Allergy & Air on June 3, 2015 2 Comments A Civil Action, a 1998 U.S. film directed by Steven Zaillian with an all-star cast, dramatized the effects that industrial toxins had on the town of Woburn, Massachusetts, including the cancer deaths of children. Environmental exposures always affect health—and they don’t have to be nearly as dramatically charged or insensitive as they were in Woburn. It takes effort to keep your family protected from these allergies and asthma-causing toxins. Even in your own home, there may be fallout right now from toxins, dust, bacteria and fungi—an environmental brew that can make the act of breathing difficult by causing asthma. You can take steps to make your home a safe haven and reduce the potential for allergies and asthma through housekeeping, cleaning systems and practices, interior decorating choices and lifestyle habits, all of which we discuss below: Home Sick Home In 2010, health writer Alicia Potee penned an article, “Home Sick Home: Is a Toxic House Sabotaging Your Health?” which is an excellent place to start in assessing potential health threats in your own home. She describes sources of indoor asthma-causing pollution and allergies in every room of a house, including frequently overlooked organic chemicals in carpeting, furniture, glues, varnishes and building materials. Also included are the more obvious factors: cigarette smoke, pet dander, mold, paint, radon and asbestos. She writes: “Manufacturers routinely use adhesives containing urea-formaldehyde resins in the creation of building materials and other household products—most notably pressed wood products such as particleboard, hardwood plywood paneling and medium density fiberboard (MDF). You’ll find these pressed wood products in sub-flooring, wall panels, cabinets and furniture, with MDF boasting the highest formaldehyde emissions….While formaldehyde emissions generally decrease with a product’s age, factors like heat and humidity can cause a significant increase in the release of this chemical and can be linked to airway irritation, asthma, fatigue and severe allergic reactions.” Potee also discusses how laser printers and even the cleaning supplies you’re using may be making your home environment unsafe and contributing to asthma, allergies, headaches and more. The list below includes a couple of recommendations from her article. 8 Steps for Allergy-Proofing Your Home Address Your Mattress Problem The average person spends one-third of their life in bed, with allergens in bedding pressed intimately close to airways. Research has shown (PDF) that dust-mite allergens in mattresses are positively linked to asthma and allergies. You can buy plastic mattress covers or, for a lower-cost alternative, vacuum your mattresses daily. Daily vacuuming over eight weeks in a research study reduced total dust by 77.7 percent and dust mite allergens, bacterial endotoxins and fungal beta-glucans between 70 and 85 percent. Work On Your Home Office An Australian study investigated the ultrafine particles emitted by laser printers when in use and found that 17 of 62 printers were “high particle emitters.” Indoor particle levels increased by five times when printers were in use. Health effects can range from respiratory irritation to severe illness, including cardiovascular problems or cancer. Ask more questions when you purchase a laser printer. Enclose it away from your general office space. Consider wearing a mask when printing, especially when you’ve just installed new toner cartridges. That’s when particle emissions are highest. Buy the Right Air Purifier In December 2014, Consumer Reports updated its air purifier buying guide. Basically, Consumer Reports advises that the better air purifiers will do a fine job filtering out dust, tobacco, smoke and pollen, but investigate closely if a manufacturer claims a unit can filter out volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which are respiratory irritants produced by adhesives, paint and cleaning products. Special carbon filters are required that must be changed every three to six months and risk releasing particles back into the living space when full. Consumer Reports also warns against ozone-producing air purifiers with electrostatic precipitators. Allergy-Friendly Furniture Materials that trap allergens and cause asthma–such as dust, smoke and pet dander–and can’t be cleaned easily or contain chemicals in their composition are bad choices for people who suffer from allergies. Fortunately, manufacturers of flooring, window treatments and furniture are now more aware of this consumer concern and offer stylish alternatives that make a cleaner indoor environment fast and easy. For flooring, hardwood and linoleum or washable area rugs are a better choice than carpeting. If carpeting is a must, choose a low-pile variety, vacuum it daily and shampoo it frequently. For windows, washable curtains or easy-to-clean blinds are a better choice than heavy drapes. For furniture, avoid upholstery and select models made of easy-to-clean leather, wood, metal or plastic. Use “Cleaner” Cleansers Household cleaning products may produce small amounts of toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can linger in the air a long time and contribute to asthma, airway irritation, headaches and dizziness. Try natural, non-toxic cleaners and experiment with your own formulas, using lemon juice, baking soda and vinegar. Leave Pollen Outside Many popular hair products act like “traps” for pollen when you’re outdoors because of their sticky nature. Even if you don’t use these products, hair can become coated with pollen, so it’s a good idea to wash your hair and bathe at night to make sure you’re not taking pollen to bed with you. Also, if you or a family member is an avid lawn and garden enthusiast, suggest a quick change of clothes before coming back into the house. These steps can help prevent pollen from causing asthma and allergies in you home. Keep Your Pets, But Keep Them Clean Having pets used to be the big bugaboo in families where childhood allergies was a concern—but not anymore! Recent research now shows that early exposure to animals, particularly cats and dogs, actually may help protect children from developing allergies and asthma. But keep in mind, critters can get into a lot of things you might not want you or your child to breathe, so bathe your fur friend regularly and provide daily brushing to get rid of excess fur and debris. Smoking Indoors—Just Say ‘No’ A meta-analysis of more than 1,400 research studies published between 1966 to 2013 examined the relationship between smoking and allergic reactions, both allergic rhinitis and allergic dermatitis. One conclusion was that 14 percent of allergic rhinitis and 13 percent of allergic dermatitis cases in children could be linked to active smoking in the household. Eliminating active smoking could prevent one in seven cases of allergic rhinitis and one in eight cases of allergic dermatitis. The Last Word Even if you move heaven and earth to keep your home protected from asthma-causing pollen, toxins, chemicals and dust, your heroic story isn’t likely to ever make it to the big screen or even come to the general public’s attention. But you will be a super hero to someone. Perhaps a son or daughter who never has to stay up all night coughing and gasping for breath with asthma. Or a spouse who wakes in the morning, inhales deeply and launches into a day of good health. Peace of mind like this can be found by assessing your home’s potential indoor air quality pitfalls and making simple, but powerful, corrections through housekeeping, cleaning systems, design choices and healthy lifestyle habits.