The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Health Notes.

Edited by H. Laing Gordon, M.D.
Volume 10, 1899, pg. 258

Fresh Air.
By George B. Batten, M.D.

[Dr. George B. Batten of Dulwich was a pioneer radiologist. In 1926, as president of the Röntgen Society, he wrote an article for their journal. When he died in 1942, his obituary said he was "the oldest practising radiologist in Britain."]

What do we mean by fresh air? The essential gaseous constituents of air vary little in town and country. Although there are only eight parts less oxygen and two parts more carbonic acid gas in 10,000 parts of the worst air in a city compared with the freshest air at the seaside, yet how different do the two airs feel to us. Wherein, then, lies this difference, and what do we mean by fresh air?

Fresh air is unused air; air none of which has already been breathed nor been used through a fire or other form of consumer; air free from germs and organic poisons. The air in a room, some of which has been breathed, contains many organic substances and particles, including living microbes and their products; it is a poison-laden air.

It is these organic substances which really vitiate the air, destroy its freshness, and lower the vitality of beings living in it. We can roughly estimate the amount of these organic poisons by estimating the amount of ammonia in the air; this has been found, in a million cubic feet of air, to vary from 60 grains, in Innellan, on the banks of the Clyde, to 65 grains in London, and to 104 grains in a bed-room. We see that in a bed-room, indoors in fact, the amount of organic impurity is nearly double that found out of doors, even in London. It has recently been found that these organic products in breathed air, if concentrated, form an excellent medium for cultivating tubercle or consumption bacilli.

It does not follow because pain or other discomfort is not always experienced in a vitiated atmosphere that no harm is done. The effects may be slow and imperceptibly cumulative, but they are none less injurious. They are now recognised as being amongst the most potent and widespread of all the predisposing causes of disease.

How are we to get fresh air--air free from germs and organic poisons? We can get it most easily by living in the country or at the seaside, and by being out of doors as much as possible. Most of us, however, have to live in towns; therefore we must try and select a house in as high and even exposed situation as possible; a house by preference having a south or south-westerly aspect for its chief living and sleeping rooms. Even in towns the air out of doors is fresher than indoors, for out of doors the air is constantly and rapidly changing; the air we and other people have breathed is blown away, and we breathe comparatively fresh air every time we inhale.

But how are we to get fresh air indoors? Chiefly by not shutting it out. Even yet the majority of people are more afraid of cold air than of poison-laden air. A healthy person requires some 3,000 cubic feet of air per hour for breathing. To get this without draughts in a medium-sized room is, I fear, still one of the problems of the future; nevertheless, for rooms constantly occupied day and night we should see that this is obtained. We seldom can get so much space, and in rooms not constantly occupied it is hardly necessary; but there should be over 500 cubic feet of space per person. For instance, for four persons a room 14 by 15 feet by 10 feet = 2,100 cubic feet of air is the smallest that should be used.

We should try and get sufficient fresh air without unnecessary draughts--first, by having some system of cross ventilation in our rooms, to be used at any rate when we are not in occupation; secondly, by having well-arranged fire-places; thirdly, by placing screens to break up currents of air near the inlets of cold air; and, fourthly, by employing some form of modification of Tobin's tubes, which direct the currents of cold air upwards: e.g., the well-known and useful device of fitting a piece of thick board under the bottom sash of a window so as to raise it some inches, and allow the air to enter between the upper and lower sashes.

Let us admit all the sunshine we can into our rooms; for sunshine is a powerful purifier. It is well to have fresh air and good health, even at the expense of faded carpets. The success of the open-air treatment of consumption is beginning to convince the popular mind that there is something in fresh air after all.

If we wish to remain robust, we must not only inhale fresh unbreathed air, but we must also get it into the innermost recesses of our lungs. If we are young or active, some such form of outdoor exercise as football, cycling, hockey or tennis will cause us to take the necessary long breaths; failing this it is an excellent plan to take at least thirty very long breaths daily when out of doors, remembering to inhale through that natural and really efficient respirator, the nose.

Proofread by LNL, June 2020