Things You Didn't Realize Were Hurting Your Lungs Illustration

17+ Things You Didn’t Realize Were Hurting Your Lungs (2024)

by | Updated: Apr 19, 2024

The lungs are remarkable organs, responsible for delivering life-sustaining oxygen to our bodies while filtering out harmful particles and gases.

While most people are aware of the obvious threats to lung health, such as smoking and exposure to industrial pollutants, there are numerous lesser-known factors that can harm our lungs.

This article points out some of those surprising culprits that, unknowingly, we encounter in our daily lives, shedding light on ways to minimize or eliminate potential damage.

What is Lung Damage?

Lung damage refers to injuries or disorders that impair the function of the lungs. This can be caused by various factors, including chronic exposure to harmful substances like tobacco smoke, infections, chronic diseases like COPD and asthma, and traumatic injuries.

Damaged lungs struggle to efficiently exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide, leading to breathing difficulties and reduced oxygen supply to the body. Early detection and treatment can prevent or mitigate further complications.

Watch this video or keep reading to learn about some of the most surprising and unknown causes of lung damages.

1. Carpet

Two men cleaning carpet in home vector illustration
Carpet, while comfortable and aesthetically pleasing, can be a source of indoor air pollution. It can trap dust mites, pet dander, dirt, and other particulates that can be harmful when inhaled.

Moreover, new carpets often off-gas volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including formaldehyde, which can irritate the lungs and worsen respiratory conditions.

Regular vacuuming and choosing low-VOC carpets can mitigate some of these risks.

2. Gas Appliances

Gas stove in home vector illustration
Gas appliances, including stoves, ovens, and heaters, can release a mix of pollutants when they burn natural gas.

One primary concern is nitrogen dioxide (NO2), a harmful gas that can irritate the respiratory system, exacerbate asthma, and reduce lung function.

Prolonged exposure to low levels of this gas indoors, especially without proper ventilation, can have detrimental effects on lung health.

3. Flour

baking with flour dust vector illustration
While baking and cooking are enjoyed by many, few are aware that flour can pose a respiratory risk. When flour becomes airborne, it can be inhaled, leading to an inflammation of the lungs.

Over time, repeated exposure can contribute to a condition called “baker’s asthma,” a type of occupational condition.

It’s essential to handle flour carefully and ensure good ventilation when using it in significant quantities.

4. Mold

Room with mold inside home vector illustration
Mold is a type of fungi that thrives in damp environments. When it grows indoors, mold spores can be released into the air, which, when inhaled, can trigger allergic reactions, asthma attacks, and other respiratory issues.

In some cases, specific types of molds produce mycotoxins, which can be particularly harmful to individuals, leading to more severe respiratory conditions and systemic effects.

5. Fragrance

bottle of perfume vector illustration
Many products, from perfumes to air fresheners, contain synthetic fragrances. These fragrances can release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other chemicals into the air.

For individuals with sensitivities or respiratory conditions, exposure can trigger headaches, asthma attacks, and irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat.

Opting for fragrance-free or naturally-scented products can help mitigate these risks.

6. Cockroaches

Cockroaches inside a home vector illustration
These common household pests are not just unsettling; their droppings, saliva, and body parts contain allergens that can trigger asthma symptoms and other respiratory reactions when inhaled.

Infestations can lead to increased levels of these allergens in the home, posing a significant health risk.

Regular cleaning and addressing infestations promptly can help reduce exposure to these allergens.

7. Birds

Bird sitting on a tree branch vector illustration
Birds, while often loved as pets or admired in nature, can be a source of allergens and pathogens harmful to the lungs.

Bird droppings and feathers can lead to respiratory conditions such as “bird fancier’s lung” or “pigeon breeder’s disease.”

These conditions are types of hypersensitivity pneumonitis, a reaction to inhaled organic dust. Regular cleaning and good ventilation can help reduce the risks associated with bird allergens.

8. Fireworks

People watching a firework show vector illustration
The dazzling displays of fireworks, though visually stunning, come with a lesser-known health cost. They release a mix of chemicals and fine particulate matter into the air, which can be inhaled deep into the lungs.

This can exacerbate respiratory conditions like asthma and can be especially harmful to individuals with pre-existing lung diseases.

It’s wise to enjoy such displays from a distance and to be mindful of air quality during and after the events.

9. Airbags

airbag deployed in car vector illustration
Designed to save lives in car accidents, airbags can also pose a temporary risk to lung health.

When they deploy, they release a burst of chemicals, including harmless but potentially irritating powders meant to lubricate and ensure the bag’s smooth release.

