Warning on the risk of dirty air conditioning units

Cancer and heart disease are among the risks from poor indoor air quality, Yougov survey finds

The majority of UAE residents are unaware of the severe health implications from poor indoor air quality, a survey has revealed.

It has been described as a “ticking time bomb” that could lead to major illnesses such as heart disease and cancer.

The YouGov survey stated poor indoor quality was not seen as a major problem by most people, despite the fact it could be up to five times more unclean than outdoor air.

With the UAE’s scorching summer now hitting and people spending even more time inside, experts also urged residents to regularly clean their air conditioning units.

Major outbreaks of pneumonia have also resulted from contaminated air conditioners

Dr Johny Avookaran

Failure to do so could cause issues such as headaches and dizziness right up to pneumonia

“We worry about what we can see, and indoor air pollution is an invisible threat,” said Sara Alsen, of air purification company Blueair, who commissioned the report.

“The impact of poor indoor air quality is a ticking time bomb, not just in the UAE, but to people all over the world.

The survey, which asked the opinions of more than 1,000 people across the entire UAE, found just 13 per cent of respondents thought air quality at home was an important factor in staying healthy. This was despite people spending more time than ever at home due to remote working conditions brought about to combat the spread of Covid-19.

“One of the most alarming findings was that over 95 per cent of those we surveyed in the UAE believe that the risk of becoming infected by a virus or bacteria is greatest outside the home,” said Ms Alsen.

Dr Johny Pappachan Avookaran, internal medicine specialist with Aster Hospital. Irritation of the eyes, nose and throat, as well as headaches and dizziness can result from poor indoor air quality, he says. Courtesy: Aster
Dr Johny Pappachan Avookaran, internal medicine specialist with Aster Hospital. Irritation of the eyes, nose and throat, as well as headaches and dizziness can result from poor indoor air quality, he says. Courtesy: Aster

“Given the fact that we spend over 90 per cent of our time indoors, where the air is proven to be up to five times more polluted than outside, this is a surprising finding.”

The World Health Organisation said air quality, both indoor and outdoor, is one of the greatest threats to human health right now.

About 3.8 million people a year die prematurely from illness attributable to the household air pollution caused by the inefficient use of solid fuels and kerosene for cooking, it says.

Cooking and cleaning create many pollutants, while other particles that enter our homes from windows and ventilation systems.

Other issues include dust, bacteria and viruses, while particles released from perfume, smoking and burning candles can pollute our homes.

Residents will now face even more time inside as the scorching summer arrives and that brings its own set of problems.

A leading UAE doctor said a failure to properly maintain air conditioning units was one of the most common causes of poor air quality at home.

“Improper operation and maintenance of air conditioning systems is one of the most common problems affecting indoor air quality,” said Dr Johny Avookaran, specialist in internal medicine, Aster Hospital, Qusais.

“These systems then may fail to remove contaminants from occupied areas, including carbon dioxide and monoxide, tobacco smoke, moulds and bacteria, cleaning products, copy machines and printers, pesticides, and vehicle exhausts.

“Major outbreaks of pneumonia have also resulted from contaminated air conditioners.”

He said the short-term impact of being indoors in a poor air environment include irritation of the eyes, nose and throat, as well as headaches and dizziness.

Other health effects may show up either years after exposure has occurred or only after long or repeated periods of exposure

Dr Avookaran.

“These effects, which include some respiratory diseases, heart disease and cancer, can be severely debilitating or fatal.”

The YouGov poll, commissioned by Blueair, canvassed the opinions of 1,002 Emiratis and UAE residents from February 8 to 14 on issues surrounding the cleanliness of indoor air. Almost one in three respondents were from Abu Dhabi – 32 per cent – while 30 per cent were based in Dubai, with the rest from the remaining emirates.

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