Is Your House Making You Sick?
Could your home environment be making you sick? Toxins, pesticides, gases, mites, and molds are all around us. The more you are exposed to them, the more likely you are to acquire the health problems that they might cause.
There are two approaches to being ‘home ill’, according to Robert McLellan, M.D., director of Exeter Hospital’s Environmental and Occupational Health Center in Portsmouth, N.H. Which of your health issues are related to your surroundings? Or, what dangers exist in your surroundings, and how they may harm you?
What is ‘Sick Building Syndrome’
According to McLellan, the first angle, known as ‘sick building syndrome’, causes a slew of symptoms including eye, nose, and throat discomfort, stuffiness, ‘spaciness’, and rash. “These symptoms come and go very fast; you may notice them within an hour or two of entering a building, but they will be gone within an hour or two of leaving.” According to McLellan, there is no objective test that measures these symptoms, so it’s more a matter of paying attention to them and attempting to pinpoint when and where they occur.
‘Building-related illness’ addresses the second point. The effects of environmental dangers may not be readily obvious in this scenario. Radon exposure, for example, can cause lung cancer, although this can take years. Building-related illnesses, such as sinusitis, allergies, and asthma, can be detected using objective tests.
Every home is unique, according to Elizabeth Sword, executive director of the Children’s Health Environmental Coalition (CHEC) in Princeton, New Jersey, but we should all go to the same general sources to assess what threats we face. Sword refers to air, food, water, and consumer products as the ‘organizing principles’ of combating environmental threats (1✔ ✔Trusted Source
Housing and Health: Time Again for Public Health Action
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The 10 Environmental Threats You can Live Without
Long-term tobacco smoke exposure (not to mention your own!) raises your chance of lung cancer, respiratory infections, other lung issues, and perhaps heart disease. McLellan advises against allowing tobacco smoke in your home.
Radon is an odorless, invisible gas that has been linked to an increased risk of lung cancer, particularly among smokers. Radon testing is not costly.
If you live in a house built between 1920 and 1978, you may have been exposed to asbestos, which was widely utilized as a building and insulation material at the time. Small amounts of asbestos are unlikely to harm you, but inhaling significant levels can increase your risk of cancer and lung illness. Although asbestos should only be removed by professionally trained and qualified workers, you can recognize it yourself.
Many homes built in the United States before 1978 contain lead paint, which poisons roughly 900,000 American children each year. If you have a small child at home who is in danger of lead exposure, consult with your doctor about getting the child’s blood lead levels tested. Consider testing for lead paint if you reside in an older home.
Another, more recent source of lead poisoning is scented candles. According to the Environmental Illness Society of Canada, certain candle manufacturers continue to use lead cores in their wicks, which can result in lead particles being discharged into a home’s air. Infants, tiny children, and pregnant women are especially vulnerable.
Gases produced during combustion:
Carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide are examples of these gases. They have the potential to induce flu-like symptoms, respiratory diseases, and even death. Indoors, do not use unvented combustion appliances (such as portable kerosene heaters). Over a gas stove, use an exhaust hood. Every year, clean and maintain your chimneys and furnace, making sure they are properly ventilated. Install a carbon monoxide detector as well.
The United States has one of the world’s cleanest water sources, but that does not mean it is perfect. If you have a private well, test your water for nitrates and germs once a year. You may also wish to test for pesticides, organic pollutants, or radon, depending on where you reside.
Chemicals found in the home:
Some household goods can be hazardous if not utilized properly. Select the least hazardous chemical for the job. Keep home chemicals away from children and pets, and keep them outside the house and away from living areas whenever possible.
When caring for your gardens, lawns, and trees, try to avoid using chemical pesticides. To discourage insects, store firewood outside and away from the house. Make sure to keep food in tight containers and clean up any food spills.
Molds and other organisms that can cause allergies and other ailments thrive in water-damaged materials. Use a humidifier only if the manufacturer’s recommendations are followed, keep fuzzy animals out of the house (or at least out of the bedroom), and wrap your mattresses and pillows in allergy-proof covers to reduce other allergens in the home and address leaks and moisture problems (2✔ ✔Trusted Source
Chapter 4: Disease Vectors and Pests
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To avoid food poisoning, food must be properly prepared and stored. Keep your refrigerator at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Cooked, perishable food should be refrigerated as soon as possible. After each use, wash cutting boards with soap and hot water. Allow no raw meat, poultry, or fish to come into contact with food that has not been thoroughly cooked. Do not eat raw or undercooked eggs.
According to McLellan, children, the elderly, and people with chronic illnesses are most vulnerable to environmental risks. If you are a parent, consider your surroundings through the eyes of a youngster, suggests Elizabeth Sword. “The more kids are exposed when their organ systems are not fully matured, the greater the risk.” A ‘virtual house’ tour, a quiz, and ‘house rules’ – shop smart, ventilate, clean with care, renovate right, keep it out, and clean water – are available on the CHEC’s website (www.checnet.org) to provide further instructions for keeping your home as healthy as possible.
Though humans may be more vulnerable to environmental conditions and illnesses than ever before, McLellan believes that more may be done to prevent them. “By building, designing, and healthily operating our houses, we can prevent many of these problems from becoming out of hand.”
- Housing and Health: Time Again for Public Health Action – (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1447157/)
- Chapter 4: Disease Vectors and Pests – (https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/publications/books/housing/cha04.htm)