With much of the country in the throes of a cold snap — unless sub-zero temperatures are your jam — you're likely spending a lot of time inside. While you're aware of environmental toxins outdoors, there are plenty of indoor toxins in your home that can make you sick. Things like mold, which thrives in damp environments, can have serious effects on your health. And if you're at all sensitive to toxins, but not aware of their dangers, you might mistake the symptoms for the common cold or even the flu.
Twice I have worked in buildings that were overrun by mold. After months of migraines that began every time I went to work, I got an MRI because I was convinced I had a brain tumor. When the results came back clean, I realized I was reacting to the mold. There's actually a name for this: sick building syndrome, which the Environmental Protection Agency described as something that occurs when "building occupants experience acute health and comfort effects that appear to be linked to time spent in a building, but no specific illness or cause can be identified."
If you start feeling sick when you're in your apartment or at work, it could be the toxins in your environment. Here are some indoor toxins to be aware of if you'e spending a lot of time inside this winter. #TheMoreYouKnow
A lot of people are sensitive to mold, which can "cause nasal stuffiness, throat irritation, coughing or wheezing, eye irritation, or, in some cases, skin irritation," the Centers For Disease Control explained on its website. If you live in an older building that's not well ventilated, has experienced flooding or water damage, or you don't have an exhaust fan in your bathroom, mold can grow out of control pretty quickly. If you live in a damp climate, consider getting dehumidifier to pull moisture out of the air.
"Timing is everything when it comes to mold because the sooner you catch it, the easier it is to fix," Ann Shippy, M.D., an environmental toxicity expert, wrote for Mind Body Green. "You have to open up walls, roofs, and spaces to get it out." With that in mind, the best way to combat mold is to stop it before it starts. Take care of any leaks ASAP, clean your bathroom often, and try to open the windows at least once a day — even in the winter — to get fresh air circulating.
2. Dust Mites
This one is going to make you want to wash everything you own as soon as you finish reading this article. According to the CDC, dust mites are tiny little critters that you can't see. And, while they may be small, they can cause you a lot of problems. "... Researchers established that fecal pellets deposited by the mites accumulated in home fabrics and could become airborne via domestic activities such as vacuuming and dusting, resulting in inhalation by the inhabitants of the home."
Like mold, dust mites love humidity, fabric, and carpet. They feed off of your dead skin, and pet dander, and your mattress can hold anywhere from 100,000 to more than one million dust mites, according to the website Fighting Dust Mites. If you want to rid your home of dust mites, don't give them an attractive environment in which to thrive. If your home is damp, get a dehumidifier. Wash your bedding regularly, including your pillows, in hot water and dry them in a hot dryer. If you don't want to introduce even more toxic chemicals into your life, you can clean surfaces with eucalyptus oil or white vinegar.
3. Volatile Organic Compounds
Volatile Organic Compounds, or VOCs, are chemicals that are present in things like new cars, new carpet, new wood flooring, and paint. If you've ever felt sick after being inside a new car, or a brand new building, VOCs could be to blame. "New building materials, new furniture, new carpets, and floor refinishing products contain high concentrations of VOCs, such as arsenic, formaldehyde, and toluene," the website Honey Colony noted. "Some of these products may also contain benzene and xylene, all which vaporize into the air."
Adverse reactions to VOCs can include everything from headaches and dizziness to scratchy eyes and a sore throat to depression. If you're sensitive to VOCs, make sure to ventilate your house or apartment after painting or getting new flooring. You also might want to opt for a used car instead of a new one since its already had a chance to ventilate.
4. Perfumes And Air Fresheners
There's one job that you couldn't pay me a million dollars to do — the perfume spray person at the department store. I am super sensitive to any kind of chemical smell, and I can't be around anyone who wears perfume or uses air freshener in their home. Seriously, these scents make me so sick that my worst fear is sitting next to someone on an airplane who has doused themselves in perfume or cologne.
"Fragrance and scented products contain a mixture of hundreds of chemicals that react with ozone in the ambient air to form dangerous secondary indoor air pollution chemicals," Honey Colony reported. "Symptoms of these toxic VOCs include headaches, dizziness, nausea, breathing difficulties, digestive problems, nervous systems problems, and various allergic reactions." If you feel like you can't forgo your perfume, consider essential oils instead.
5. Cleaning Products
Similar to air fresheners, cleaning products also make me sick. I use all-natural cleaning products in my home that I make myself using a mixture of vinegar and antimicrobial essential oils. "Products, such as disinfectants, aerosol sprays, cleaners, and pesticides may contain chemical-based fragrances that may cause negative effects," Honey Colony noted. "Some of these products also contain triclosan, an antibacterial that reacts to UV light to form indoor smog."
OK, I have a debilitating phobia of bugs, and I will do almost anything to get rid of them. Ten years ago, my then boyfriend and I moved into a building we didn't know had bed bugs. It was hands down the worst experience of my life, and I have been through some serious crap. I would have gladly sacrificed 10 years of my life to get rid of the bed bugs.
If you live in a big city, bugs are a fact of life, and most apartment buildings spray for pests on the regular. However, all of the those pesticides can make you pretty sick. Honey Colony reported that pesticides are the 10th leading cause of poisoning. But, WTF do you do about the bugs? There are actually a lot of natural ways to keep pests out of your living space, including cinnamon, essential oils, mint leaves, and more.
One of my go-to choices is diatomaceous earth, which is a siliceous sedimentary rock that breaks down into a powder. It basically suffocates and destroys the nervous system of bugs. After continually dousing our apartment in chemicals with no results, this is actually how we finally ended up getting rid of the bed bugs. Just be careful not to inhale it.
7. Plants Are Your Best Defense
One of the best all-natural ways to keep your home toxin free is to get some plants. According to the website the Bright Side, "NASA scientists claim that common indoor plants may provide a valuable weapon in the fight against rising levels of indoor air pollution. Some of them can absorb up to 85 [percent] of potentially harmful gases, cleaning the air inside our homes, indoor public spaces, and office buildings."
The best plants to keep your breathing easy indoors during the long, cold winter include: flamingo lilies, the gerbera jamesonii, the golden lotos, aglaonemas, spider plants, ivy, azaleas, mother-in-law’s tongue (get this one just for the name), dracaena marginatas, philodendrons, Boston ferns, peace lilies, bamboo palms, scheffleras, and chrysanthemums, according the Bright Side.
Since the new year is an ideal time to clean up your life literally, and figuratively, take some time to check your living space for potential toxins. Then, get some plants and put them to work. Because, your indoor air shouldn't be worse than the air outside.