Many of us have an intimate relationship with our homes, as places where we embrace our loved ones, grow up, raise children of our own, and cherish the things that make us who we are. Our homes reflect our personalities through our taste in decorations, artwork, and furnishings.
Home is also a place where we can take time in private just to be ourselves, without the pressures and strains of the outside world.
However, no place is without risk, and even our own homes can carry risks to our health and the health of the ones we hold dear. From bacteria, to dust, and even pollution, common problems can cause a wide range of reactions and illnesses, some of which may even be dangerous. This is especially true if you have younger people in your household, who may not always know the difference between brightly coloured foods and harmful substances.
Let’s take a look at some common health risks found around the home, and outline ways to reduce their impact on our wellbeing.
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
The term 'volatile organic compounds' (VOCs) refers to a wide variety of organic chemicals, some of which carry short and long-term health risks. There are approximately ten times the amount of VOCs indoors as there are in outdoor environments, due to common household products such as cleaning solutions, painting supplies, pesticides, and cosmetics.
Short-term effects of exposure to VOCs can include mild, short-term reactions, such as eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches, dizziness, and more severe issues including nausea and vomiting, and asthma. In the long term, the outlook may be more serious, presenting an increased risk of cancer, liver, and kidney damage, and injury to the central nervous system.
To reduce the risk of exposure to VOCs, homeowners should keep their houses well-ventilated - especially when using products that emit VOCs - and always follow the instructions and safety advice provided on the label.
As part of this, homeowners are strongly advised not to mix household products, and to always keep containers out of the reach of children and pets.
Radon is a radioactive gas that is produced when uranium in the local soil undergoes the decay process. Radon is undetectable to the naked eye, as it is a completely invisible and odourless gas that can only be identified using radon testing - but it carries a high price.
Radon is a carcinogen, meaning it causes lung cancer. And there is no ‘safe’ level of radon exposure, making it a serious health risk. Exposure to radon is the main cause of lung cancer in non-smokers, leading to over 1,100 deaths from lung cancer every year in the UK. In addition, people who do smoke are at particular risk from radon.
Radon usually enters a home through cracks, gaps, and joinings in walls and floors and around pipes. The radon risk is exacerbated by poor ventilation and air sealing, which traps the radon gas inside the home.
You can check the radon levels in your area by checking this interactive map to see whether you live in a high radon region, while you can also measure the radon levels in your home using a Home Measurement Pack.
Pests present a wide range of threats to human health, from carrying diseases to causing respiratory illnesses.
Not all pests will be visible - for example, dust mites are microscopic organisms that live in dust and fabrics such as bedding, furniture, and carpets. Their faeces can cause asthma attacks when inhaled, and some people may be allergic, causing rashes.
Mice and rats also present high health risks, and their urine and dandruff may cause asthma attacks and allergic reactions. They are also carriers of infectious diseases, such as Salmonella, which can be transmitted through close contact or bites.
Cockroach waste too can cause asthma attacks, and the insects themselves can carry diseases. While cockroaches are less common in the UK than in other parts of the world such as the United States, there are two main species of cockroach found in the UK - the German cockroach and the Oriental cockroach.
German cockroaches are often found in heating systems in large buildings, while the Oriental cockroach is often found in heated buildings such as hospitals, hotels, restaurants, and blocks of flats. They are often attracted by dustbins and food waste, which they eat.
All these pests can be avoided by keeping holes and cracks sealed and practicing good home hygiene. And if you do have a pest infestation, you can handle this by using traps or hiring a pest control professional.
Mould can cause serious respiratory issues, such as asthma attacks - which are often severe and sometimes may even be fatal; it can also cause eye and skin irritation, skin rashes, and a condition called hypersensitivity pneumonitis, which is inflammation of the lungs.
Mould usually grows in damp and warm environments, such as bathrooms, sinks, and under wallpaper. It can be prevented by keeping your home dry and reducing the humidity levels.
Moulds can be removed using soap and water on hard surfaces; however, mouldy soft furnishings may need to be disposed of to ensure the mould is completely removed from your home, as it will penetrate through the porous surface of soft furniture to reach deeper levels of material.
Have you checked your home to see if it is affected by any of these common hazards? If so, be sure to do so as soon as possible, and take action if you discover any of these dangers in your household!