Health at Home
Some allergies and allergy symptoms can be attributed to the quality of the air we breathe and since 90% of our time tends to be spent indoors either at home or at work, our indoor environment needs special attention. Studies have shown that indoor air can be 2 to 5 times more polluted than outdoor air. Newer home construction has contributed to these higher levels because building standards have changed in order to reduce energy loss. The use of better quality insulation, vapor barriers and air barriers now ensure that contaminants are trapped inside the home.
About 40 million Americans suffer from allergies but there are few studies on the amount of exposure or the duration of exposure required to cause reactions in some people. An allergy is the body’s overreaction to a chemical or substance which may be an ordinary harmless substance to the majority of people. When exposed to the offending substance the body releases antibodies which normally protect you from disease causing organisms. This in turn causes the release of chemicals known as histamines in the body. It is these histamines that cause most allergy symptoms.
Who would have thought that plugging in an air freshener, lighting candles, disinfecting the sink, washing clothes or shampooing the carpet could be hazardous to your health. All of these normal household chores result in the release of chemicals, often referred to as volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) which can result in adverse reactions for some individuals.
While there are many different types of allergens the most common indoor air quality pollutants are:
Mold – Mold is everywhere both indoors and outdoors. High humidity levels, flooding or water leaks if left unchecked will allow mold to attach itself to indoor materials such as wood and drywall and begin to grow. Fix water leaks quickly and dry out any wet areas. Remove any water damaged materials such as drywall or carpet.
Pet Dander, Dust mites and Cockroach droppings – Frequent cleaning and vacuuming is required to remove these common allergens.
Volatile Oganic Compounds (VOC’s) – Building materials, paints, glues, carpet, drapes, soft furnishings, ready to assemble furniture, plastics and many other household items release chemicals into the air. This is known as off-gassing and can continue for years after the home is built. These gasses are common allergens and can only be reduced or eliminated by carefully choosing any item coming into the home. Choosing hardwood flooring over carpet or solid wood furniture over pressboard are good choices if allergies are affecting someone in your family.
Chemicals – The list of chemicals released from everyday household products is endless. This includes chemical cleaners, air fresheners, personal care products, fabric softeners, flame retardents, dry cleaning compounds, shampoos, soaps and many more. Many of these chemicals have never been tested for health effects due to long term exposure. Add the fact that the chemicals released from these products then mix together with the other chemical gasses in the home to provide an unkown cloud of pollutants. These allergens can only be reduced by eliminating them from your home and using more environmentally friendly products.
It is likely impossible for most of us to completely eliminate all sources of indoor air pollution that affect our allergies but we can help the quality of the indoor air by ventilating the house. Running a bathroom fan or opening windows when weather permits will exhaust some of the stale air and bring in fresh oudoor air.
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