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Over 50 million Americans are allergic to something and many more have allergies or sensitivities that they are not even aware of.
Often, people do not realize how harmful their indoor air has become until they notice a marked improvement in the way they feel after employing basic services such as air duct cleaning or carpet cleaning.
There are many contaminants in indoor air – allergens, chemical toxins, mold, bacteria, lead and VOCs, just to name a few – that can cause a wide range of symptoms for those in your household.
Unfortunately, according the EPA, the reality is that indoor air is at least 70% more contaminated than outside air, and the American Lung Association estimates that the majority of people will spend 90% of their life span indoors.
Have a hard time imagining how indoor air quality can be so poor? Many contaminants can hitch a ride into your home in a multitude of ways: on your clothes, on your pets, or even that fly that followed your kids inside before they closed the door. One of the biggest contributors to poor indoor air quality that people rarely consider, however, is their own HVAC system.
Picture your HVAC system like the lungs of your house - anything that gets sucked into the unit gets cycled through the air ducts and into your home. This means that any contaminants found in outdoor air can be brought into your system and can settle in places like your HVAC units and air ducts. Since your system recycles the air throughout your house up to 5-7 times a day, those contaminants will eventually find their way into every room and onto every surface in your home.
According to the US Department of Energy, 25-40% of the energy used for heating or cooling a home is wasted. Contaminants in the HVAC system can build up over time and cause it to work harder, which shortens the life of your system. In a typical home, up to 40 pounds of dust can be created annually through normal every day activity, in addition to contaminants that can be nurtured through minor issues that you may not even be aware of within your system.
When your HVAC system is clean, it doesn’t have to work as hard to maintain desired temperatures, and as a result, less energy is used which prolongs the life of your system – and lowers your energy bills.
Pollen is a fine to coarse powder containing the microgametophytes of seed plants, and most pollens that cause allergies come from anemophilous plants, whose pollen is lightweight and easily dispersed by air currents. Some common examples of these types of pollens are ragweed, oak, pecan, birch, summer grasses, elm and cedar. There are a wide variety of symptoms that can indicate a pollen allergy. Some of these symptoms include, but are not limited to, sneezing, watery eyes, congestion, coughing, runny nose, itchy throat, nausea, eczema or hives, fatigue, irritability, sinus pressure or even a decreased sense of taste or smell.
Though it’s doubtful anyone really needs a definition of this since it is the bane of households everywhere, basically dust is the disintegration of matter, such as hair, skin, fibers, soil, plants and any other materials found in the environment into fine, dry particles. The main concern with dust for those who suffer from allergies and asthma are dust mites, tiny bugs that are close relatives of ticks and spiders that live in house dust. Dust mites feed on skin cells shed by people and thrive in warm, humid environments.
There are two main species of dust mites: American and European. Often, those with dust mite allergies also experience signs of asthma, such as wheezing and difficulty breathing. There are at least 15 dust mite allergens, and studies have estimated that as many as 1.2 billion people could have some form of chronic sensitization to dust mites.
Bacteria are tiny one-celled organisms that were among the first life forms to appear on the earth, and they are pretty much everywhere, all the time. Thankfully, most bacteria is harmless to us – less than 1% of the different types of bacteria actually make people sick.
Unfortunately for us, however, some of the harmful bacteria, such as Streptococcus, Staphylococcus, E. Coli and Candida, are common household bacteria and can live on any surface in the home. Bacterial infections present in many different ways, but some common indications are food poisoning, strep throat, abscesses, infected wounds, sinus infections and gastritis.
Molds are fungi and can be found nearly everywhere in the natural world. While they have an important job to play in nature by breaking down dead organic matter such as fallen leaves or dead trees, mold growth indoors can be dangerous to your health and destructive to your home.
Mold requires 4 conditions to be met in order to grow and prosper:
1. Spores - These are found everywhere in nature and can enter your house through vents, open windows, on pets or even on your skin.
2. Nutrients - Mold can use almost any carbon-based organic material for nutrients; meaning anything from wood to pet dander to generic dust that general every day activity can produce.
