The Senseless Realm of Indoor Air Quality

ByMarc Silberberg


There is a lot of talk and articles regarding the effects of indoor air quality on our health. With all types of HVAC systems, it is sometimes complicated to find out exactly what if anything is wrong with our cooling and heating systems and what to do about it. Over the last few years, especially post COVID-19, there are quite a few options which supposedly will clean and improve the indoor air quality of our homes.

Simple portable air purifiers can sometimes be enough and make the difference between clean and tainted air in our homes but more often than not the problem may be internally affecting the HVAC system of the home or office. Some folks believe that by plugging in air scents and mists they will solve the problem of moldy smells in their places of residences or work. Most often this is just a mask and if someone suffers from physical symptoms these will not improve by these Band-Aids.

The most common discomforts are allergies such as asthma, itching, coughing, or sneezing and some people will take allergy medicines such as ZYRTEC® to alleviate the conditions they are suffering from. However, sometimes the conditions are more serious and can actually affect the senses in the long term. Some of the symptoms of interruptions in our senses that we have taken for granted are loss of the sense of taste and smell. Even our other two senses, hearing and seeing, can be affected by adverse reactions to dirty air such as burning eyes and clogged ears. Losing our basic senses could be dangerous, such as losing the sense of smell could prevent the home occupant from smelling fire until it’s too late.

Many individuals have either lost their sense of taste or smell or have a change in them due to COVID-19. According to the Centers of Disease Control & Prevention the loss of smell and taste have been linked to the symptoms of COVID-19 and long-term effects months and years after people are infected by this virus.

Decrease or Total Loss of the Sense of Taste and Smell

When the first round of the COVID-19 virus appeared one of the main symptoms of it was the loss of taste and/or smell. For some unlucky folks these two senses were never the same afterwards. Loss of taste and smell can affect more than the nose and can trigger a loss of appetite which in turn causes weight loss and can bring-on depression if these important senses do not return.

The loss of taste and smell was around long before COVID-19 struck so not every person who has lost these senses can blame it on COVID-19. The area where you live, no matter how good their air quality is, can be a factor in the blockage of these two senses. Moving from one state or country to another can bring about a total change in the way a person tastes or smells. For example, Mandy lived in Canada until she was nineteen and married a man from New Jersey. Often, the girl must move to the county and state that the groom lives in and Mandy was happy to concur to this relocation. In fact, she had a nice group of friends from Canada who already lived there so she had no problem immigrating.

Besides Mandy’s problems with green card status and citizenship which were expected she was hit with a drawback that she could not foresee. A lawyer can help with the citizenship and friends can help with the repositioning but the biggest transition that Mandy had was that her senses of smell and taste were left in Canada. This was way before the COVID-19 pandemic so her symptoms could not be caused by that and yet Mandy now developed a more nasal way of speaking and had to make do with a new problem. She was already settled and did think of moving back to her hometown, but the arrangement fizzled out and she likes New Jersey but suffers from her limited ability to smell and taste.

Hyposmia: The Loss of Smell

There is no straight answer as to how suddenly the loss of the sense of smell comes. Sometimes it quashes slowly and sometimes it’s abrupt. It could be a slight reduction or an actual failure to smell at all. Some smells are stronger and more pungent, and others are weaker and a person experiencing this problem may first lose the ability to smell the weaker ones first or the opposite. In fact, the ability to smell spoiled food and burning may be ones that cannot be identified, and this will pose a hazard to your health by eating foods that are bad and not calling the fire department in time. What is so frustrating is that even if you can smell something you may become confused as something sweet can smell sour and good smells become bad smells.

A visit to an ENT is an appropriate way to start the journey for the take back of your sense of smell. This doctor will check the inner part of your nose with special instruments to see if there is a polyp or a sinus infection. The doctor may also ask you to take a whiff of some chemicals to check the extent of the problem. The physician will place chemicals on different parts of the tongue and check to see if there is just something that you can detect with your nose. Sometimes there will be no formal diagnosis and you will have to try other methods to regain your sense of smell. There are actual professionals who treat and cure the inability to smell properly.

