Inside Your Own Front Door: How Your Home Can Make You Sick
Most of us take for granted that home is a place of safety, a haven from threats to our health and well-being. It can be shocking to find that the source of your health issues lies right inside your own front door. Unfortunately, the environment in which many Americans live, sleep, and eat is unhealthy and contributes to a host of serious health problems, from allergic reactions to dangerous pulmonary conditions and even organ damage. Indoor pollutants spring from any number of seemingly harmless sources, such as carpeting, synthetic furniture, and cleaning fluids. Taken as a whole, they constitute a potentially lethal combination that may permanently undermine your health. If you have concerns about your own indoor environment, consider whether the following danger areas in your home may require attention.
Many Americans live in areas where air conditioning is a necessity. But an improperly maintained HVAC system can present one of the most serious threats to your family’s physical well-being. Air conditioning often leaves water residue in air ducts, which creates an ideal breeding ground for mold and bacteria and may cause allergic reactions, including headaches, coughing, sneezing and red, itchy eyes. For people with asthma or other breathing problems, this can be a dangerous situation. Build-ups of dust, pet dander, and hair are also conducive to mites and various forms of microbial life that can cause illness and persistent allergic conditions.
The best way to keep airborne pollutants and allergens from accumulating in your HVAC system is to have your air ducts cleaned at least once every two years. And don’t forget to have your heating system serviced regularly.
Bathrooms are perfect spots for bacteria, mold, and fungus to grow. Left uncleaned, bacteria can grow on toilet seats, fixtures, shower curtains, mats and in carpeting. If, like many people, you dry yourself off on a mat upon exiting the shower or tub, be aware that the consequent build-up of moisture will quickly turn your floor mat into ground zero for bacteria. Try toweling off in the shower before stepping out to keep your bath mat dry, and be sure to launder all bathroom mats on a regular basis (or use rubber mats instead).
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, indoor air quality can be up to five times more polluted than outdoor air. The cocktail of toxic fumes given off by everything from secondhand smoke to plug-in air fresheners can leave vulnerable family members gagging and wheezing. Use a quality air purifier with a HEPA filter to clear out the stale and unhealthy particles in the air. You’ll also want to make sure to regularly swap out your air filters with new ones; if you have a hard time finding the right size, you can order custom filters online. Also, clean around the house using baking soda and vinegar, and try airing out your home at least once a week by opening the doors and windows.
Radon and Asbestos
Radon is a radioactive gas that can cause lung cancer — roughly one in every 15 US homes has some level of radon present. Test for radon in the lowest level of your home used on a regular basis (other than storage); testing kits can be purchased at hardware stores. If you test at level four or higher, you’ll need to contact a radon professional who can mitigate the presence of radon with specially adapted ventilation modifications.
Asbestos, which was commonly used in building materials for decades until the 1990s, may be present in many homes. It’s a toxic mineral substance with tiny fibers that are inhaled, become trapped in the body, and cause disease. If you’re concerned about your house, contact an EPA-certified contractor to test for asbestos in your home.
Building materials, cleaning fluids, common household fabrics, secondhand smoke, and improperly maintained HVAC ducts can combine to produce a truly dangerous breathing environment in your home. It’s important to utilize natural, non-toxic cleaning substances, use an air purifier, and have your home tested for lethal substances.
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