3. Proper Temperature - Unfortunately, mold prefers the same kind of temperatures we do; not too hot and not too cold, so our homes provide a great environment for mold to prosper.
4. Moisture - Areas with heavy humidity, leaks or any kind of water damage are all potential breeding grounds for mold.
The very same properties that make mold important in its natural environment can ultimately cause damage to the structure of your home, the internal systems that keep your home functioning comfortably and your personal possessions. More importantly, it also carries serious health risks to your household. Many people are either allergic or sensitive to molds, and some molds release mycotoxins, which are poisonous.
Molds also aggravate those who have autoimmune disorders, and they can trigger symptoms in people who have respiratory conditions like asthma or COPD. The Institute of Medicine has even found suggestive evidence linking indoor mold exposure and respiratory illness in otherwise healthy individuals, as well as the development of asthma in children.
Pet Dander is composed of tiny flecks of skin shed by cats, dogs, rodents, birds and other animals that have fur or feathers. Twice as many people report allergies to cats when compared to dogs or other pets, but nearly any pet has the ability to contribute to pet dander allergies. Common symptoms of pet dander allergies include congestion, sneezing, runny nose, chest tightness, itching, watery eyes and eczema or rash.
Asbestos is a naturally occurring incombustible and chemical-resistant fibrous mineral that was once prized for its versatility. Recognized for its heat resistance, tensile strength and insulating properties, it was used for everything from fire-proof articles to home and commercial construction. These days, we are aware that asbestos is highly toxic and a known cause of mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer affecting the membrane lining of the lungs and abdomen. It has been banned in more than 50 countries and its use has been highly restricted in many others. Asbestos was used extensively in home construction from the early 1940s through the 1970s, and it can still be present in certain household materials today, including: attic insulation, HVAC duct insulation, window caulking and glazing, vinyl floor tiles, glue that attaches floor tiles to concrete or wood, roofing materials, siding material and some forms of linoleum or paint.
In general, it’s a good idea to leave any asbestos material alone, regardless of its condition, and limit access to the area until a professional can assess it for you. Most often, the danger comes from asbestos material that has been damaged, so keep an eye out for any tears, abrasions or water damage, but it is best not to touch or disturb asbestos material yourself since any disruption may release fibers and create a health hazard that was not previously there.
Lead is a soft, malleable metal included in the group of heavy metals. Due to its resistance to corrosion and its low conductivity, it has been used for centuries for all types of materials and construction. As a result, lead in one form or another is all around us. Some quick examples are car batteries, ammunition, coloring pigment in paints and ceramic glazes, radiation shielding, roofing, and as a stabilizer for PVC plastic, which covers electrical cords.
Unfortunately, lead is a highly poisonous metal which can affect almost every organ and system in the human body, although the nervous system is often the main target for lead toxicity. Lead exposure has also been known to cause impaired concentration, hearing loss, seizures, nausea, colic, anemia and hypertension, among other things. People are exposed to lead through inhalation of lead dust or fumes, or ingestion via contaminated hands, food, water, cigarettes or clothing.
VOCs are a large group of carbon-based chemicals that evaporate or off-gas at room temperature. Common examples are acetone, benzene, ethylene glycol, formaldehyde, toluene and xylene. VOCs are widely used in household and commercial products such as cleansers, disinfectants, waxes, glues, paints, dry cleaning products, and cosmetics. Additionally, new carpeting, vinyl flooring and wall coverings, attic insulation, backing and adhesives, and wood products that use certain glues, finishes and waxes can also release VOCs into the air.
Health effects of VOCs can vary depending on the type and amount of VOC and the length of time a person is exposed. Some people do not appear to react much at all to fairly low amounts of VOCs while others find themselves to be extremely sensitive to them. Symptoms of short term exposure to high levels of VOCs can include eye/nose/throat irritation, headaches, nausea, dizziness and asthma-related symptoms. Long term exposure can result in cancer, liver and kidney damage, and central nervous system damage.
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