A healthy home is one with good indoor air quality. There are many things that damage air quality, and many things that you can do to improve it.
By Wendy Priesnitz
Did you know that you breathe in and out about 23,000 times a day? Probably not, as most of us rarely think about the mysterious inner workings of our bodies. (Well, until something goes wrong, that is!) But when you do consider the fact that your respiratory system brings you, quite literally, the breath of life, you can see why you must pay special attention to the fuel that amazing system runs on. How clean is the air you breathe, anyway?
That’s the question cardiac surgeon B. P. Loughridge – author of Every Breath You Take: A Doctor’s Guide to Reducing Indoor Air Pollution (Health Design, Inc., 2002) – wants you to ask yourself. And he wants to help you to create a healthy home, with clean air.
“I’ve devoted my career to urging people to live a healthy lifestyle,” he says. “Most people associate this with a nutritious diet, regular exercise and maybe stress reduction techniques. What they don’t think about is the air they breathe every day. That’s understandable. After all, you can’t really see air and, unless you suffer from allergies or asthma, you’re not really motivated to think about it. But the air in your home – no matter how harmless it seems – could be contaminated with all sorts of bad things that could affect you and your family down the road.”
The healthy home problems Loughridge refers to run the gamut from dust mites, cockroaches, molds, and pollen to animal allergens, lead, radon, and asbestos.
And they have spawned a whole new breed of illness. Research shows that the majority of environmental illnesses such as asthma, so-called Legionnaire’s disease, multiple chemical sensitivities, and “humidifier fever” – along with building-related illness and hypersensitivity pneumonitis – are the direct result of breathing unclean air in our homes, our workplaces, and our schools. In fact, Loughridge points out that over the last 30 years a link has actually been made between poor indoor air quality and such notorious killers as coronary heart disease, peripheral vascular arterial disease, and lung cancer.
Loughridge says that if you want to get rid of some of the billions of microscopic creatures that share your living quarters, dusting and vacuuming won’t do it! (They only move the mites around.) He claims that you’ll never eradicate the mighty mite, merely make it feel less welcome.
Speaking of much larger critters that may share your living quarters, Loughridge provides some interesting cockroach facts: For humans, a lethal dose of radiation is 800 rems or more; for the American cockroach, it’s 67,500 rems. Furthermore, a cockroach can survive for a week after you cut off its head – only the inability to drink water deals it the fatal blow. It’s this last tidbit – the roach’s need for water – that offers us a clue as to how to deal with the vile pest. Dry it out! Empty pet water dishes at night, seal all pipes and fix any leaky appliances.
What you think of as hay fever – recurrent sinusitis, headaches with no apparent cause, asthma – could actually be mold disease, says Loughridge. But there are ways to reduce the mold in homes, schools, and office buildings. Here’s one: Take a moment to examine your heating and air-conditioning ducts. Do you detect a musty odor? Is there any indication that moisture is present in or around the ducts or the unit? Think about it: Do you remember the last time your changed the air filters? If these filters become wet, mold and mildew can begin sprouting within three hours, spewing mold spores everywhere the ventilation system reaches.
Pets can also cause health problems for you or a family member, and you might have to banish one from the house. You could be allergic to a cat or dog, or, short of a full-blown allergy, you could be irritated by the dust and fur floating around in the air.
Here are some steps to take to clean up the air and create a healthy home:
- Create pet-free zones in the house; at the very least, bedrooms should remain pet free. Also, keep a high-efficiency multi-level filtration air cleaner in the bedroom.
- Bathe your pet and wash its bedding and toys on a regular basis. Studies show that weekly bathing can reduce the level of allergens produced by pets as much as 85 percent.
- Air out rooms regularly, vacuum and mop floors, and wipe down walls to reduce the levels of pet and other allergens. Change air-conditioner and furnace filters often.
- Only use safe cleaning products. Avoid using air fresheners.
- Remove your shoes at the door, and your clothing as soon as possible upon arriving at home in order to leave pollen and other outdoor allergens outside.
- Hair is a magnet for pollen. If you or anyone in your family has pollen allergies, Loughridge advises to thoroughly wash your or their hair, especially before bedtime, to avoid spreading microscopic pollen spores to your bedsheets and pillows.
- Invest in a portable, high-efficiency, multi-level filtration air cleaner, especially for use in your bedroom.
- If you suspect you have lead paint in your older home, clean up all paint chips and thoroughly clean floors, windows, and other surfaces. Hire a qualified lead abatement contractor to remove the lead.
- Have your home tested for radon by a qualified expert.
- For people with severe health problems, Loughridge recommends replacing down pillows and wool blankets with synthetic ones.
Replace carpeting with wooden, tile, or vinyl flooring, being careful to avoid formaldehyde adhesives and allowing time for the new installation to gass-off.
- In the summer, keep your central air conditioning, or at least your furnace fan, running or use a dehumidifier.
- Make sure there is sufficient ventilation in bathrooms, kitchen, and other sources of moisture like dehumidifiers and humidifiers. Do not allow mold to grow.
- Inspect all furnaces and combustible heaters each year to ensure that they are functioning properly and not emitting carbon monoxide. Never idle a car in your garage (even if the door is kept open). Install a carbon monoxide detector in your home.
- House plants can help filter the air inside any building.
“It simply isn’t that difficult to dramatically improve the air you breathe every day,” Dr. Loughridge asserts regarding the ease of creating a healthy home. “And the payoff can be huge. By taking a few easy steps and investing in a few affordable products, you can breathe easier today and ensure a healthier, happier tomorrow for you and your family.”
“Paying attention to your air quality may not be as ‘sexy’ a lifestyle change as learning to cook low-fat gourmet meals or taking regular nature hikes, but it’s just as important,” he adds. “And when you consider those 23,000 breaths you take each day, well, you can see how important the air you breathe actually is. So why not pay attention to it, starting with your next breath.”
Bill P. Loughridge, MD, has served a distinguished career in cardiovascular surgery. Through the years, Dr. Loughridge has helped to develop new treatment techniques, including one to deliver chemotherapeutic agents to patients with metastatic cancer to the liver without making them toxic, for which he received a Fullbright Scholarship. He is a clinical associate professor of surgery at the University of Oklahoma School of Medicine. Every Breath You Take was his second book. Wendy Priesnitz is the editor of Natural Life Magazine, where this article first appeared, and the author of Natural Life Magazine’s Green and Healthy Homes, which contains more tips for creating a healthy home.