Many of us consider our exposure to outdoor allergens a given. However, many do not realize what “indoor allergens” or “pollutants” may be doing to their health. Statically, indoor air is between two to five times more polluted than outside air!
When we talk about “indoor” allergens/pollutants we are referring to what we are exposed to when at home or in a workplace environment.
Indoor allergens may include mold, fumes, off-gassing of objects, pollens, dust, exposure to mice, rat or cockroach droppings, food smells, and perfumes. These are just several of the major offenders.
Indoor mold, usually “black mold” can grow, or harbor just about anywhere in your indoor environment that has water or moisture. Basements, bathrooms, spas, leaking roofs, bath or sink areas, etc. can harbor mold.
Black mold grows in moist environments that do not completely dry out. It can be obvious or hidden behind walls, ceilings, etc. Stachybotrys chartarum is a common black mold. It grows in paper products, wood, and cotton and can be airborne and toxic if breathed in.
It is known to exacerbate the symptoms of asthma, bronchitis, and COPD. Symptoms of exposure to black mold include coughing, postnasal drip, dry skin, congestion, and sneezing. If you have any preexisting respiratory condition(s), symptoms of exposure may exacerbate wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath.
Most importantly, if mold exists in your indoor environment, try to find the source of the extra moisture and remediate it. Stay away from areas that trigger your symptoms. Hire a company that specializes in mold removal or remediation. Use an N-95 mask in areas where you may be exposed to high levels of mold – such as damp basements. Bleach is a good household chemical to kill mold, however, it can cause the release of gasses that may cause secondary problems with breathing for those that are susceptible, and caution must be taken to ensure it is used in a well-ventilated area and not mixed with other chemicals.
Indoor fumes and the “off-gassing” of objects is something we rarely think about as an offender. The major offenders are smoke(wood), particulate matter, bacteria, volatile organic compounds also known as VOCs, carbon monoxide, and radon.
Indoor pollution may be caused by common household products such as disinfectants, glues, air fresheners, deodorants (personal aerosols), fabrics, furniture, rugs, paint, household cleaners, and refrigerants. A new carpet odor (off-gassing) can irritate the lungs and eyes and affect the nervous system. The adhesives used can contain benzene and toluene. Although most of these VOCs are released and start to dissipate in the first 24-48 hours after installation, the total “off-gassing” of carpet or flooring takes a few months to dissipate. Unfortunately, some products are “off-gas” forever.
Being exposed to feces or the droppings of vermin is another indoor irritant. rats, mice, and cockroaches are the biggest offenders of indoor pollution caused by feces/droppings. Although rare, Hantavirus, a pulmonary syndrome illness that progresses quickly and is considered deadly, is a viral disease acquired by inhaling or handing the droppings of an infected rodent.
Cockroach feces are a big irritant in inner-city populations. Every year we see more and more inner-city children stricken with asthma from exposure to either rodent or cockroach droppings. Remediation is easy but can take a lot of diligence since a single mouse or cockroach can produce many young. Many inner-city families have to rely on a landlord to take care of the issue, and may never be resolved.
Dust and dust mites are common in every household. If you suffer from exposure to dust, the best thing to do is to try and keep your house clean and dust-free. Vacuuming often with a vacuum that has a HEPA filter can be very effective.
Consider changing your sheets and pillowcases every week or more frequently if you need to. Use mattress and pillow covers that prevent dust and dust mites from harboring in the mattress or pillow itself. Remove large “dust offenders” from the environment such as stuffed animals, curtains, blankets and comforters, rugs, lampshades, and window blinds. All of these items are big dust collectors. Exposure to dust and dust mites may cause asthma symptoms, coughing, sneezing, nasal congestion, shortness of breath, watery eyes, and wheezing.
As you can see, our indoor environment is full of pollutants. You need to identify what may be exacerbating your respiratory symptoms and try to fix or remediate the problem as best you can.
As with any respiratory issue, it is important to consult with your health care provider for the best recommendations for your allergy problems. If you are prescribed medication(s) to help with your allergies, remember, a lot of these medications work better the more you take them, especially steroids and inhaled medications. For household remediations that need attention, consult an expert.
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My name is Laura Castricone and I am a Certified Respiratory Therapist. I have been practicing in the state of Connecticut since 1992. I have worked in several aspects of respiratory care including ...
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