Whether you realize it or not, you encounter particulate matter every day. Particulate matter comes from numerous sources, including gas-burning vehicles, factories, and other industrial sources. When the particulate matter reaches high concentrations in a specific area, you will see haze or smoke that clouds your visibility. You can also find particulate matter indoors, but there are indoor air quality monitors you can use to keep this under control.
Since particulate matter is small, you can easily breathe in these particles. Breathing in particulate matter, especially at high concentrations, is dangerous and can negatively impact your health in numerous ways. Keep reading to better understand what is particulate matter and how you can protect yourself from it.
What is particulate matter?
Particulate matter (PM) is made up of a mixture of small liquid and solid particles. These particles are acids, metals, organic chemicals, and dirt or dust. Particulate matter can range from 2.5 to 10 micrometers in diameter.
There are two primary different types of particulate matter:
PM10: inhalable particles with a diameter of 10 micrometers or less.
PM2.5: fine inhalable particles with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers or less.
PM1: very fine inhalable particles with a diameter of 1 micrometers or less such as dust, combustion particles, bacteria and viruses. PM1 is increasingly becoming an important metric, even more so during COVID-19.
Fine inhalable particles are not visible to the naked eye, but it is possible to see inhalable particles (PM10) when they cluster together in a small area at a high density.
Regardless of the particulate matter type, there are numerous sources that produce particulate matter, such as fires, construction sites, and unpaved roads. Among the various sources of particulate matter, power plants, industrial factories, and automobiles contribute the most to air pollution and produce the largest quantities of particulate matter.
Although particulate matter is generally found in outdoor environments, there is also indoor particulate matter. Indoor particulate matter is produced by combustion activities such as cooking or burning wood at the fireplace.
Since particulate matter is prevalent in industrial cities, particulate matter is a common health risk that can be dangerous depending on the air pollution levels in your area. Since these particles are small and usually not visible, breathing in particulate matter poses a major health risk, especially for children, older adults, and those with pre-existing respiratory or cardiovascular problems.
PM10, PM2.5, and PM1 are all inhalable, but the smallest particles (PM2.5 and PM1) pose the greatest risk to your health. These particles are small enough to travel deep into the lungs and potentially enter the bloodstream.
Some common symptoms of particulate matter inhalation are:
- Difficulty breathing
- Lung and throat irritation
- Eye irritation
- Chest pain
These symptoms can be worse in severity if you suffer from a pre-existing health condition. If you feel any of these symptoms, then move indoors to breathe cleaner air and rest until the symptoms go away.
How can I reduce my exposure to particulate matter?
To avoid putting your health at risk, poor air quality might force you to take action. There are a few different strategies you can use.
- Staying indoors: The easiest way to avoid particulate matter is to spend more time indoors. This puts a barrier between you and the source of the particulate matter.
- Avoid high traffic roads: Since automobiles are a big contributor to air pollution, avoiding high traffic roads and highways will greatly reduce your exposure to particulate matter during your daily commutes.
- Wear a mask: If you are unable to avoid areas with high levels of air pollution, then use PM2.5 masks to protect yourself from small inhalable particles.
To reduce your exposure to particulate matter, try one of these strategies to protect yourself.
How can I monitor particulate matter?
The best online tool for monitoring particulate matter is the air quality index (AQI) provided by the EPA. This tool measures the air quality in your area. All you need to do to check the air quality in your area is provide your zip code, city, and/or state.
A personal weather station is another effective way to monitor particulate matter. These devices provide all the information you need about weather conditions, such as PM levels, humidity, wind speed, and more.
Alternatively, if you are looking for an indoor air quality monitor, then your best option would be the Awair Element. This device reports PM2.5, humidity, CO2, and VOCs in your home while also tracking changes in the air quality over time.
Another great device you can use to monitor particulate in your home is the AirThings Wave Plus. Unlike the Awair Element, this device is an award-wining monitor that detects radon, which is a radioactive gas that is sometimes found in homes. Additionally, the AirThings Wave Plus delivers data on pollen levels directly to your phone through the Airthings app.
Although particulate matter is dangerous, there are numerous ways to monitor and protect yourself from it. You may encounter particulate matter regularly, but that does not mean it has to negatively impact your life.
Installing an air quality monitor in your home will provide peace of mind at home while also ensuring that particulate matter levels are kept in check. With some careful preparation, you can reduce your exposure to particulate matter and live healthier.
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