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Winter indoor air pollution - What died in here? - (2/13/2018)

By Dr. Ron Gasbarro

Sarah went into the pharmacy to get a refill of the inhaler she needs to breathe. She said to the pharmacist, “It seems every winter, I have trouble breathing inside the house. Also, the house smells stale. By the way, where are the air fresheners?”

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a growing body of scientific evidence has indicated that the air within homes can be more seriously polluted than the outdoor air in even the largest and most industrialized cities. Other research indicates that people spend approximately 90% of their time indoors, especially during the winter. Hence, for many people, the risks to health may be greater due to exposure to air pollution indoors than outdoors. Such people include the very young, the elderly and the chronically ill, especially those suffering from respiratory or cardiovascular disease. In addition, the house can just smell funky during the winter months. So what can you do until the fresh breezes of April blow away the stagnant stench?  

Carpeting and plants can harbor everything from dust mites to viruses. Dust mites and mold love moisture. So, keep indoor humidity lower, rather than higher – around 30% to 50% to help control allergens. A dehumidifier helps reduce moisture in indoor air and effectively controls allergens.

Enforce a strict “no smoking” rule. That includes Uncle Jack’s cigars, your neighbor Louise’s ultralights and whatever Junior is toking in his room. No vaping or juuling either. And what’s on your shoes? People track in all sorts of chemicals via the dirt on their shoes. A doormat reduces the amount of dirt, pesticides, and other pollutants from getting into your home. If the mat is big enough, even those who do not wipe their shoes will leave most pollutants on the mat – not the floors in your home. 

Cooking can be another problem. Use the vent while cooking. Instead of frying food – especially fish – on the stove top, bake or broil it. It would be healthier in any event. Crack open a window while you cook. If the weather guy says it’s going to be in the 50s for a day or two, open some windows for cross-ventilation.

Do not rely on Febreze, Glade, Renuzit, cinnamon apple candles, or any other masking perfumes to clean your air. Not only do they contribute more chemicals to the already polluted atmosphere within your home, but they can be dangerous. Scented candles, aerosols, plug-ins, and incense sticks are all culprits. The fear lies in the chemicals in the fragrance and candle wax. While more research needs to be done to make a truly definitive statement, some researchers feel that extended, long-term use of certain scented items might lead to asthma, lung damage, or — in extreme cases — cancer. If you have the cash, and even if you don’t, a HEPA air filter can suck the pollutants out of your domain. Go to the EPA website (epa.gov) and search for the “guide to air cleaners in the home.” 

Sarah vowed to get to the bottom of her “sick house” which may be exacerbating her lung problems. After all, her health was more important than whether her neighbors thought her home smelled stinky.  

Ron Gasbarro, PharmD is a registered pharmacist, medical writer, and principal at Rx-Press.com. Read more at www.rx-press.com     


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