Having a family member with asthma and allergies stinks. I should know, as I have one. There are scary nights (and scary days), doctors’ visits, hospital visits, many many drives home to retrieve forgotten inhalers. There have been important team games not played, parties missed, long hours in waiting rooms all over the world and lots of tears (mine and hers).
Now, although I would never, ever, go as far as to say there is an advantage to having a child with asthma, I have come to realise that there is, at least, one welcome side effect. Our home is a healthy home. I know, the irony.
Since my daughter was diagnosed 7 years ago, I have been forced to examine our immediate environment and in particular our indoor air, something that may not have been at the top of my agenda then, with two other small kids and a job, but in doing so, I have created a healthy environment for my whole family.
What is a Healthy Home?
According to the National Center for Healthy Housing, a healthy home is housing that is designed, constructed, maintained, and rehabilitated in a manner that is conducive to good occupant health. Now, we didn’t design or construct our house and it was built in a time when healthy homes and indoor airquality were not a priority, but I have certainly rehabilitated it and maintained it with my daughter’s health in mind and inadvertently have created a space that promotes the wellbeing of the rest of the family.
What is asthma & allergy friendly®?
The approach I took was to make my home as friendly a place as possible for my child who had been diagnosed with asthma and allergies. I couldn’t control her environment when she left home but with a bit of time, effort and research I could create a safe, comfortable haven for her to return to. My aim was to remove as many sources of triggers for her asthma and allergies as I could. This is the basis of asthma & allergy friendly®.
I began in her bedroom, choosing a certified mattress and pillow encasings to reduce dust mite and, of course, washing bedclothes regularly. Most soft toys I now keep in a closed toy box to reduce the amount of dust collection (and the amount of cleaning I have to do!). I discarded soft toys, cushions and any paraphernalia that could not be easily cleaned. The resulting uncluttered environment is not just good for our physical health but for our mental health too. Floors and blinds were chosen to minimise the collection of dust. I searched for appropriately certified and labelled products to ensure that I wasn’t introducing harmful VOCs into the atmosphere. Paint in particular was chosen with care. My vacuum cleaner has a very effective HEPA filter.
Extending the principles to the rest of the house happened over time. Some changes were easy and inexpensive – cleaning products that don’t emit harmful odours was a no brainer – while others required specialist help and a bit of investment. I certainly didn’t welcome the cost of repairing our leaky roof that had caused a mold patch on our living room wall, but having done so, I have not only eliminated a trigger for my daughter’s asthma but, because mold can irritate eyes, nose, throat and lungs of people without asthma and allergies, our living area is a safer place for all. We invested in a dehumidifier to reduce the moisture in the air and a washing machine certified to be effective against dust mite, bacteria and fungi while at the same time not increasing the humidity in our clothes or surrounding environment.
How to Create a Healthy Home
The National Center for Healthy Housing lays out seven principles of healthy homes. The principles are as follows:
- Keep it dry
- Keep it clean
- Keep it pest free
- Keep it safe
- Keep it contaminate-free
- Keep it ventilated
- Keep it maintained
Moisture in homes has been linked to a huge number of health problems, from respiratory problems to lead poisoning and asthma. Moisture creates a favorable environment for nasty roommates to move in – mites, rodents, and roaches. A healthy humidity is around 40-50% so a dehumidifier may be a wise investment. Water leaks should be fixed promptly, tumble dryers should be vented outdoors, use vent fans in the bathroom and don’t overwater plants. Studies have even shown that how happy you feel can be related to humidity levels.
A clean home often contain harmful chemicals -all those lovely ‘clean’ smells are usually just chemicals that contaminate our indoor air- so always check labels. Get rid of the source of any bad smells and open doors and windows to ventilate rather than use synthetic air fresheners which can be a significant source of VOCs.
Food should be stored in airtight containers so that it’s not shared with pests. Traps and sticky pads are better than chemical sprays or poisons.
Most childhood injuries occur at home. Falls, poisoning, and burns are the three most common residential injuries for children.
Homes have many potential contaminant risks, including lead, radon, pesticides, VOC’s, tobacco smoke, carbon monoxide, and asbestos. Children are more likely to be exposed to these in their home than outside, as inside the contaminants are in higher concentration. Search for products and furnishings that are made with healthy materials that are easy to clean and do not emit VOCs. Paints that contain less harmful chemicals are always a better choice.
Studies show that respiratory health is related to access to fresh air so, if possible open up those doors and windows. Increasing a home’s fresh air supply reduces moisture, improves indoor airquality, and increases respiratory health. Particulate matter in smoke produced when cooking can enter our lungs and our bloodstream so an efficient exhaust hood is essential.
Neglected homes are more at risk of excess moisture problems, those pesky pests taking over, bacterial contamination and accidental injury than homes that are properly maintained.
Basically these principles should lead to the creation of a home that won’t cause health problems or injuries. The principles are similar to those for creating a safe home for people with asthma and allergies. So even if a household member doesn’t suffer from asthma or allergies, the products designed for those who do are generally the better choice for a healthy home.
We spend most of our lives in our homes and many of us have realised that ensuring our homes are healthy is paramount to our general health. Our home influences almost every part of our lives – from how well we sleep, to our health and wellbeing, to our moods and how safe we feel. Designers and architects are waking up to this fact and if we as home dwellers want to improve our health and wellbeing then we need to take responsibility and choose to live well.
Medical & Lifestyle Author Dr Anna O’Donovan
About Dr. Anna O’Donovan – Medical & Lifestyle Author
Anna is a mum of three children, one with allergies, and she suffers from allergies and asthma herself. She is a qualified doctor and worked as a General Practitioner and as a dentist for a number of years. She is also an award-winning author.
Healthy home, asthma and allergy friendly, indoor air quality, dust mite, asthma triggers, VOCs, mold, moisture, health and wellbeing.
References and further reading
What is a Healthy Home?, Click here
10 Affordable Ways to Make Your Home Safer and Healthier, Click here
11 Ways To Make Your Home More Healthy, Because Your Environment Matters Too, Click here
How to Make Your Home a Healthy One, Click here
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