Your home, which is supposed to be haven of protection from external pollutions, might be a health hazard in itself owing to the number of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and chemical odours that may be emitted through an array of modern interiors.
Most homes today have acrylic paint, plastic coatings, vinyl floorings, false ceilings using polyethylene packing, glues used in parquet flooring and wall papers, some synthetic claddings, to name a few things which can be a source of odour and chemicals hazardous to health, triggering allergic reactions, breathing difficulties and skin rash.
Dr Arun Kumar Sharma, specialist in Internal Medicine and consultant neurologist at Medeor 24/7 Hospital, told Gulf News: “The construction material in older buildings was brick and mortar and it had organic compounds. However, modern buildings have fancy synthetic cladding such as styrofoam and polyurethane that are made of petrochemicals and emit more dangerous chemical odours. Some of these products emit toulene which has low levels of cyanide in it.
We are quite unaware of the health hazards we have within our homes in the name of beautification,” he said. “One of the most dangerous group of chemicals are pthalates, chemical additives that are used to make polycarbonates or softer plastic more strong. These are found in paint emulsions, plastic food containers, indoor air sprays, shower curtains, even plastic rain gear, plastic toys and other seemingly simple plastic things we use in our homes. Studies have shown pthalates to be carcinogenic and very harmful to both human and animal endocrine organs impacting many hormones regulating our health and also effecting the sperm count in males.”
How do chemicals affect us when they are used in interiors? Dr Sharma explained that chemicals have the quality of giving off odours. “There is a phenomenon called chemical migration and these chemical molecules first get suspended in the air and when we inhale them, they enter our respiratory tract and blood stream. These reach our bronchial tubes and cause inflammation resulting in bronchitis and asthma. Some of the industrial solvents used in these products have a strong oxidising affect and trigger aging too.”
Many a time, people complain of breathing difficulties or asthma attacks after entering a home with fresh paint or freshly laid-out flooring. These are instances of how chemicals used in paint emulsion or industrial glue trigger allergic reaction in us.
Dr Mohammad Rafique, consultant Internal Medical Specialist and medical director of Prime Hospital, told Gulf News he receives many cases of skin and respiratory allergies and most of them could be attributed to effects of chemical odours at home. “Indoor air pollution is a subject that has been largely ignored. Sometimes the air quality within homes is far more polluted than outside as residents are confined indoors and breathe in poor quality air that perpetuates their problem. One of the main reasons for poor air quality is air-conditioning. The molds and bacteria festering within air conditioning ducts, kitchen exhausts, etc, pollute the indoor air quality, triggering many respiratory diseases.”
According to Dr Rafique, studies of air samples from homes show that indoor pollution has three main culprits: Unclean air ducts that give rise to dust mites, spores and molds; plastic compounds in paints, glues and air fresheners that emit formaldehyde, sulphur dioxide and finally, the practise of indoor smoking that results in pollution with carbon and nitrogen dioxide.
“Very often, humidity levels within the home are very high and these cause the chemicals to stay within, Air filters, ducts and exhausts are usually neglected areas and not cleaned out regularly and they fail to flush out all the air and recycle it. People come into the clinic with symptoms of wheezing, allergic rhinitis, watering of eyes, persistent and chronic coughs, sore throat and the duration and frequency of their illnesses are usually prolonged and recurrent.”
Health care experts advise people to be aware and educated about indoor pollution issues, improve air quality at home and live more healthy lives.
What to do
1. Remove all carpets as these can be sources of allergens.
2. Clean your matteresses, pillows and bed sheets regularly and air them as these are sources of dust mites.
3. Get a thorough and regular cleaning of the air ducts of your ACs that might harbour moulds and spores.
4. Avoid chemical sprays, body deos and chemical air fresheners inside the house.
5. Open the doors and windows of your home once a day to allow proper ventilation and airing of the rooms.
6. Go for conventional paints.
7. Avoid artificial flooring.
The harmful floorings are: plywood or synthetic wood flooringswhich are processed woods and emit formaldehyde.
Safe option: Real hardwood flooring.
Vinyl floorings are harmful as it is derived from petroleum compounds which contain phthalates that are known to carcinogenic.
Safe option: linoleum flooring which is made of organic products such as jute, cork, wood powder and natural pigments which are organic as compared to in vinyl flooring which are very harmful to health.
Wall to wall carpet flooring traps dust, bacteria and microrganisms.
Safe option: ceramic tiles
7. Minimise use of plastics at home.
8. Use a de-humidifier to improve indoor air quality.
Our homes may also be causing a world of health troubles, especially for homebodies who tend not to get out much given hot weather, according to the firm The Healthy Home Middle East.
Low-quality indoor environment quality can abound due to a list of aggravating factors that can adversely put our well being in jeopardy staying in a place where we are supposed to feel safe from hazards, says the firm.
“Whilst the Middle East offers us an exciting life, the fact remains that its environment provides the perfect breeding conditions for many indoor impurities due to extreme temperatures and humidity, poor indoor air quality due to the continuous use of air conditioning, double glazed windows that prevent direct UV sun light penetration (the first known natural disinfectant), frequent sandstorms and surrounding construction dust,” says the firm on its website.
The company says that “impurities and living organisms inhabit houses mostly in your AC ducts, mattress, sofa, carpet, curtain, upholstery and other soft furniture.”
Dust mites are a nasty culprit behind sneezing and runny noses for people who are allergic.
Waste generated by tiny mites clog anything and everything in a home over time.
“The weight of the average mattress doubles after 10 years due to dust mite infestation, and the weight of the average pillow increases 10 per cent each year,” said the firm. “It is amazing that the place that we go to get well when we are sick, our bed is the most unclean and unhealthy area in our homes.”
The Healthy Home noted that “60 per cent of the dust mites and other pathogens that are found in the home are in the bedroom, the other 40 per cent are found in the rest of the house”
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