Inhalation of these chemicals and powders can cause temporary respiratory irritation and coughing, especially in confined car interiors.

However, it’s essential to remember that the benefits of airbags in protecting against severe injury far outweigh these transient effects.

10. Insulation

Man working with insulation in a home vector illustration
Many insulation materials, especially older types like asbestos, can pose significant respiratory risks. When these materials break down or are disturbed during renovations, they can release tiny fibers into the air.

If inhaled, these fibers can become trapped in the lungs, leading to inflammation, scarring, and serious conditions like asbestosis or mesothelioma.

Even newer, fiberglass insulation can release small particles that may irritate the airways.

Proper handling, including wearing protective gear and ensuring good ventilation, is crucial when working with or around insulation.

11. Hot Tubs

people in a hot tub vector illustration
While hot tubs provide relaxation, they can also be a source of harmful airborne pathogens if not adequately maintained.

The warm and bubbly environment can foster the growth of certain bacteria, like the one responsible for “hot tub lung,” a type of hypersensitivity pneumonitis.

Ensuring regular cleaning, proper chlorination, and maintenance of hot tubs can help prevent the growth and aerosolization of these pathogens.

12. Wood Burning Stoves

Wood Burning Stove vector illustration
Wood-burning stoves, though often seen as a cozy source of heat, can release a range of pollutants into indoor air, including fine particulate matter, carbon monoxide, and volatile organic compounds.

These pollutants can irritate the lungs, worsen respiratory conditions like asthma, and contribute to other health issues.

It’s essential to ensure that wood stoves are correctly installed, well-maintained, and used with dry, well-seasoned wood to minimize the release of harmful pollutants.

Proper ventilation and the use of advanced stove designs can further reduce the associated risks.

13. Radon

Radon gas going into house vector illustration
Radon is a colorless, odorless, radioactive gas that originates from the natural decay of uranium found in most soils.

It can enter homes and buildings through cracks in floors, walls, or foundations, and become trapped inside.

Inhaling radon can damage lung cells and has been identified as the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking.

Since radon is undetectable without specialized equipment, it’s recommended to test homes for its presence, especially in areas known for high radon levels.

14. Pesticides

man spraying pesticides in a field vector illustration
These chemicals, designed to repel or kill pests, can have unintended consequences on human health, especially the lungs.

Inhalation of some pesticides can cause irritation of the respiratory tract, shortness of breath, and in more severe cases, damage to the lungs.

Some pesticides have also been linked to the development or exacerbation of asthma.

When using pesticides, it’s vital to follow safety guidelines, use them in well-ventilated areas, and consider alternative pest control methods when possible.

15. Farming

tractor on farm land vector illustration
While farming is a vital profession, it can expose workers to various respiratory hazards.

Dust from soil, grains, and other materials can be inhaled, leading to disorders like “farmer’s lung,” a hypersensitivity pneumonitis caused by breathing in the dust from moldy crops.

Other risks include exposure to chemicals, pesticides, and gases like ammonia or methane from animal waste.

Wearing protective masks, ensuring proper ventilation, and following safety protocols can help mitigate these risks in agricultural settings.

16. Candles

Scented candle lit in a room vector illustration
While they can create a calming ambiance and lovely scent in homes, candles, especially paraffin-based ones, release pollutants when burned.

These include particulate matter, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and even traces of lead from wicks.

These pollutants can irritate the respiratory system and exacerbate existing lung conditions.

Opting for candles made of beeswax or soy with cotton wicks can reduce these risks, as can ensuring proper room ventilation when burning candles.

17. Humidifiers

mist humidifier in a room vector illustration

Though they are beneficial for adding moisture to dry indoor air, humidifiers can also disperse harmful microorganisms or minerals into the air if they are not properly maintained.

Breathing in this mist can lead to respiratory infections or lung inflammation.

It’s vital to clean humidifiers regularly, use distilled or demineralized water, and ensure they’re set to the right humidity level (usually between 30% and 50%) to prevent mold growth and over-humidifying.

Final Thoughts

Protecting our lungs goes beyond avoiding the obvious culprits; it requires a comprehensive understanding of the hidden threats lurking in our everyday surroundings.

By being informed about these risks and taking proactive measures, we can ensure that our respiratory system remains resilient and robust.

After all, every breath we take is a testament to the remarkable adaptability of our lungs, and it’s our responsibility to keep them in optimal condition.

John Landry, BS, RRT

Written by:

John Landry, BS, RRT

John Landry is a registered respiratory therapist from Memphis, TN, and has a bachelor's degree in kinesiology. He enjoys using evidence-based research to help others breathe easier and live a healthier life.


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