If you’ve ever walked into a hospital anywhere in the country, you’re probably familiar with the cold, sterilized smell of hospital air. While it isn’t the most pleasant smell in the world, it’s actually designed to keep visitors, patients, and employees safe. But how does the controlled air keep you safe while you’re at your local hospital?
Indoor air quality
Indoor air quality, or IAQ, is the general term for the maintenance of the air inside a facility. It takes into account factors such as temperature, humidity, and quantity, as well as the presence of chemicals or contaminants from internal or external sources.
Hospitals are a constantly changing environment that can be difficult to control. This has lead to the spread of things like MRSA and staph infections throughout hospitals that might not be found elsewhere.
In hospitals, IAQ is also used to prevent contagions from spreading to surfaces or to other patients. By controlling air flow, temperature, and other variables, contagions can be controlled or even stopped in their tracks.
Patient air quality
Medical air, or the air that’s piped to patients when they don’t need or can’t use oxygen, is compressed and piped through sterilized pipelines to the patients in need. Purified medical air helps patients recuperate faster and can be a great tool for doctors and nurses to assist patients who might need a little extra help, but can’t use oxygen.
The key to this is compressor equipment that is sterilized before and during manufacturing and assembly. Contaminated equipment has the potential to contaminate the air that’s being piped to the patients.
Importance of IAQ
Why is indoor air quality so important? Simply put, without equipment and techniques to preserve indoor air quality, hospitals and other medical facilities are a breeding ground for contagions. Air quality is monitored and tested for a variety of contaminants, including:
- Infectious diseases. MRSA is one that’s commonly tested for, but it isn’t the only infectious disease that might be detected. Beta-lactam-resistant bacteria (BLRB) is another commonly detected contagion in hospitals.
- Legionella. This is a bacterium that thrives in water sources and can be found anywhere there’s standing water, such as water towers, hot water heaters, or showerheads.
- Mold. Mold can grow anywhere it’s remotely damp and has a variety of negative effects on respiratory health. Mold spores can be detected in an air quality survey.
- Asbestos. This isn’t a big problem with modern hospitals, but older buildings might still have asbestos paneling in the walls. Asbestos dust has been proven to cause cancer, COPD, and a host of other conditions. If the concentration is high enough, a wing might have to be shut down to remove the asbestos before it causes problems for the patients.
With so many people coming and going from hospitals at all hours, it might seem impossible to preserve the necessary level of air quality. While there’s a variety of different techniques to ensure the best air quality, it all comes down to the hospital’s HVAC (heating ventilation and air conditioning) system. This system, as long as it’s properly maintained, can be used to control the air quality in the building and create protected environments within the building.
Protected environments are designed to keep people with specific needs safe from potential airborne contaminants. These might include:
- Isolation rooms. These are designed to keep airborne contagions from spreading beyond a specific room. This is usually used for patients with tuberculosis or other diseases that can be spread by air. It utilizes negative pressure to keep the air from moving out of the room.
- Protected environment rooms. The opposite of isolation rooms, these keep the room filled with sterilized air to protect patients who may have compromised immune systems. These rooms use HEPA-filtered air and positive pressure to keep unfiltered air from flowing into the room.
- Operating rooms. These are tricky, because airborne microbes could create infections in tissues that are exposed during surgery. These rooms use a combination of positive and negative pressure. Positive pressure is used inside the operating room itself to keep the clean air moving and negative pressure is used in the rooms outside to keep outside air from contaminating the operating room.
HEPA filters are also used to remove contaminants from the air that’s circulated throughout the main part of the hospital.
Controlled air in hospitals is designed to keep you safe, whether you’re staying for a procedure or just visiting a loved one. It all comes down to a well-maintained HVAC system.
This article was written by Megan Ray Nichols. If you enjoyed this article, please visit her page Schooled by Science.