The Sense of Taste

Two specific cells are involved in our sense of taste, olfactory and gustatory. Olfactory cells are located way up on the top of your nose and connect to nerves which tell the brain what you are tasting. The gustatory cells are in your mouth itself, particularly the throat and tongue. Food enters your mouth and is chewed. At this time scent is produced that activates your sense of smell as the food blends with the saliva as the taste buds come to life. There are five different types of taste buds in the mouth: salty, sour, bitter and sweet which causes your brain to taste.

Having any kind of hindrance, whether medical or environmental, will cause the food to taste different at certain times. Have you ever had the experience when someone tells you that the soup you made tasted too salty when you barely put any salt in? Or do you get a bad taste in your mouth when eating something sweet? These variations can be caused by an onset of allergies or a cold which will temporarily affect the sense of taste. Medicines such as antihistamines and antibiotics can affect a person’s taste. So even though you are taking an antihistamine to lessen your congestion it can result in a problem with your taste buds.

Stinging Eyes

You may be the type of person who rarely has eye allergy problems, yet your eyes are stinging inside your house. What could it be? Well, there are many reasons for stinging eyes and generally it has to do with the indoor air quality in your house. This symptom can be a hint that a fire is brewing. Sometimes before the smoke becomes visible your eyes can begin burning. The first place to check is in your kitchen. Perhaps you forgot to shut the broiler after you served a delicious steak for dinner? Did you by any small chance leave oil in the frying pan and forget to fry your potatoes? If none of these are the right reasons, then there may be something brewing either in your HVAC system or your clothes dryer. Your home HVAC system is supposed to keep your air safe with air filters and other updates. If your filters have not been replaced lately then they must be replaced immediately. When removing them check and see how much lint and other particles are on the filter. If the buildup is excessive and you have changed them recently it is time to call in a professional HVAC cleaner.

It is important to change the filters regularly but if you are prudent and do it on a regular basis and have heavy buildup on them then something is wrong. Your home dryer could also be in need of a major tune up. When lint builds up inside the lint trap or in the tube that goes to the outside of the house it is a hazard for a fire. Even if you clean the lint trap after every load you are not getting to the bottom of the place where the lint trap remains. You must call in someone fast to prevent a major fire and, in the future, have your dryer cleaned regularly by a professional.

The Sense of Hearing

Although more unusual than other senses, trouble with your hearing can be affected by upsets in your air quality. When your nose gets stuffed from allergens in the air it can affect the passages in your ears at the same time. Allergies are often caused by unsatisfactory indoor air quality and must be addressed in other ways than just popping pills. If you have checked your air quality professionally and it is fine, then a visit to the doctor is in order. You will be amazed how a simple ear cleaning can improve your hearing dramatically.

Final Words

We have learned that some physical symptoms and obstructions to our senses can be due to unsatisfactory indoor air quality. Conditions such as nasal congestion and stinging eyes can be messengers to the homeowner that something is wrong in the air of the home. Often loss of taste and smell has to do with COVID-19, but you cannot rule out an association to air quality allergies. Taking antihistamines might help with curtailing a runny nose but it also can inhibit the senses from working properly by decreasing the senses of taste and smell. These two senses are related even though they are affected by different parts of the mouth and nose. People are endowed with five different taste buds ranging from sweet to sour differing in severity. If there is a smoker living in your home, you must tell him or her to smoke only outdoors. Many people are sensitive to smoke affecting a variety of senses such as eyes and smell. The first step is to call in an air quality specialist to check on your HVAC system and change filters if necessary. If a visit from a professional does not solve your problem, the next step is for you to call your doctor or ENT to check your nose, mouth, and throat to make sure there is no infection or polyp that is causing the problem.

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