Between flu season and spring allergies and surprise summer colds, it can be difficult to stay healthy. But what if the biggest culprits aren't high pollen counts or people who don't cover their mouths when they sneeze? It could be that your house is making you sick.
"Toxins, pesticides, gases, mites, and molds are everywhere, and the more you're exposed to them, the greater your risk for developing the health problems they can cause," said WebMD.
And the numbers are a bit staggering. According to the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, "More than 30 million homes have significant health issues," said the Washington Post. "The trouble is that many homeowners and renters aren't aware of the link between their housing and their health. Carbon monoxide poisoning can initially resemble the flu. And exposure to some toxins may be confused with seasonal allergies."
Here are some of the biggest offenders and what to look out for:
Every step you take through your house can be spreading dangerous germs. Tracking in dirt and animal waste can pose health risks, while using rugs in areas that are damp has been shown to exacerbate asthma symptoms. Vacuuming frequently and having regular deep cleanings is recommended for carpeted spaces.
But, your vacuum could be doing more harm than good.
"This essential household item, which we are recommending to take care of most household allergens, could actually be spewing them all back into the air," said Huffington Post. "The best vacuum has a HEPA filter, (which) filters more than 99 percent of the particulates in air. And if you use a cleaning service, make sure they use a HEPA-filter vacuum, as well, so your home isn't being contaminated from allergens in previous houses."
Open trashcans and other standing water
Mosquitoes are attracted to water and will seek out the little bit that collects in the bottom of your open trashcan or kiddie pool. Keeping an eye out for potential problem areas can help keep mosquito bites at bay and help prevent more dangerous conditions like West Nile and the Zika Virus.
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Leaving dog food in the backyard can attract rats and mice, and even bobcats and coyotes. Keeping a vigilant eye out can help ward of predators and nuisances, but bringing food in promptly if you're feeding your animals outdoors is a better way to keep them safe.
Just the term alone is enough to make us cringe. But that's nothing like having to deal with a dust mite infestation. The best way to keep them away:
- Keep cool - dust mites need a warm, humid environment to survive.
- Clean frequently - limiting dust and dirt in your home is key.
- Wash your bedding - bedding and mattresses are among dust mites' favorite spots to hang out. Washing them in hot water can help kill them off. A special mattress cover that protects your sleeping area can also help.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 400 Americans die from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning every year. Carbon monoxide is a toxic gas that is colorless and odorless. Installing a carbon monoxide monitor, which you can pick up for under $100, is the easiest way to prevent a tragedy.
Carbon monoxide is perhaps the most well-known combustion gas that can be a danger in the home, but it's not the only one. Nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide "can cause flu-like symptoms, respiratory illnesses, or even death," said WebMD. "Don't use unvented combustion appliances (such as portable kerosene heaters) indoors. Use an exhaust hood over a gas stove. Clean and maintain your chimneys and furnace every year, making sure that they are properly vented."
"The U.S. has one of the safest water supplies in the world, but that doesn't mean it's failsafe," said WebMD.
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Indeed. The critical situation in Flint, Michigan, which has poisoned thousands of residents with its unsafe water, is unusual - thankfully - but that doesn't mean we all shouldn't be vigilant about our drinking water. "To check the water quality in your area, call the EPA's Drinking Water Hotline at (800) 246-4791, or visit the web site at www.epa.gov/safewater/dwhealth.html. If you use a private well, test your water every year for nitrates and bacteria."
Lead and radon
In an older home, lead and radon could be a dangerous issue.
"More than 20 million housing units have a lead-based paint hazard. And more than 6.8 million homes have radon exposures above the level at which remedial action should be taken, as determined by the EPA," said the Washington Post. There's an easy test to check for lead paint and radon - important since both can cause illness or even death.
One of the most dangerous substances you can be subjected to in your home is mold. Often, mold is unseen because it's behind walls. Checking for the nasty black stuff that you can see with the naked eye and then doing a leak check are the first steps toward eradication.
"Unseen leaks may be causing mold growth in your home, which can be problematic for people prone to asthma and allergy induced breathing problems," said Huffington Post. "Check pipes, closets, basements, and attics to ensure all is dry. If you find any leaky areas, clean and dry where the water has accumulated, and contact a plumber or roofer to fix the situation."
The air conditioner can also be a culprit. "When air-conditioning cools your home, for example, it often leaves traces of water in the ducts that become the perfect breeding ground for mold and bacteria," they said. "That microbial growth is often the cause of respiratory issues—asthma, allergies, coughing, and headaches. But it should also be said that not all air ducts become contaminated, and not all people become symptomatic from those that do."
Having air ducts cleaned out by a professional every few years can help, and will also keep your machine running better.