Is Your House Making You Sick?
Do you have a sick house? Lead paint, pesticides, and pollution can contribute to sick house syndrome. Here are 10 things you can do to keep your house, and you, healthy.
By Carol Sorgen
Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario
Is your house making you sick? Don't be surprised if the answer is yes. 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.
When it comes to being "home sick," says Robert McLellan, MD, director of Exeter Hospital's Environmental and Occupational Health Center in Portsmouth, N.H., you can look at it from two angles. Which of your health problems are related to your environment? Or what hazards are lurking in your environment and what can they do to you?
The first angle, typically referred to as "sick building syndrome," usually results in a group of symptoms such as eye, nose, and throat irritation, stuffiness, "spaciness," and rash, says McLellan. "These symptoms come and go fairly quickly -- you may notice them within an hour or two of entering a building but also notice that they will be gone within an hour or two of leaving a building." There is no objective test that measures these symptoms, McLellan says, so it's more a matter of paying attention to the symptoms and trying to pinpoint when you have them and where you are when they strike.
"Building-associated illness" covers the second angle. In this case, the effects of environmental hazards may not be immediately apparent. Exposure to radon, for example, can lead to lung cancer, but it may be years before that happens. With building-associated illness, abnormalities -- such as sinusitis, allergies, asthma -- can be diagnosed through objective tests.
Every household is different, says Elizabeth Sword, executive director of the Children's Health Environmental Coalition (CHEC), in Princeton, N.J., but we should all look to the same general sources when trying to determine what hazards we're facing. Air, food, water, and consumer products are what Sword calls the "organizing principles" of confronting environmental risks.
Falling under those headings are "10 environmental hazards you can live without," says McLellan: