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Could your teen's bedroom be a health hazard? With the piles of crusty socks, the old cereal bowls of curdled milk, and the mildewed towels, it certainly might look -- and smell -- that way.

Happily, as disgusting as your teen's messy room might be, it's unlikely to pose any serious health risks. "I've never seen any teenager who actually got sick because her room was unsanitary," says Tanya Remer Altmann, MD,a pediatrician and author of Mommy Calls and The Wonder Years.

Of course, whether or not your teen's messy room meets the Department of Health's legal definition of a health hazard isn't really the issue. If your teen's bedroom is disgusting, and it bothers you, you need to do something about it.

"Teenagers need to learn how to look after themselves, and cleaning their rooms is part of that," says Charles Wibbelsman, MD, chairman of the Chiefs of Adolescent Medicine for Kaiser Permanente of Northern California and co-author of The Teenage Body Book. It's a basic responsibility and a skill they'll need as adults, he says.

So how can you get your teen to keep his or her room clean, or at least somewhat less disgusting? Here's some advice from the experts.

What Lurks in Your Teen's Bedroom?

Unless your kid is using his room to harbor wild animals or make explosives, he's probably not created a genuine health hazard. But it still might get plenty yucky.

"If you can smell your teen's room down the hall -- because of old food or old laundry -- that's not sanitary," Altmann tells WebMD. "And it could even conceivably pose some health problems." Like what?

  • Mold. Depending on the weather, it won't take long for mold to start growing on a half-eaten sandwich. Large amounts of mold could actually affect the air quality and aggravate a person's allergies or asthma.
  • Insects and other pests. As you've no doubt already said to your teen a thousand times, dirty dishes attract insects -- like ants and cockroaches -- as well as other pests like mice and rats. Dust mites can thrive in clutter. Finding any of these creatures in your house is disgusting. But some can carry disease as well as trigger allergies and asthma, Altmann says.
  • Bacteria and other fungi. Some nasty things can grow on unwashed, damp clothing in a messy room. And if your teen keeps wearing the clothes pulled off the floor rather than out of the bureau, he could develop rashes and other problems -- like jock itch, which is caused by a fungus.

 

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