving you unsure if you should drive or participate in other daily activities. Your best bet is to track your symptoms and talk to your doctor. You may also wish to consult with your colleagues if your symptoms only occur at work. 

8. Nausea

Finally, nausea doesn’t always signify pregnancy, no matter what Hollywood producers want you to believe. It can also be a symptom of poor air quality. 

This symptom can be the most frustrating to track because it can occur for many reasons, including what you ate. However, you should be able to discern a pattern. 

Symptoms of Poor Air Quality 

Could your home or workplace be making you sick? It’s possible if you have poor air quality. The best way to determine the cause is to track your symptoms and see if you can discern a pattern. 

Pay attention to the above eight symptoms of poor air quality. Then, take action to protect yourself and safeguard your health. 


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About the author

Steve Russell

Steve is the Managing Editor of Environment.co and regularly contributes articles related to wildlife, biodiversity, and recycling. His passions include wildlife photography and bird watching.